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‘Build back’ bill offers work authorization for undocumented immigrants

Hundreds of thousands of undocumented farmworkers could gain employment and travel authorization under provisions in the social welfare and climate change bill drafted by House Democrats. But while the proposal would relieve fears of deportation, it was far less than the pathway to citizenship that is the goal of some activists.

Half of U.S. farmworkers, perhaps as many as 1.25 million people, are believed to be undocumented. Congress has struggled for years over immigration reform, whether as a comprehensive overhaul or as one-piece-at-a-time bills. The House passed a bipartisan farm labor reform bill in March that would give legal status to undocumented farmworkers who continue to work in agriculture and would modernize the H-2A guestworker program. The Senate has not acted on it.

The “build back better” bill would cover several groups of undocumented immigrants besides farmworkers, including the so-called Dreamers and those who have been given temporary protected status.

House Democratic leaders said they would call a vote on the $1.75 trillion social welfare and climate change bill on Friday.

Under the proposal, the Department of Homeland Security would grant employment and travel authorization to undocumented immigrants who entered the United States before 2011 if they apply for parole, pay a processing fee, and pass background and security checks. The grants of parole would last for five years but could be renewed through Sept. 30, 2031.

“There is more work to be done,” said the United Farm Workers union and the UFW Foundation. “Yet the real, tangible relief for millions of undocumented immigrants across the country this program would offer cannot be ignored.”

The pro-immigration group Fwd.us said the work and travel authorization “would be the most significant immigration measure passed by Congress in decades.” Upwards of 7 million people could qualify for the grants of parole and gain “basic freedoms,” it said. “With work permits, these individuals would increase their contributions to the economy and to federal, state, and local taxes by billions of dollars each year.”

The financial aspect was important because of Senate rules that require elements of the administration-backed bill to have a demonstrable impact on federal revenue. The Hill newspaper quoted House Judiciary chairman Jerrold Nadler as saying, “It’s our best option for getting past the [Senate] parliamentarian.” The parliamentarian ruled against two earlier immigration proposals.

“Immigrants are critical not only to who we are as a nation but also to our economic strength and vitality,” said the White House in a statement of support for the social welfare and climate change bill. “This bill provides work permits for qualifying undocumented individuals who have lived in our country for decades.”

Produced with FERN, non-profit reporting on food, agriculture, and environmental health.
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