The Agriculture Workforce Coalition is proposing a system that will give both employer and employee flexibility. It would have two options.

One calls for at-will employees to have the freedom to move from employer to employer without any contractual commitment and a visa term of up to 11 months with USDA registered employers and then returning home for 30 days.

The other calls for contract employees who commit to work for an employer for a fixed period of time and would have a visa term of up to 12 months and be conditioned upon a commitment to return to their home country for at least 30 days over a three year period.

Resnick and others noted that there has been a significant change in the tone of conservative commentators now leaning toward such reforms. Some of that has to do with a Republican party out to burnish its image in the light of a lost presidential election.

“One major national party recognizes that, as (Republican senator) Marco Rubio put it very eloquently, ‘It’s very hard to have a discussion with people about your common values when they think you want to deport their mother,’” Little said.

Several speakers and audience members said they would like to see the framework for a legitimized workforce in place before implementation of E-Verify, an electronic system employers used to verify if a person is legally authorized to work in the United States. There appeared to be a consensus that E-Verify will be a certainty and a concern that its immediate effect would be the loss of many farmworkers.

Stephen Mascarenas, president of Mid Valley Labor Services, said the number of workers coming from Mexico is declining because of fears of crossing the border, gang wars and an economy in Mexico that is growing at a higher rate than in the United States.

Mascarenas said he would like to see “a co-op of farmers” that would serve as an exchange system for moving migrant workers from job to job as different crops are planted, pruned or harvested.

“That would give control back to the farmers and the farm labor contractor,” he said.  “And it would be a way of knowing who’s in our country, who are they working for. It would provide a sense of security.”

Barbara Cecchini said between 200 to 300 farmworkers normally apply to work at her family’s asparagus farming operation in Northern California. So far, only 35 have applied.

She fears some of the crop will be lost, which happened last year as well.

“I need people coming back, and they aren’t coming back,” she said.