In prior reform, legalized farmworkers left fields

Associated Press

MADERA, Calif. (AP) — In 1986, when Congress agreed to allow immigrants who were in the country illegally to get legal status, more than a million farmworkers applied. In Central California, the nation's agricultural powerhouse and a region with one of the highest poverty levels, the impact was profound.

Many legalized farmworkers left the fields, moving to better-paid jobs in packing houses, warehouses and factories, attending college and working as professionals. Others became crew leaders or labor contractors.

With Congress considering new immigration overhaul that includes a speedier process for farmworkers, experts say it could again lift many of those employed in agriculture out of poverty.

Changes would also include a guest worker program so that a poor, illegal class of farmworker isn't created again.

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