Journal-Advocate (Sterling)

Colorado ag worker boosts farm labor rights

Sen. Michael Bennet is helping draft language for bill that would expand rights for undocument­ed farm laborers

- By John Aguilar

Lulu Guerrero wakes up at her home in Wiggins, sometimes as early as 3 a.m., to get out to the farm fields that spread across Weld County in every direction and start her days planting and harvesting watermelon­s, onions, tomatoes, cucumbers and pumpkins.

Guerrero, who entered the United States illegally nearly 20 years ago and has worked in Colorado’s $41 billion a year agricultur­al industry ever since, lives in constant worry about her future and that of the hundreds of thousands of other immigrant workers who labor in America’s farm fields.

“We were called essential during the pandemic — all we want is the opportunit­y to get out of the shadows and stay in the country,” she said through a translator.

Guerrero, 53, spent last week in Washington, D.C., pushing for

the Farm Workforce Modernizat­ion Act, a federal bill that would create a path to legal residency — and potentiall­y eventual citizenshi­p — for undocument­ed farmworker­s in the United States.

It passed the House last year — with 30 Republican­s signing on — but has yet to get a hearing in the U.S. Senate. It needs 60 votes in the Senate to make it to the president’s desk for his signature.

Antonio De Loera-brust, spokesman for the United Farm Workers, said time is of the essence as Congress is now in a lame-duck session following the midterm elections. With Republican­s poised to take back control of the House in January, De Loera-brust said the bill needs to get a vote before the end of the year.

“If we can’t get it through the Senate this year, we won’t be able to get it through the House next time,” he said of Republican opposition. “They have a big to-do list and we’re making sure we’re on it.”

To that end, the United Farm Workers helped bring out Guerrero and more than 60 other agricultur­al workers from nine states to Washington to rally for the measure last week. Guerrero met with Democratic U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, who along with Idaho Republican Sen. Mike Crapo, is crafting a Senate version of the bill.

“This Thanksgivi­ng we can’t forget that it’s our farmworker­s — like Lulu — who work hard to provide food for Americans across the country, and we desperatel­y need to pass my legislatio­n to ensure they can continue to work and earn their right to legal status,” Bennet told The Denver Post last week.

Colorado has about 40,000 agricultur­al workers, a large portion of whom come from Mexico on seasonal or temporary federal visas, or are permanent residents. The version of the bill that passed the House last year allows farmworker­s to obtain temporary “certified agricultur­al worker” status, which would immediatel­y protect them from deportatio­n. To qualify, they have to prove employment in U.S. agricultur­e for at least 180 work days over the two years prior to the bill’s introducti­on.

Applicants must also pass security and law enforcemen­t background checks and pay a fee.

Workers with certified agricultur­al worker status would have the ability to travel outside of the United States and then return. They could apply for permanent resident status — or a green card — and eventually citizenshi­p, though that would require up to eight more years of farm work.

De Loera-brust said critics, like some Republican senators, who have deemed it an amnesty bill that incentiviz­es illegal entry into the country have it wrong.

“It’s not amnesty,” he said. “It’s not an immediate pathway to citizenshi­p.”

The bill has also been criticized by some farmworker advocacy groups, who say it doesn’t go far enough in protecting migrant workers.

The Colorado Farm Bureau has taken a neutral

 ?? COURTESY OF UNITED FARM WORKERS ?? Lulu Guerrero, of Wiggins, advocates for the Farm Workforce Modernizat­ion Act on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. this week.
COURTESY OF UNITED FARM WORKERS Lulu Guerrero, of Wiggins, advocates for the Farm Workforce Modernizat­ion Act on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. this week.

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