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Maine farmers and business leaders urge Congress to expand migrant worker program

Farm owners, immigrant advocates and business leaders in Maine say the state is suffering from a severe shortage of agricultural and food workers. Now these groups are pushing Congress to pass legislation aimed at addressing the labor shortage by allowing more migrant workers into the country and helping those already here. increase.

Penny Jordan is one of the owners of Jordan’s Farm, a mixed vegetable business in Cape Elizabeth. Her farm has been hit hard by seasonal labor shortages in recent years, and at times she relies on three or so field workers for work that she should have done with six or seven. There is also

“I’m making decisions every day about what to keep and what to harvest, and it’s happening more and more,” she said.

Jordan tried to make up the shortfall by hiring temporary farm workers through the H-2A visa program.

“And then I went back to the H-2A program. They were completely inflexible and didn’t offer positive workers.

Jordan was speaking at a press conference in Dayton on Thursday. held to draw attention to what they say.

James O’Neill of the American Business Immigration Coalition said stories like Jordan are unfolding across the country.

“We have seen crops rotting in the fields. We have seen the land uncultivated because farmers do not have the labor to do it,” he said. .

Part of the answer, O’Neill said, is for the Senate to pass the Farm Workforce Modernization Act. The bill passed the House last year with bipartisan support.

This will extend the H-2A visa program beyond seasonal work, allowing year-round producers such as dairy farms to employ migrant workers through the program. It also aims to simplify the application process.

Maine Chamber of Commerce President Dana Connors said having a stable workforce benefits food producers and consumers.

“This is essential in terms of fighting inflation and not only stocking the grocery shelves with the groceries we need, but also keeping prices down,” he said.

Connors points to research published earlier this year by researchers at Texas A&M International University that suggested that bringing more migrant workers into the country could help lower inflation. doing.

Juan Rodriguez Vazquez speaks at a press conference Thursday at Pearson Nursery in Dayton. Vazquez, executive director of Mano en Mano, a nonprofit that works with migrant workers in Maine, praised the Farm Workforce Modernization Act for including a pathway to citizenship for migrant farm workers .

The Agricultural Workforce Modernization Act will also pave the way for citizenship for migrant workers. Juana Rodriguez Vazquez, executive director of Millbridge-based migrant worker advocacy group Mano en Mano, said the provision was particularly beneficial to Maine’s migrant workers and their contribution to the state. said he acknowledged

“We need to create a path to permanent status, fully welcome immigrants who are already here, and contribute to our community every day,” Vasquez said.

One group that has spoken out against the bill is the American Farm Bureau Federation. The only Democrat to vote against the House last year was Rep. Jared Golden of Maine’s Second District. did. He said he was unable to close the loophole that allowed Canadian truck drivers to abuse seasonal work visas.

The Senate version of the bill is now before the Judiciary Committee. A spokesperson for Sen. Susan Collins and Sen. Angus King of Maine said they would evaluate the bill if it passed the committee.