SACRAMENTO, Calif. — A California lawmaker is trying to create a path to citizenship for hundreds of thousands of undocumented farmworkers.
On Monday, Sen. Anna Caballero, D-Merced, introduced Senate Bill 831 — the Agricultural Worker Permanent Residency Program. The bill would authorize the California governor to work with the federal government to establish a pilot program allowing agricultural workers to start a process toward legal status.
The legislation marks an attempt to circumvent the decades-long effort by the federal government to stabilize the agricultural workforce. It’s been more than three decades since broad federal immigration reform.
`The legislation is an attempt to stabilize California’s agricultural workforce, a feat the federal government has tried to accomplish on a national level for decades.
Last year, the Farm Workforce Modernization Act passed twice in the House but never came to a vote in the Senate.
“Creating a pathway to permanent residency status allows our undocumented friends, family and neighbors to come out of the shadows, to live lives free of fear and allow them to qualify for the safety net programs that they deserve and pay into,” said Caballero in a statement.
Between one-third to half of all farmworkers in the United States reside in California, which would include about 500,000 to 800,000 people, according to the Center for Farmworker Families. About 75% of California farmworkers are undocumented, according to the UC Merced Community and Labor Center.
Other state proposals failed
Under the bill, undocumented farmworkers who have lived in California and worked in agriculture for five years would qualify. Federal standards for citizenship would apply including a criminal history background check, national security check and fees. Application fees for permanent resident status vary but are generally $1,225 for individuals aged 14 to 78.
Similar, less aggressive, legislation has failed in the past.
In 2018, Caballero and Assemblyman Eduardo Garcia, D-Coachella authored AB 1885, which died in the Assembly Labor Committee. The proposed legislation would have formed a group of state representatives to create a state guest worker program.
Three years later, another farmworker proposal called AB 1510 did not reach a committee hearing. The bill would have required the governor to make a formal request to the federal government to implement a statewide program to provide workers who were deemed “essential critical infrastructure workforce employees” with a permit to work and live in California.
In her news release, Caballero referenced the COVID-19 pandemic as evidence of why farmworkers are “essential” and should be eligible for federal benefits that only come through legal status.
“Our country experienced a shortage of many things throughout the pandemic, but fresh fruits and vegetables were not one of them,” Caballero said. “If we want to truly show our gratitude, and address the disparities faced by our undocumented workforce, then we need to address the issue at the root of the problem.”
Though a pilot program, the bill currently does not specify an end date. There is also no estimated cost yet.
SB 831 will be heard in the Senate Human Services Committee on April 17 or 24.