Student Adjustment and Farm Worker Legislation at the Forefront of Congressional Debate
October 17, 2003

As previously discussed in this column, various pieces of immigration related legislation dealing with farm workers and undocumented status high school graduates have been introduced in Congress in the past year. Very recently, bi-partisan, compromise versions of these legislative proposals have worked their way toward the top of Congress’ agenda and are now the subject of lively debate, with some sort of resolution on the matter – one way or the other, expected in the coming weeks.

The version of the farm worker proposal under consideration would create a program to allow certain foreign farm workers, even those currently in the U.S. without immigration status, to obtain “guest workers” visas to fill agricultural jobs for employers who have demonstrated the unavailability of U.S. workers to fill the positions.

Highlights of the bill under consideration include provisions enabling individuals who have worked in agricultural related positions for more than 3 months prior to August 31, 2003 to be granted temporary legal status, and if they continued working in such positions for 360 days over 6 years, they could qualify for lawful permanent resident status.

Congressional leaders are in agreement that the U.S. labor market has not sufficiently met the needs of our farming industries. Disagreements continue to linger, however, over whether those in undocumented status should be rewarded for violating U.S. immigration laws.

Also high on the congressional agenda are bi-partisan measures to allow certain young adults who have resided in the U.S. for an extended period and graduated high school to obtain certain U.S. immigration benefits, notwithstanding their undocumented status. The Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, or “DREAM Act”, if enacted, would provide undocumented students the opportunity to gain conditional permanent resident status provided they:

  1. have lived in the United States for at least 5 years and were under the age of 16 at the time of entry;
  2. have graduated from high school or have been accepted to a college or institution of higher education;
  3. are of good moral character
  4. AND

  5. are not deportable on account of a criminal conviction, alien smuggling or document fraud.

Prospective applicants, under this proposed legislation would eventually be eligible to convert their conditional status to that of a lawful permanent resident as long as they comply with one of the following:

  1. obtain a diploma from a junior college or trade school;
  2. complete at least two years of a bachelor’s or graduate program;
  3. join the Armed Forces and if discharged, be honorably discharged;
  4. OR

  5. perform part or full time volunteer community service under the direction of the USA Freedom Corps or with an entity eligible to receive funds from the Combined Federal Campaign.

Those unable to meet these requirements would need to demonstrate both a compelling reason why they cannot fulfill the requirements, and demonstrate that they would suffer exceptional and extremely unusual hardship in the event they were removed from the U.S.

As stated, debate on these measures continue, and members of the public, particularly U.S. citizen voters, who wish to express their support should contact their U.S. congressman’s or Senator’s office.

Further developments regarding these and all other important legislative proposal will continue to be featured in this column.

Copyright © 2003-2008, By Law Offices of Richard Hanus, Chicago, Illinois