Immigration Votes in House!?

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Immigration votes in the House during the summer of an election year? Strange, but looking to be true.

As of this reporting, the U.S. House of Representatives is scheduled to vote on two immigration policy bills during the week of June 18. Neither bill is certain to pass. And what happens will shape what’s next for agricultural labor reform. Here is the setup.

First, a group of moderate Republicans who had defied their own leadership to nearly force floor votes on up to four separate bills to address the fate of the Dreamers/DACA recipients came within two signatures of success, but proponents ultimately acceded to a compromise process brokered by House Speaker Paul Ryan and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy. Representative Dennis Ross (R-FL) and Representative Dan Newhouse (R-WA) held back from signing the discharge petition after leaders’ promise of a vote on two bills and floor time later in July to consider an agricultural worker visa package in late July.

So, we now expect two votes this week. The first on some version of H.R.4760, the Goodlatte bill, which is preferred by immigration hard-liners. The bill includes sweeping border and interior enforcement provisions, mandates E-Verify for all employers, and substantially cuts legal immigration. It includes an agricultural visa component, though most groups (including AmericanHort) have not endorsed the bill based on concerns that the agricultural provisions are not workable.

The second, alternative compromise bill seeks to adhere to President Trump’s “four pillars.”  It would fund a border wall, eliminate the diversity visa lottery, and repurpose those visas for a new program that would allow “Dreamers” a bridge into the legal immigration system (and, ultimately, a path to citizenship). It would also eliminate certain categories for immigration based on family sponsorship.

Trump caused a flurry of confusion with a June 15 announcement that he would not sign the compromise. The White House later walked back the comments, saying the President was referring to legislation that may have passed if the discharge petition had gone forward.

Will July bring progress on agricultural labor reform?  We will of course seek to shape and support any initiative that may bring progress to ongoing efforts to reform the H-2A program and stabilize the current workforce. If this week’s votes fail, we’re unlikely to see any further window for agricultural reform legislation this summer. If a bill advances, the odds are somewhat better. Not easy to see or find a path in this volatile environment to say the least. Stay tuned.

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