Dec 15, 2021Farm Bureau, National Immigration Forum partner in citizenship effort
California’s largest membership agricultural organization is partnering with immigration advocates to support U.S. citizenship applications from farm employees who may be eligible for naturalization.
California accounts for one in every three farmworkers in the United States, with an estimated 800,000 people working in agriculture at some point during the year.
Now the California Farm Bureau, whose nearly 31,000 members include farmers, ranchers and agricultural businesses across the state, will pay for U.S. citizenship application services and legal counseling for eligible employees of any Farm Bureau member seeking assistance on their behalf.
The program is the result of a new partnership between the California Farm Bureau and the National Immigration Forum. Farm Bureau has signed a contract with the NIF for the naturalization application and counseling services.
The Immigration Forum’s first-ever citizenship partnership with a state agricultural organization was announced Dec. 6 at the California Farm Bureau’s 103rd Annual Meeting in Orange County.
Bryan Little, the Farm Bureau’s director of employment policy and chief operating officer of the Farm Employers Labor Service, said the citizenship partnership is intended to help stabilize the workforce in the United States’ leading agricultural economy.
“The efforts of this new immigration partnership go hand in hand with California Farm Bureau’s longstanding commitment to rational immigration policies that recognize the fundamental humanity and dignity of people we work with every day,” Little said in announcing the program.
The services provided will include citizenship eligibility reviews for farm employees, application preparation and case management. The partnership will also provide referrals for legal reviews of citizenship petitions.
Farm Bureau and the Immigration Forum will create an online portal to encourage eligible immigrants to apply for U.S. citizenship. Applicants will be responsible for $725 in immigration fees, though some may qualify for fee waivers based on financial hardship.
According to recent Department of Homeland Security estimates, an estimated 13.9 million green-card holders lived in the U.S. with lawful resident status in 2019. As many as 9.2 million were eligible to apply to become naturalized U.S. citizens.
California Farm Bureau President Jamie Johansson praised the partnership as an important step for farmers, ranchers and agricultural employees.
“Farm Bureau has long supported measures to improve the lives of California’s farm employees, including furnishing opportunities for those who are present in the United States with legal status as they engage in the critical work of producing food for California and the world,” Johansson said. “Offering farm employees who are eligible for U.S. citizenship a low-cost means to access citizenship puts them on a path to fully share in the American bounty they work every day to create.”
Since 2013, the National Immigration Forum has worked with some of America’s largest employers to help more than 10,000 employees and their family members become citizens.
The NIF’s New America Workforce venture pledges to “integrate new Americans into the U.S. labor market and improve their opportunities to thrive.” The venture includes a corporate immigrant integration roundtable, with participants including Tyson Foods Inc., Driscoll’s, Walmart, Target Corp., Marriott International and others.
“We value our relationship with California Farm Bureau,” said Emily Foster, vice president of corporate engagement at the National Immigration Forum. “The mission of the National Immigration Forum and New American Workforce is to assist immigrants who are eligible to access the benefits of full U.S. citizenship, and we are grateful to California Farm Bureau for giving us access to nearly 31,000 Farm Bureau members whose employees can benefit from the services we offer.”
The California Farm Bureau is a supporter of the federal Farm Workforce Modernization Act of 2021, which would reform the agricultural guestworker program and provide a path to legal status for farm employees.
“We have joined with worker advocates like the United Farm Workers calling for this program because we know that workers who are working legally in the U.S. or who have gained citizenship are empowered workers who can make choices for themselves and their families,” Johansson said. “Giving California agriculture’s employees legal status and citizenship gives them a full stake in the American dream, and that’s good for our farms, our communities and for America.”
The Farm Workforce Modernization Act could lead to immigration protections for many of the estimated 45% of agricultural workers who are currently undocumented.
However, the partnership between the Farm Bureau and the National Immigration Forum focuses on legal workers with green cards who want full benefits of citizenship.
The citizenship application process will be confidential. Only legal providers who consult with and screen farm employees will see their application details.
To ease fears of some farm employees, no citizenship petitions will be forwarded to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services if the applicants don’t qualify.
“We have these privacy safeguards in place to ensure that none of the personal information is going to be shared with anyone,” said Helena Coric, manager of immigration programs for the Immigration Forum.
She said the program also intends to protect workers who may be targeted by disreputable services falsely promising them legal status. Meanwhile, it will help those who are eligible toward their ultimate goal – citizenship.
“This offers them the opportunity, once they become citizens, to become more civically engaged,” Coric said. “They won’t have to worry about renewing green cards. They won’t have to worry about being deported. Citizenship provides the sense of security that no other immigration benefit does.”
– Peter Hecht, California Farm Bureau Federation