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Dairy to Push for Expanded H2A in Immigration Bill

John Herath

February 22, 2021

House Democrats have introduced a sweeping immigration overhaul package called the U.S. Citizenship Act. The centerpiece is an 8-year path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants living in the U.S.

The bill is likely an opening salvo in negotiations with Republicans over broad immigration and border security changes, according to Paul Bleiberg, Senior Vice President of Government Relations for the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF).

His organization is one of many that will be pushing for tweaks to immigration reform.

“We've long prioritized two solutions, one being an adjustment of status to provide a permanent legal status to our current farm workers and their families who are obviously very important to the communities that they're in, as well as an expansion of the H2A guest worker program in a way that would allow dairy and other year-round sectors to actually be able to use the program,” Bleiberg told the DC Signal to Noise Podcast.

It’s that expansion of the H2A guest worker program that is not included in the House bill.

Both Bleiberg and Pro Farmer Policy Analyst Jim Wiesemeyer see the bill as a marker, or a starting point for what likely will be piecemeal approach to immigration and border security reform. Wiesemeyer says one big, comprehensive bill stands little chance in Congress.

“If you want to have a comprehensive thing, that's where this thing has fallen down in the past,” Wiesemeyer notes.

The dairy industry may already have a step up on the first bill in that piecemeal approach. The Farm Workforce Modernization Act was approved in the House late in 2019, but stalled in the Senate after COVID-19 response consumed the attention in Washington. That bill contains the H2A expansion sought by the dairy industry. Under House rules, there is a narrow window for the chamber to reconsider legislation approved in the previous session without repeating the hearing process. NMPF is pushing for the House to approve that measure once again, according to Bleiberg.

And he said he expects that piecemeal approach to produce results for broader action on immigration in the Senate.

“We expect that if they were to move the Farm Workforce measure, they would move DACA legislation as well as a standalone bill,” he said. “What's important to us there is if you send a number of bills over to the Senate in piecemeal form, and they have some degree of bipartisan support, you send a signal to senators about what may be the lowest hanging fruit, so to speak in this debate, as it relates to DACA.”

Also included in the U.S. Citizenship Act are a fast-track proposal for farm workers to gain citizenship and the elimination of the agriculture exemption for overtime pay. That overtime provision is not likely to survive any final bill, Bleiberg said.

“I think you have broad interest among agricultural district members in guestworker reform, H2A and in providing legal status to current workers and their families. And I think that's to be viewed as a major win,” Bleiberg explained. “I would imagine those overtime provisions, while they are in that that larger package, I don't see them having a ton of legs.”

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