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Published July 01, 2013, 11:06 AM

Senate passes immigration bill

The U.S. Senate has passed immigration reform legislation that included key provisions for farm labor.

By: Jerry Hagstrom, Agweek

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate on June 28 voted overwhelmingly to pass new immigration reform legislation that included key provisions for farm labor and in which Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., played an important role.

The vote was 68-32. Hoeven was one of 14 Republican senators to join the Democrats in passing the bill. Before the vote took place, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., called Hoeven and Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., “courageous” for adding an amendment that increases border security and brought more Republican support to the bill.

“The American people want a comprehensive immigration reform plan with tough border enforcement,” Hoeven said. “They want to know that 10 years from now, we won’t find ourselves in this same position, having to address the same problem.”

The vote was announced by Vice President Joe Biden and the voting took place under extraordinary circumstances. As a reflection of the importance of the bill, Reid asked all the senators to be in their seats and to rise and vote. The galleries were packed with tourists and journalists.

The bill includes special provisions that would allow current undocumented agricultural workers to gain citizenship after working for another five years in agriculture, which would create a new guest worker program.

In the past, farm worker visa programs have applied only to seasonal workers, but the new bill would cover year-round workers on dairy farms. The agriculture section covers farm workers only, while other sections of the bill apply to workers in meat plants and other processing facilities.

A broad group of agriculture employers known as the Ag Workforce Coalition and the United Farm Workers reached agreement on the agriculture provisions, which were inserted into the bill by a group of senators led by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.

Upper Midwest Democratic senators voted for the bill, but Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., did not.

Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., did not vote for the bill and argued that the agriculture provisions made it too easy for the farm workers to gain citizenship and would not create a stable workforce. Chambliss proposed a series of amendments to the agriculture provisions, but the leadership did not allow them to come to a vote on the Senate floor.

The American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Farmers Union and other farm groups issued statements praising the vote.

Reid said he hoped the strong vote in the Senate would lead the House to take up a similar bill, but the Republican-controlled House has been working on a more restrictive measure in pieces. The House Judiciary Committee has passed a farm worker bill that does not include the same path to legalization for current workers and is more restrictive on guest workers.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said June 28 that the House would not take up the Senate bill and that he would hold a meeting of Republicans on July 10 to figure out a path forward on immigration.

“The House is not going to take up and vote on whatever the Senate passes,” Boehner said at a news conference. “We’re going to do our own bill, through regular order, and it’ll be legislation that reflects the will of our majority and the will of the American people.”