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Immigration reform: Farm-worker compromise brings bill a step closer to Senate floor

Farmer and labor groups are voicing support for a deal on farm workers, but it’s just one piece of the complicated effort by both political parties to craft an immigration reform bill this year.

By Staff writer / April 13, 2013

A worker trims a Vidalia onion plant before planting its roots into the soil on a farm in Lyons, Ga. Immigration legislation aims to overhaul the nation’s agriculture worker program, which relies more on illegal workers than any other industry.

David Goldman/AP

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A bipartisan band of US Senators has reached agreement on one of the central controversies of immigration reform – treatment of farm workers who currently work in the country illegally.

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The compromise would allow some 336,000 non-citizens to receive new “blue card” status that allows them to work on farms and move eventually toward citizenship.

Farmer and labor groups are voicing support for the deal, but it’s just one piece of the complicated effort by both political parties to craft an immigration reform bill this year.

“The farmers and workers have come together to back this consensus proposal is an achievement that only weeks ago didn’t seem possible,” Sen. Orrin Hatch (R) of Utah said Friday as one of the Senate dealmakers.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) of California, another leader in the talks, said in a joint news release (quoting several senators) that the agreement “includes three key provisions on farm worker wage levels, caps on agricultural guest worker visas and protections for U.S. workers.”

Details of the deal were not in the news release. According to news reports, citing sources familiar with the terms, the cap on farm worker visas would be set at 112,000 three-year visas per year, or about 336,000 people at any time.

The farm workers could apply for green cards after five years, faster than the time frame for most of some 11 million illegal immigrants under the coming Senate bill, according to a Politico article. Citizenship could follow.

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