They Help Put Food on Your Table. Undocumented Farmworkers Should be Legal | Opinion

President Joe Biden called for immigration reform during his presidential campaign. Now that he is in office, it is time his administration and Congress act on behalf of undocumented farmworkers across the nation.

In November 2019, the Farm Workforce Modernization Act was introduced. It passed in the House through a bipartisan effort but was then tabled due to the rise of COVID-19.

The act will be voted on in Congress on or before March 12. It addresses the plight of undocumented farmworkers who want legal protection to work in the United States.

The initiative would provide migrant farmworkers a course of action to be legal. Many are undocumented and this wouldn't be the first time they pushed for legality in the U.S. Biden's plan for a pathway to citizenship have made the community hopeful.

Passing the bill would give over a million agriculture workers a means to gain and renew a so-called Certified Agricultural Worker (CAW) status, which is a merit-based system that is dependent upon how long undocumented workers have been steadily working in the fields.

Like the DACA program, felons and those with a misdemeanor record will not be eligible for CAW status.

Repeated cries from critics say undocumented immigrants steal American jobs. This archaic rhetoric has been inflamed by some politicians who overlook the work of undocumented immigrants.

Of the 2.4 million farmworkers in the United States, roughly half are undocumented. The work that undocumented farmworkers do is essential because without their contribution, especially during this pandemic, there would be a food shortage.

"We are at the core of the food supply chain and we're also its first responders when extreme weather threatens to devastate the harvest. My family are among the 5.5 million essential workers, and the 11 million people who are undocumented and live with endless uncertainty about our future. Without our labor, the food supply chain would collapse. The country is relying on us," said Vincente Reyes, a farmworker whose parents migrated from Mexico. He lives in California.

When it comes to the agricultural industry, so many farm employers depend on migrant workers like Vincente, who are often demonized for their legal status.

Agricultural workers from Bud Farms harvest celery for both American and export consumption on March 26, 2020, in Oxnard, California. Brent Stirton/Getty Images

The bipartisan bill is supported by liberals and also conservatives like Representative Doug LaMalfa (R-California), whose district has almost 9,000 farms.

"Across the Country and in California, farmers have been calling for a reliable and legal workforce for years. The Farm Workforce Modernization Act addresses these issues in a bipartisan manner that will provide some much-needed certainty," he said.

Many fail to realize the difficult and demanding work that takes place in the fields of California, Arizona, Idaho, Washington and other states that the rest of the country relies on for food. The hours are long and take place regardless of weather conditions or even hazards like the wildfires that ravaged California last year.

Photos of migrant farm workers toiling the fields with fires raging behind them went viral. These brave men and women were dedicated to their jobs. They faced smoke inhalation and ash raining down on them so that produce could be picked and ultimately placed on tables across the country.

The United Farmworkers Foundation, founded by labor rights activist César Chávez, supports the Farm Workforce Modernization Act.

"After months of negotiations, the UFW and UFW Foundation are enthusiastic about passing legislation that honors all farm workers who feed America by creating a way for undocumented workers to apply for legal status and a roadmap to earn citizenship in the future without compromising farm workers' existing wages and legal protections," said Arturo S. Rodriguez, president emeritus of the United Farmworkers and UFW Foundation spokesperson.

Passing the Farm Workforce Modernization Act would be the first step essential workers need to become citizens.

Through their hard work and dedication, they have already proven themselves worthy of citizenship. A pathway to legality would grant farmworkers more rights and the privilege to call themselves American.

Sarah Chavera Edwards is a Mexican American writer based in Phoenix, Arizona. She has been published in Ms. Magazine, Remezcla and other Phoenix-based publications. Her writing tends to deal with Latino issues, mental health, the arts and whatever piques her interest.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.