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Farm Bureau backs path to citizenship for dairy workers in US illegally

New York’s largest farm lobby group supports President Biden’s plan for a path to “permanent legal status” for people in the country illegally, including hundreds of dairy farmworkers in the North Country. The New York Farm Bureau also is pushing to make farmworkers eligible to get the coronavirus vaccine.

North Country dairy farms have relied heavily on workers from Mexico and Central America for years now. And because there’s no federal visa for year-round agricultural work, almost all of them are in the country illegally.

President Joe Biden’s immigration reform plan introduced last week would offer those workers an eight-year path to citizenship.

New York Farm Bureau President David Fisher, a dairy farmer from Madrid in St. Lawrence County, says the immigration package is a good “starting point.”

“This is not a new issue for us. It’s one we’ve been discussing for years,” Fisher said in a Zoom call with reporters Wednesday. “We need a comprehensive approach for people who are already working on our farms as well as seasonal and year-round needs in the future.”

Fisher says the bill should also expand the H2A agricultural worker visa to include year-round workers, like those on dairy farms. NYFB is meeting with U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer this week, who as Senate majority leader backs the immigration package.

The Farm Bureau also met with Congresswoman Elise Stefanik. Most of her Republican colleagues have signaled stiff opposition to a path to citizenship for people in the country illegally.

Asked Wednesday if she supports citizenship for dairy farmworkers already in this country, Stefanik said she supports a legal status referred to in a previous bill as a “certified agricultural worker.” According to the bill language, the worker would only be able to apply for permanent resident status after fulfilling an unspecified “certain amount” of agricultural labor for “a number of years.” Stefanik said she opposes Biden’s plan and will co-sponsor the narrower bill that addresses current farmworkers and the H2A expansion.

“The Biden immigration plan is much more sweeping,” Stefanik said. “It is broad amnesty with zero dollars for border security, which is really important in a district like mine.”

In other priorities, Fisher said the Farm Bureau is also lobbying the state and federal government to make farmworkers eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine. “We must protect the health and safety of the essential workers that our food supply relies on in this country,” he said.

The Farm Bureau announced other federal priorities for this year in a press call Wednesday, including normalizing agricultural trade with China, increasing it with other parts of Asia and Europe, including signing the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which former President Donald Trump scuttled, and licensing more meat processing plants in New York state.

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