Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) on Tuesday introduced “The Agricultural Employment and Workforce Protection Act of 2005” that combines strong border enforcement with practical reforms in hiring and tracking of agricultural guest workers.  The employers of agricultural workers would also have the opportunity to temporarily adjust the status of certain undocumented workers from outside the United States to seek H-2A participation and avoid severe work stoppages.  The Chambliss proposal gives the Department of Homeland Security the ability to propose border enforcement measures approved by Congress, with an interim authority for local and state arrests and federal tracking to prevent overstay of visas.

“Congress will insist on strong enforcement and border security, but most importantly, enforcement must be practical to implement,” said Chambliss. “Farm work is a strong pull for crossing the border, but none of the comprehensive immigration reform bills introduced in the Senate have included reform for the agricultural sector.  While this provides an excellent opportunity to develop into a larger, comprehensive reform of immigration, at the very least Congress must address illegal immigration in farm work.  Establishing integrity and accountability in the employment of temporary agricultural workers further ensures a reliable food supply for our nation’s security.”

Main provisions of the Chambliss legislation:

  • Require the Secretary of Homeland Security to present to Congress a comprehensive plan for border control and immigration enforcement within the United States.  In the interim, specific border security requirements are mandated by Congress for the Department of Homeland Security.
  • Streamline the current H-2A non-immigrant visa program with reduced paperwork that increases agricultural employers’ use of a system that protects working conditions of legally employed U.S. and foreign workers.  
  • Establish a blue card incentive to identify and to transition illegal workers into the legal job market, ensuring that agricultural employers have a short but reasonable period of time to enroll workers in legal programs without experiencing a complete work stoppage.
  • Establish an H-2AA visa program for agricultural “day workers” within commuting distance of the border, requiring that workers must enter and exit the United States each day.