Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is on Capitol Hill testifying about the need for immigrant farm workers and how changing the current system is beneficial not only to the workers but all Americans.
Watch the hearing in the video player above.
“I’m here today simply to advocate on behalf of American agriculture and these workers to, to plead with the Senate to fix this broken system,” said Vilsack at a Senate Judiciary Committee on Wendesday.
“To maintain the capacity of this great food and agriculture industry, to continue to provide the benefits that we all enjoy in this country and at the same time to provide the respect and dignity to the farm workers who are working so hard to make this system what it is today.”
Vilsack’s appearance comes months after the House voted to unlatch a gateway to citizenship for young “Dreamers,” migrant farm workers and immigrants who have fled war or natural disasters.
On a near party-line 228-197 vote in March, lawmakers approved one bill offering legal status to around 2 million “Dreamers,” brought to the U.S. illegally as children, and hundreds of thousands of migrants admitted for humanitarian reasons from a dozen troubled countries.
The measure would also grant green cards to an estimated 400,000 immigrants with temporary protected status or deferred enforced departure status, which temporarily allow people fleeing extraordinary problems into the U.S.
The other bill would let immigrant farm workers who’ve worked in the country illegally over the past two years get certified agriculture worker status. That would let them, their spouses and children remain in the U.S. for renewable 5 1/2-year periods.
To earn green cards, they’d have to pay a $1,000 fine and work up to an additional eight years, depending on how long they’ve already held farm jobs.
The legislation would cap wage increases, streamline the H-2A visa process for legal immigrant farm workers and phase in a mandatory system for electronically verifying the legal status of agriculture laborers.
“It is an embarrassment to this great nation that we allow this injustice to continue,” said Sen. DIck Durbin, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee.
“We in the Senate can change it, we can pass legislation that will not only keep hard working families… together, but strengthen the durability and resiliency of our food chain.”