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Bill to Provide Work Permits to Undocumented Agricultural Workers Draws Mixed Responses

Between the drought and a worker shortage, it's been a tough year for the agricultural industry.

Local farmers are looking to Assembly Bill 20, authored by Assemblyman Luis Alejo, for some relief. They believe the bill, which seeks to provide work permits to undocumented agriculture workers, can help to solve at least their labor problems.

Farmer Erin Gil, president of the Santa Clara County Farm Bureau, deems the bill “big” and “super important.”

Gil pointed out a report by the Santa Clara County Department of Agriculture, which shows that agriculture has a $1.6 billion impact on the South Bay economy. Despite saying he understands the federal government and some congressional leaders’ resistance to the bill, Gil added: “It’s time to do this.”

Cesar Juarez, a longtime South Bay community activist for immigration reform, acknowledged that a bill aimed specifically at farmworkers could weaken the overall immigration reform movement. That said, though, he considers it realistic to support Assembly Bill 20.

"I've been fighting for comprehensive immigration reform for over 10 years,” Juarez said. “We haven't won comprehensive immigration reform. So this piecemeal approach — this approach of winning small victories — is just beneficial for my community."

Although the bill passed the Assembly last month, Alejo told NBC Bay Area that he expects a tougher fight at the California State Senate.

NBC Bay Area's Rhea Mahbubani contributed to this report.

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