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Food Tastes Better When It’s Just

By Diana Tellefson-Torres, Executive Director, UFW Foundation

Who are the people that pick the fruits and vegetables we eat, work in dairy farms to produce the milk and yogurt we enjoy and cut the vines that later become the wines we drink?  An overwhelming number of those agricultural workers are undocumented immigrants who have lived in the United States for decades. Undocumented agricultural workers’ biggest concern is what makes them so vulnerable to abuse: their lack of legal status. That is why the Farm Workforce Modernization Act—letting farm workers apply for the right to permanently stay in this country and offering them and their immediate families pathways to citizenship—was crafted after seven months of complex negotiations between lawmakers from both parties, the UFW Foundation, United Farm Workers, Farmworker Justice and most of the nation’s major grower associations.

The bipartisan compromise bill introduced by Representatives Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) and Dan Newhouse (R-Wash.) gives undocumented farm workers, their children and spouses the freedom to reunite with friends and families in their home countries, empowers them to speak out against abuse and offers badly needed stability to them and their employers.

This bipartisan legislation passed the House Judiciary Committee on Nov. 20, but much work remains before it becomes law. Why is the Farm Workforce Modernization Act so necessary?

Farmworkers feed America.

In March 2018, farm worker couple Santos Hilario Garcia and Marcelina Garcia Porfecto died outside Delano, Calif. in a horrible car crash while fleeing ICE agents. Santos, Marcelina and their six orphaned children, ages eight to 18, are just a few casualties of the cruel scapegoating of hardworking immigrants. A few days after their parents died, the children were stricken again when ICE returned to their apartment complex and deported their closest family member, their uncle who was trying to fill the shoes of his dead brother.

Farm workers and their children from across America recently put their lives on hold to meet with lawmakers in their Capitol Hill offices. They stayed through extensive committee votes, advocating on behalf of their undocumented coworkers who, unlike them, do not have the privilege of traveling. These farm workers understand the professional skills, authentic experience and arduous toil required to perform jobs most other American workers have refused to do for decades. They need and deserve to be recognized for the labor that feeds America and much of the world.

Making meaningful change demanded compromise between lawmakers and stakeholders who don’t often agree. Yet, when this bipartisan bill passes, approximately one million farm workers and their immediate family members will win relief from the pervasive fear plaguing them every day. Farm worker children will no longer have to worry whether their moms and dads are coming home from work. Families will be free to make trips home to their native countries for weddings, funerals and other important occasions.

We are optimistic about passing this legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives. This bill honors the hands of those who bring us the food we enjoy, especially during the holiday season. Passing it would also represent a significant step forward for all of us because our food will taste better when it is just. 

The Farm Workforce Modernization Act is a bipartisan bill.

Diana Tellefson-Torres is executive director of the UFW Foundation, a nonprofit organization advocating for farm workers, immigrants and Latinos at the local, state and federal levels. It is the largest immigration legal services provider in rural California.    

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