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U.S. Sen. Schumer highlights benefits to upstate agriculture in immigration bill

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There’s something for everyone in the 844-page Senate immigration bill filed early Wednesday, including New York farmers in need of a steady labor force, according to U.S. Sen. Charles E. Schumer.

“New York agriculture is well taken care of in the immigration bill,” said Mr. Schumer, D-N.Y., during a conference call Wednesday afternoon.

Mr. Schumer said he visits farms in upstate New York regularly and that “the number one thing people complain about is that they can’t get workers.”

Mr. Schumer, who worked on the bill with seven other senators collectively known as the “gang of eight,” said that “Americans do not do the back-breaking, difficult farm work” and that immigrants who have entered the country illegally are chased away by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.

Previous immigration bills did not recognize the difference in northeastern agriculture, according to Mr. Schumer.

To remedy that situation, provisions were included in the proposed legislation that will help New York farmers, according to a press release that accompanied the call.

The key agricultural provisions of the massive bill are:

n A specific “agriculture” section under the new Registered Provisional Immigrant program would allow farm employees who are already skilled and working on New York farms to continue working and eventually obtain legal status by obtaining an agriculture card, also known as a “blue card.” The cards would provide legal permanent resident status in an expedited manner provided the workers commit to fulfill future agriculture card work requirements, show they have paid all taxes, have not been convicted of any serious crime and pay a $400 fine.

n A cap on agriculture workers in the U.S. and a measure that would ensure warmer locales do not use up the number before New York farmers secure the workforce they need.

n A new agricultural guest worker visa program would be established. Two new visas will be created: the W-3 visa, which would be portable among potential farmers, and the W-2 visa that would be contract-based and replace the current H-2A program.

n The process farmers go through to be approved for legal guest workers would be streamlined.

n A nationwide rate for agricultural workers would allow states in the northeast to remain competitive while stipulating a wage that workers can afford to live on and farmers can afford to pay.

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