now a student at Fresno Pacific University.
Chavez returned to Mexico in 2008 to visit an ill mother and paid $3,900 to a coyote, or smuggler, to sneak her back across the border. She says her husband was murdered in the border city of Juarez after voluntarily returning to apply for a visa at the U.S. Consulate there.
Under the ag worker proposal, she could legally work with a blue card and qualify within five to seven years for a green card bringing permanent residency.
As an incentive for people to do farm work, they would earn the accelerated path for working in agriculture for 150 days in three out of five years or for 100 days in four out of seven years. "I would happily do it," Chavez said.
Applicants would have to pass a criminal background check and pay a fine.
The agricultural industry would receive preferential treatment under the comprehensive immigration plan negotiated by a bipartisan group of senators. The vast majority of 11 million undocumented immigrants wouldn't be able to achieve permanent residency for a decade or citizenship for 13 years.
The entire plan requires proof of a secure southern border -- with 90 percent of illegal crossers turned back -- before undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. can apply for a permanent resident card, the first step to citizenship.
The agricultural worker plan, and the accord between the UFW and agricultural industries and growers, was finalized through multiple sessions over the past month in the offices of Feinstein and Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida.
In a statement last week, Feinstein said the accord resolves "outstanding issues, including wage levels, agricultural worker visas and protections for U.S. workers."
Representatives for growers got a new guest worker program that can allow up to 112,000 annual visas for agricultural laborers. The UFW wanted -- and got -- concessions setting wage scales and providing housing and other workplace protections.
"Each side had to make compromises," said Tom Nassif, president of the Western Growers Association.
The accord would require that guest workers harvesting crops earn $9.64 an hour by 2016, with a pay scale of $11.87 an hour for equipment operators and wages still to be determined for field supervisors and others. The UFW said equal protection measures in the guest worker program would effectively fortify wages for workers already here.
"This is going to create an incentive to work in agriculture," said UFW Vice President Giev Kashkooli.
South of Fresno, Selma farmer Carol Chandler hopes he is right. In recent years, she had to rely on laborers in their 50s -- and some as old as 70 -- to pick and pack grapes, peaches and nectarines as younger laborers stayed away because of immigration concerns or disinterest in farm work.
"This will really help the younger workers come out of the shadows and help us with strenuous work," she said. "Climbing ladders is really not for an older person."
(c)2013 The Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, Calif.)
Distributed by MCT Information Services
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