Committee to review CA immigration bill

Assembly Bill 20, introduced by Luis Alejo, D-Salinas, could affect up to half a million farmworkers scattered throughout the state. / photo by Misael Virgen * U-T

A bill that would grant work permits and temporary deportation relief to farmworkers living in California without authorization will undergo fiscal analysis by the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Assembly Bill 20, introduced by Assemblyman Luis Alejo, D-Salinas, proposes creating a program that would enable unauthorized immigrants in California to work lawfully in the fields.

The bill, which potentially would set a national precedent in the debate over immigration reform, could affect 380,000 to 550,000 farmworkers in the state.

The program could be significant for San Diego County, which has the 12th largest farming economy among the more than 3,000 counties nationwide, according to the San Diego County Farm Bureau.

The Senate Appropriations Committee on Monday moved the bill to its Suspense File, where it sends any bill with an annual cost that exceeds $150,000. Suspense bills all are considered at a hearing after the state budget has been prepared, according to the appropriations committee.

The committee is expected to make a decision on AB 20 by the end of August, according to Alejo’s office.

Alejo, joined by an estimated 30 farmworkers, testified before the committee Monday morning on the benefits of the program.

“California has nothing to lose by seeking out this innovative approach. The state is suffering, agriculture is suffering and our families are suffering,” he told the Union-Tribune last month.

Across the country, about 50 percent to 70 percent of farmworkers are unauthorized immigrants, according to the most recent National Agricultural Workers Survey administered by the U.S. Department of Labor in 2012.

Critics, however, say the bill is unconstitutional because state agencies don’t have the jurisdiction to make federal decisions. They also say the program is costly and would likely set the state up for lawsuits by legal agricultural workers who view the measure as creating an unfair labor pool.

After approval by the Assembly, AB 20 cleared the Senate Agriculture Committee in July with a unanimous vote.

Federal authorization would be needed before provisions of the bill could go into effect. The outlook for negotiations between state and federal agencies is unclear.