Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Progress on immigration reform at hand - Opinion -

Progress on immigration reform at hand - Opinion -
Finally, an immigration sweep worth supporting. That is, the sweeping endorsement -- with a few key exceptions -- of "The AgJOBS Act" now before the U.S. Senate.

The bill, which we endorsed last fall, also has the support of several major daily newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times and Wall Street Journal. It has the votes to pass in the Senate. It just needs to be brought to a vote. The bill has broad bipartisan support, minus a few Republicans. A few diehards are slowing the bill's progress on philosophical rather than practical grounds. This is the time for those who say they support immigration reform to walk their talk.

In the Salinas Valley, the bill appeals to both farmers and farm workers because of its promise to fix what is broken with at least a portion of our national immigration policy -- the guest worker program. The AgJOBS Act is important to Salinas employers, workers and the local economy. It would create a system for foreign workers to legally work in agriculture during the peak season and then return home. It represents an opportunity to legalize a pool of workers who've been loyal to employers for several years, but illegal in status. Many in this valley would qualify. Their illegal status leaves them uncovered by minimum-wage laws and other labor protections and prone to exploitation by labor contractors, slumlords and criminals.

Of course, legalization for the illegal is the most controversial part of the bill. It would allow a half million undocumented workers to apply for temporary legal status. After meeting certain work requirements, they would become eligible to apply for permanent residency.

We like the fact that both the agriculture industry and farm labor unions are backing the bill. Let the experts, not the xenophobes, lead the way on this breakthrough in immigration reform. We need a better guest-worker program, one that treats fairly those whom we have deemed essential to our economy. Here's a chance to move immigration reform forward.


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