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House passes immigration bill, citizenship bill for farmworkers

One measure would provide a pathway to citizenship for "Dreamers," while the other would allow green cards for farmworkers.
Migrant workers clean fields in the Salinas Valley in California on March 30, 2020.
Migrant workers clean fields in the Salinas Valley in California on March 30, 2020.Shannon Stapleton / Reuters

WASHINGTON — The House on Thursday passed an immigration bill that would create a pathway to citizenship for millions of "Dreamers" and passed another bill to allow green cards and overhaul protections for farmworkers.

The first bill, dubbed the American Dream and Promise Act, would provide a pathway to citizenship for the millions of undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children, and those granted temporary protection from deportation. The measure passed 228 to 197, with nine Republicans voting in favor of the measure.

Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Calif., one of the sponsors of the bill, said in a statement ahead of the vote, “For far too long, Dreamers and others have waited in limbo and lived with the fear of being deported from the only country they know as home."

"Dreamers were brought to this country as children," she continued. "Many are unaware that they are undocumented until they apply for college, and many more have felt the need to keep their status a secret out of fear of deportation.

House Democrats previously passed the bill with seven Republicans voting in favor of the measure, but it was not taken up by the Senate then controlled by the GOP.

"The American Dream and Promise Act of 2021 is a critical first step in reforming our immigration system and will provide much needed relief to TPS holders and Dreamers, young people who came here as children and know no other country," President Joe Biden said in. a statement after the bill was passed.

The other bill that passed Thursday, titled the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, creates a system for undocumented workers to apply for legal status and allow farmworkers to receive a green card if they pay a fine and work an additional four to eight years in agriculture. The measure would also overhaul the temporary agricultural worker program, which allows U.S. employers who meet certain regulatory requirements to bring foreign workers into the country to fill such jobs.

It passed by a vote of 247-174, with 30 Republicans voting in favor of voted the bill. Rep. Jared Golden, D-Maine, was the sole Democrat to vote against the legislation.

"The Act will deliver the lawful status and better working conditions that this critical workforce deserves, as well as much needed stability for farmers, growers, and the entire agriculture industry," Biden said in statement."

The House also passed that bill in 2019, with 34 Republicans voting in favor, but it too was not taken up by the Senate.

President Joe Biden, who supports both bills, said in a statement after the farmworker measure passed that it "will deliver the lawful status and better working conditions that this critical workforce deserves, as well as much needed stability for farmers, growers, and the entire agriculture industry."

Biden added that his administration is ready to work with both parties "to address the needs of our essential workers, bring greater dignity and security to our agricultural sector, and finally enact the long-term solutions we need to create a safe, orderly, and humane immigration system" while also focusing on the root causes of migration.

At an event promoting the legislation ahead of the vote, Rep. Raul Ruiz, D-Calif., chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, said it was important to make the proposed changes, especially given how the immigrant communities were both contributing to fighting the Covid-19 pandemic and being disproportionately hurt by it.

"Dreamers are doctors, nurses, lab technicians, contact tracers and job creators," he said. "Farmworkers are getting infected and dying from Covid at a much higher rate than the general public. They are literally dying to feed you, give you the nutrients you need to heal from Covid."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said at the event, "We are making a very big difference in how we respect the beautiful diversity of America, how we respect the fact that immigration is the constant reinvigoration of America."

Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., who sponsored the farmworkers bill with Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., added that the U.S. food supply has remained stable during the pandemic "thanks to the farmers of America, but also the farmworkers of America, most of whom are undocumented and most of whom have been here more than 10 years. They live in a period of uncertainty and we decided we should do something about it."

Newhouse, a farmer himself, said in a statement, “I understand the invaluable contributions our producers and farmworkers make to our nation’s unparalleled agriculture industry."

"Bringing our agriculture labor program into the 21st century is absolutely critical as we work to recover from the impacts of the pandemic and ensure a stable food supply chain in the United States," he continued. "We must act now to provide certainty to farmers, ranchers, and farmworkers across the country.”

Thursday's action on the bills comes as the Biden administration grapples with a significant surge of people crossing the U.S.-Mexico border illegally, including thousands of unaccompanied children. The legislation doesn't address that situation, which Republicans are calling a crisis, but the two bills are a longtime Democratic priority.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., denounced Democrats' efforts Thursday and criticized Biden for not responding to a recent letter he sent requesting a meeting with the president to discuss the situation at the border. He sent another letter Thursday asking to meet.

"Unfortunately, House Democrats are not interested in making any serious attempt to address this crisis," McCarthy told reporters at his weekly press conference. "Today, they are voting on two bills that not only do nothing to address the problem — it ignores the problem — but will actually worsen the situation."

His comments echo GOP criticisms that the administration's softer tone on immigration and reversal of former President Donald Trump's hardline policies have contributed to the increase in border crossings.

House Democrats, meanwhile, are not ready to vote on their more comprehensive immigration bill, called the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021, which would provide an eight-year path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. by Jan. 1. The bill would also lift hurdles for workers to legally immigrate to the U.S.

Dareh Gregorian, Haley Talbot and Dartunorro Clark contributed.