GALESVILLE, Wis. - Millions of undocumented workers are a step closer to being eligible for legal status.
Congress is nearing a vote on sweeping immigration reform.
The Senate showed strong support Monday for a measure of the so-called "Gang of Eight" bill, which would tighten border security. That means the Senate is on track to hold a final vote on the bill before Congress breaks for recess at the end of the week.
If this bill passes, about 11 million undocumented workers would become eligible for permanent-resident status, but only after Homeland Security develops significant border security and fencing plans.20714758
Immigrants granted this so-called "provisional legal status" would be able to work and travel in the U.S., but would not be eligible for most federal benefits like welfare and health care.
It's a change that would impact employers like Tom Ferguson, the owner of Ferguson's Orchards.
Picking apples is no walk in the park.
"It's physically demanding work," said Ferguson. "For more local citizens, it's difficult because it's a seasonal job. And it's very hard to expect somebody to leave a good job to come and do this for six weeks."
That's why Ferguson hires 20 to 25 migrant workers every year -- mostly from Mexico -- to help prune and pick the orchards' 40,000 apple trees.
About half the people who come to him looking for work turn out to be illegal immigrants -- even the ones who have lived in the state with their families for a decade or more.
"Here, we make sure that everybody's got a work visa, everybody's got a Social Security number. Whether or not that ends up being valid by the time we submit all the paperwork, we never know," said Ferguson.
He said the so-called "Gang of Eight" immigration reform bill would make the task easier for him, both by making more undocumented workers eligible for permanent residence and by requiring all employers to use E-verify, a program to electronically verify workers' legal status.
"We do best as a community when we all do better as individuals. And this legislation will really help us, as a community, do better," said Curtis Miller, who organizes a local coalition for social justice called AMOS.
Miller said the bill would help bring both migrant workers and employers some needed stability.
"When you have those kinds of security, those legal statuses, where you can plan, you can build a business, where you can know your workers are going to be there next year, it's going to be better for everybody," said Miller.
"If it's a difference between leaving this crop hanging there on the trees and going to waste, which means financial ruin, or hiring whoever's available to pick them, that's a tough decision for me to make," said Ferguson.
Also, our community joined in on the conversation about immigration reform on Tuesday.
At least 50 people came together on the UW-La Crosse campus to discuss the local impact from the legislation.
Panelists from throughout the community shared what changes our area can expect, including in education and healthcare.
They also spent a good portion of the time talking about the path to citizenship.
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