LAS LOMAS — A small cadre of farmworkers, union officials and politicians gathered at Monterey Mushrooms in Las Lomas Friday to welcome U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who was there to discuss farmworker rights and agricultural issues.
Joining the senator for the roundtable discussion was Congressman Jimmy Panetta and United Farm Workers President Arturo Rodriguez.
Feinstein, who is running for her fifth six-year term in the November election against Democratic rival Kevin de León, has earned endorsements from both the UFW and the Western Growers Association, organizations that often find themselves on opposite sides of the ideological divide.
"We don't agree on hardly anything," said UFW spokesman Marc Grossman.
That support was forged when Feinstein helped author provisions of the 2013 immigration reform bill, which would have helped undocumented farmworkers attain residency, Grossman said. The bill passed the Senate with no amendments, but was knocked down in the Republican controlled House, he said.
Feinstein also sponsored the Agricultural Worker Protection Act of 2017, also known as the Blue Card Bill, which would give farmworkers permanent residency when they work a certain amount of hours.
That bill was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee in May 2017, but is almost certainly dead on arrival in the House and Senate, both of which are now firmly controlled by Republicans.
“Everywhere I travel in California, I hear from farmers, growers and producers from all industries — wine, citrus, fruit and tree nuts, dairy — that there aren’t enough workers,” Feinstein said of her reasoning for the bill. “Farm labor is performed almost exclusively by undocumented immigrants — a fact that should surprise no one. By protecting farmworkers from deportation, our bill achieves two goals — ensuring that hardworking immigrants don’t live in fear and California’s agriculture industry has the workforce it needs to thrive."
In explaining why he invited Panetta and Feinstein, Rodriguez said he wanted the lawmakers to hear directly from the farmworkers.
"We want them to hear and see the needs that are important to them and thank her for the years she has spent in support of the agricultural industry," Rodriguez said. "She has been a champion for us when it comes to agricultural reform, time and time again."
Such support is critical, Rodriguez said, in the face of the Trump administration's hardline approach to immigration issues.
"They are feeling that they are not wanted," he said. "That they are not appreciated. There is a state of panic."
Rogelio Luna said he has been working at the plant, most recently in Morgan Hill, for 45 years and that he is a legal citizen.
"It's really important for (Feinstein) to visit us today because there are a lot of people that are afraid and they want to know they are safe," he said, through a translator. "I've been helping people with their paper work. We have to protect ourselves and we have to defend out rights."
Once the round table discussion opened up, the media snowed Feinstein with a wealth of questions regarding Friday’s arrest in the recent wave of pipe bomb mailings around the country that were sent to prominent Democrat politicians, leading figures, actor Robert De Niro and the CNN news branch in Manhattan. The FBI is also investigating a bomb package that arrived Friday in Burlingame at an address for billionaire Tom Steyer and another for Senator Kamala Harris in California.
Feinstein said she hoped pressure would mount for the president to unite people, adding that she felt this kind of thing was bound to occur.
She went on to say that she was not afraid, mentioning that years ago a bomb was delivered to her house.
“The man who did this, we need to know a lot more about him, but this is one of the more serious things that I’ve seen,” Feinstein said. “But presidents are supposed to bring people together, not drive them apart. All of these rallies with ‘lock her up;’ [Clinton] hasn't been a candidate for a long time. Why do that? To create hatred? And then hatred drives certain people to do certain things.”