The Herald Bulletin

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April 9, 2013

Tentative farm workers deal in immigration talks

(Continued)

WASHINGTON —

That's something Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., has been calling for in response to pressure from conservatives who argue the bill is being pushed too fast without enough time for debate. Given Judiciary Committee procedures that allow Republicans to push for extra time to review legislation, the committee could begin to vote on and amend the bill the week of May 6, an aide said.

"The Judiciary Committee must have plenty of time to debate and improve the bipartisan group's proposal, so it's good that senators and the public will have weeks to study this proposal," Rubio spokesman Alex Conant said.

At least 50 percent and as much as 70 percent or 80 percent of the nation's approximately 2 million farm workers are here illegally, according to labor and industry estimates. Growers say they need a better way to hire labor legally, and advocates say workers can be exploited and need better protections and a way to earn permanent residence.

Senators plan to offer a speeded-up pathway to citizenship to farm workers already in the country illegally who've worked in the industry for at least two years. In addition they're seeking to create a new visa program to bring foreign agriculture workers to the U.S. But wages and visa caps have been sticking points, just as they were for a separate low-skilled worker program that was resolved recently with a deal between the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO.

After negotiations between the United Farm Workers and agriculture interests, including the Western Growers Association, stalled in recent weeks, the four senators working on the issue — Feinstein, Rubio, Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., and Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah — developed a framework that would ultimately call for the agriculture secretary to set visa levels and wages, according to officials involved in the talks.

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