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September 4, 2019
Joint Committee on Transportation
Massachusetts State House
24 Beacon Street
Rooms 112 & 134
Boston, MA 02133
RE: The Work and Family Mobility Act (Senate Bill # 2061, House Bill # 3012)
Dear Chairman Boncore, Chairman Straus, and members of the Committee,
Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA) is offering testimony in strong support of the Work and Family Mobility Act. At CISA, we are committed to strengthening local farms and to building a fair and just local food economy that serves everyone, including the people who work on farms.
For 26 years, CISA has provided business and marketing support to local farms and food businesses. We are based in South Deerfield and work with over 400 farms and food businesses in Franklin, Hampshire, and Hampden counties, in addition to working across the Commonwealth in partnership with other organizations.
Our support for the Work and Family Mobility Act stems from the vital importance of immigrant workers in agriculture and in our state’s local food economy. An estimated 40% of farm workers in the United States in 2018 were foreign born,1 and 24% were undocumented.2 These statistics represent countless individuals who work long and difficult hours to plant and harvest our food, who live in and contribute to local communities, who sustain local businesses, and who are commonly denied any pathway to legal residency.
Many farms in our state, as in much of the rest of the country, rely on foreign-born workers to plant, tend, and harvest their crops. Farm work is physically demanding, jobs are often seasonal, and profit margins and pay rates are low. American-born workers are increasingly reluctant to do farm work, and while many farmers would like to pay their employees more, they are limited by an intensely competitive, price-sensitive market for food.
Local farms’ dependence on immigrant workers is nothing new, but for decades now Congress has failed to create viable options for these farm workers to obtain legal status and citizenship. Several farmers have told us that challenges related to farm labor, including the current immigration climate, are the greatest threat to their business.
In the absence of federal solutions, Massachusetts can take one practical step towards acknowledging our reliance on the 200,000 undocumented immigrants who live in the state: we can afford the basic right to obtain driver’s licenses regardless of immigration status, as fourteen other states have already done.
Why is this a good idea? Because undocumented immigrants need to drive to their jobs, live their lives, raise children, and feed their own families. Because studies have shown that this change will make the roads safer for everyone. And because, in this extreme political environment, we must enact state policy that reduces the threats to community members who grow and harvest our food, yet unjustly live in fear of arrest, separation from their families, and deportation.
Thank you for your careful attention to our testimony. We urge you to favorably vote the Work and Family Mobility Act out of committee and to work to assure its passage by the Legislature.
Philip S. Korman
1According to 2018 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data
2According to 2018 Pew Research Trust data