Assemblymember V. Manuel Pérez (D-Coachella) announced that he has introduced the California Agricultural and Service worker Act (CASA) to create a “deferred action” resident worker program to stabilize the unauthorized agriculture and service industry workforce.
“CASA is a responsible, practical approach that supports the California economy and California families,” said Pérez, chair of the Assembly Committee on Jobs, Economic Development, and the Economy. “We’ve seen what has happened in other states that have implemented harsh immigration policies – workforce shortages and business uncertainty. We don’t want that here in California. CASA will help ensure stability in the agriculture and service sectors by enabling this important workforce to work legally and without fear.”
The bill has attracted a bipartisan coalition of legislators, including principal co-author Senator Anthony Cannella (R-Ceres), as well as Senator Michael Rubio (D-Shafter) and Assemblymembers Katcho Achadjian (R-San Luis Obispo), Bill Berryhill (R-Stockton), Gil Cedillo (D-Los Angeles), and Henry Perea (D-Fresno).
“It is our role as elected leaders to change the status quo when things are not working. Since we have not seen the political leadership from Congress, it is necessary to take action on the state level,” said Senator Cannella, chair of the Senate Committee on Agriculture. “Every year that passes, the problem grows. For public safety and our economy, we must engage those that are living here in the shadows.”
More specifically, AB 916 directs the state’s Employment Development Department, in coordination with the Department of Food and Agriculture, to convene a working group to consult with the federal government to identify the roles and responsibilities of each in implementing a state resident worker program. The bill includes model language for the permit program to guide the working group’s discussions with the federal government. Using this working group approach, concerns about federal pre-emption are avoided, because the state does not prescribe what the program must include, but rather offers a vision to guide the working group.
Assemblymember Bill Berryhill said, “I join my colleagues on both sides of the aisle in support of AB 916. We are reminded every year at harvest time of our serious labor shortage in California, and it is time that we address the immigration issue directly by working with the federal government. As the highest producing agricultural state in the nation, it is time for us to step up and lead the way.” Berryhill is a San Joaquin Valley farmer and member of the Assembly Committee on Agriculture.
The new bill language was introduced as a ‘gut and amend’ to AB 916 and has been referred to the Senate Rules Committee. With less than two weeks remaining in this year’s legislative session, the measure must overcome a number of procedural hurdles, but given the relevance of this bipartisan proposal, the authors are hopeful it will soon be referred to the appropriate policy committee.
More detailed information about the model “deferred action” program proposed in AB 916:
Building off of the powers affirmed by the Obama Administration in its Dreamer Decision, the model program would provide “deferred action” to unauthorized agriculture and service workers already living and working in California. Deferred action as outlined by the Obama Administration does not confer lawful status, but authorizes prosecutorial discretion to defer the removal of specified individuals and make them eligible to apply for employment authorization.
To ensure that only current California residents qualify for the program, the model provides specific criteria workers would have to meet to qualify for a permit, including showing proof of previous employment in agriculture or service and a clean criminal background check. Once approved to work in California, workers would remain in legal status until such time that the federal government enacts immigration reform that addresses the status of these workers.
Importantly, the model program would extend to workers all of the existing wage and work protection benefits available to legal residents of the State.
To read the full text of the bill, go to www.leginfo.ca.gov.