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Farm labor reform act reintroduced in Congress

Side view of the front of the US capitol building.

At this point, one can exasperatedly wonder what it will take to make the Farm Workforce Modification Act (FWMA) into the law of the land.

The legislation, H.R. 4319, was reintroduced on June 30 by a bipartisan collection of members of Congress including Reps. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Dan Newhouse (R-WA), David Valadao (R-CA), John Duarte (R-CA), Mike Simpson (R-ID), Jimmy Panetta (D-CA), Salud Carbajal (D-CA), Henry Cuellar (D-TX), and Jerrold Nadler (D-NY). Bipartisan House Members Reintroduce the Farm Workforce Modernization Act of 2023 | Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren

Headshot of Richard Smoley

The bill has the honor of having been passed in the House by both the 116th Congress (in 2019) and the 117th Congress (in 2021). It now has a third chance in the 118th.

Lofgren’s press release states:

“The bill:

“• Reforms the H-2A program to provide more flexibility for employers, while ensuring critical protections for workers.

“• Establishes a program for agricultural workers in the United States to choose to earn legal status through continued agricultural employment and contribution to the U.S. agricultural economy.

“• Focuses on modifications to make the program more responsive and user-friendly for employers and provides access to the program for industries with year-round labor needs.”

The reintroduced bill was praised by many organizations, including two that do not agree on many things: Western Growers (WG) and the United Farm Workers (UFW).

“We thank Representatives Zoe Lofgren, Dan Newhouse and their colleagues for reintroducing the Farm Workforce Modernization Act this Congress—a bill that passed the House twice in recent years. Many of us have spent tireless hours negotiating this bipartisan legislation and we commend this reintroduction and look forward to continuing to work toward a viable solution for agriculture,” said WG president and CEO Dave Puglia.

“The UFW welcomes the reintroduction of the bipartisan Farm Workforce Modernization Act,”said UFW president Teresa Romero.“Our view is simple: If you feed America, you have earned the right to stay in America. This bill meets that moral imperative—delivering farm workers’ most urgent priority—as well as meeting many of the needs of agricultural employers. Farm workers proved themselves essential during the pandemic and continue to put food on Americans’ tables every day. Legal status for these essential immigrant workers is long overdue and we ask all Members of Congress to work for its passage.”

The reintroduction follows the introduction of a comprehensive immigration reform bill introduced in the House in May. New immigration reform act introduced in the House – Produce Blue Book

It is probably safe to say that most members of the produce industry would approve of—and feel they very much need—FWMA.

Not everyone agrees. An October 2022 op-ed piece by Matt O’Brien of the Immigration Reform Law Institute argues, “If this bill were to pass, DHS [the Department of Homeland Security] would likely be under significant pressure to ensure a steady supply of farm laborers and you have a recipe for disaster. Americans in agricultural communities could be exposed to foreign criminals and terrorists that the U.S. government has unwittingly permitted to live and work here.”

O’Brien also says, “The real reason America’s agricultural producers can’t find U.S. laborers is because they aren’t willing to pay competitive wages. Increasing the number of foreign farm workers allowed into the U.S.—and letting them work for any employer once they are here—would only give the agricultural industry a free pass to continue undercutting wages.”

I leave it to readers to decide whether or not they agree with O’Brien’s contentions.


Richard Smoley, contributing editor for Blue Book Services, Inc., has more than 40 years of experience in magazine writing and editing, and is the former managing editor of California Farmer magazine. A graduate of Harvard and Oxford universities, he has published 13 books.