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Proposed farm bill gets praises and criticism

A new proposed bill in Congress has the ability to provide foreign farm workers with many benefits to help them become legal employees.

The bill, written by the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and called the American Specialty Agriculture Act, allows the easement of housing and transportation requirements, and could give more potential employees work visas.

The goal, the chairman said at a recent committee meeting, is a law which will provide American farmers and growers with a program to hire legal workers and keep their farms up and running.

"If bills creating a workable guest-worker program like this one ... are not passed, then the agricultural industry as we know it today will not exist," the president of a large agriculture business out of South Carolina said on the record at the committee meeting.

If passed, the bill would progress grower applications for H-2A workers faster and would also give them an option to provide the employees with a housing voucher instead of housing. Additionally, it would move the H-2A program to the Agriculture Department from the Labor Department, a welcome change by farmers.

However, the bill would also no longer allow legal aid attorneys to sue on behalf of foreign guest workers before formal mediation, which could be harmful to immigrant workers.

Although many support the proposed bill, there is some speculation concerning harsh terms and constraints. A Democratic state representative of California said he fears the bill creates a reason for employers to hire foreign workers who work for cheap wages in the place of American workers. Others call it insufficient and continue to be skeptical.

Overall, states including North Carolina, South Carolina and Washington are praising the bill. A Republican congressman out of California, which employs the most agriculture workers in the country, said he is going to create a bill which will compete against the current bill.

Source: Miami Herald, "Nation's farm states push competing guest-worker bills," Michael Doyle, Sept. 8, 2011.

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