WASHINGTON – Senators writing a landmark immigration bill broke a logjam between farmworker unions and growers Thursday, reaching a tentative agreement on future agricultural visas and pay scales for foreign farmworkers, according to people familiar with the negotiations.
Labor unions and agricultural industry leaders had been stuck for three weeks on how to legally bring foreign labor into the United States to pick crops and tend livestock at competitive wages. The issue, which is critical to California and other major farming states, became a major stumbling block in bipartisan efforts to craft a comprehensive immigration bill.
Senate aides said negotiators were still putting the finishing touches on exactly how the new agricultural visa program would work, but the most two contentious issues were solved.
“We have a wage and cap agreement,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif) told reporters on Capitol Hill. She did not give details of the deal.
Feinstein is not among the eight senators drafting the overall bill, but she has worked since January to help the group design a program to provide legal status to the estimated 500,000 foreign farm workers in the country. It also allows farmers to legally hire foreign workers more quickly than under current law.
“We are very close,” Feinstein said.