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Published: Tuesday, 4/16/2013

MIGRANT FARM WORKERS

Speedy path toward citizenship proposed

Growers could hire more guest employees

BY FEDERICO MARTINEZ
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Velasquez Velasquez
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Hundreds of thousands of migrant farm workers would be put on a speedy path toward U.S. citizenship and receive stronger labor protections under an immigration-reform proposal scheduled to be unveiled this week.

The farm-worker component was one of the last sticking points threatening to unravel efforts by the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” to craft a broad immigration bill that will need to be debated and voted upon by Republican and Democrat legislators.

“Farm workers are the backbone of our agriculture industry here in the United States and a speedier process toward proper documentation provides an incentive for those farm workers who are currently working in agriculture to continue working in agriculture,” Arturo Rodriquez, president of the United Farm Workers said on Sunday.

Baldemar Velasquez, president of Toledo’s Farm Labor Organizing Committee, told members of The Blade editorial board Monday that farm-worker unions and grower associations worked with several senators this last week to broker a compromise.

The proposal was to be made public today, but was postponed for at least one additional day because of Monday’s tragedy in Boston.

FLOC is a labor union that represents thousands of agricultural workers in Ohio, Michigan, and North Carolina.

Under the agreement, farm workers will have the option to apply for paperwork to legalize their status in the United States either through the general process, or through a special process created for those working in the agriculture industry.

In return, the farm-worker unions have agreed to allow growers to hire more guest workers, 112,000 per year for the next three years, said Mr. Velasquez, who participated in negotiations. Growers hired 80,000 guest workers in 2012, he said.

Growers, usually nursery owners, are allowed to hire guest workers if they can prove that they cannot find qualified American workers to do the work.

“With a path to citizenship and labor protections, farm workers will have the tools to fight back against the inequities that cause poverty at the bottom of the supply chains of some of the wealthiest corporations in the world,” Mr. Velasquez said.

The reform bill also will include a path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants that is separate from the one to be offered to farm workers.

Several top Republican leaders have said they will oppose the bill because they believe it’s a thinly veiled attempt to grant amnesty to illegal immigrants.

Contact Federico Martinez at: fmartinez@theblade.com, or 419-724-6154.



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