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Rep. Cuellar Introduces Legislation to Create an Office of Colonias and Farmworker Initiatives

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U.S. Congressman Henry Cuellar, Ph.D. (TX-28), U.S. Congresswoman Veronica Escobar (TX-16), and U.S. Congresswoman Jasmine Crockett (TX-30) introduced the Office of Colonias and Farmworker Initiatives Establishment Act of 2023. Image Sources: Crockett; U.S. House of Representatives, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons. Escobar: U.S. House Office of Photography/House Creative Services, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons. Cuellar: Eric Connolly; U.S. House Office of Photography, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.
U.S. Congressman Henry Cuellar, Ph.D. (TX-28), U.S. Congresswoman Veronica Escobar (TX-16), and U.S. Congresswoman Jasmine Crockett (TX-30) introduced the Office of Colonias and Farmworker Initiatives Establishment Act of 2023. Image Sources: Crockett; U.S. House of Representatives, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons. Escobar: U.S. House Office of Photography/House Creative Services, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons. Cuellar: Eric Connolly; U.S. House Office of Photography, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Texas Border Business

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Washington, DC – U.S. Congressman Henry Cuellar, Ph.D. (TX-28), U.S. Congresswoman Veronica Escobar (TX-16), and U.S. Congresswoman Jasmine Crockett (TX-30) introduced the Office of Colonias and Farmworker Initiatives Establishment Act of 2023. The legislation creates an Office of Colonias and Farmworker Initiatives within the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to better focus on addressing the needs of border colonias communities and farmworkers across the country. This USDA-wide office will coordinate and lead inter-departmental and inter-agency efforts to address the needs of border colonias, farmworkers, and farmworker family members nationwide, including housing, health care, water and wastewater infrastructure, high-speed broadband, education, and more.

The term “Colonias” refers to unincorporated communities within 150 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border that often lack basic amenities – including potable water, wastewater systems, and decent housing. There is no universal list of recognized colonias, but recent studies estimate 2,459 across Texas, California, Arizona, and New Mexico – 88% of which are located in Texas.

“For many border colonias residents, access to adequate housing, health care, and clean water is a persistent challenge. Farmworkers also face unique challenges accessing health care, providing uninterrupted schooling for their children, and securing housing. I introduced this bill to ensure both colonias and farmworkers in South Texas have basic necessities and ease their quality of life,” said Dr. Cuellar. “The Office of Colonias and Farmworker Initiatives Establishment Act of 2023 will help streamline federal, state, and local government resources for easier assistance and outreach. Border colonias communities and farmworkers deserve better, and as a son of two migrant farmworkers, I am committed to making that happen. Thank you to my colleagues and fellow Texans, Congresswoman Veronica Escobar and Congresswoman Jasmine Crockett, for working with me to deliver for our colonias and farmworkers.”

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“Colonias across our country lack fundamental and critical infrastructure,” said Congresswoman Veronica Escobar. “In Texas, the state legislature allowed for the proliferation of these developments without ensuring they had access to something as fundamental as water. The inadequate funding and resources at the state level make it more important that the federal government step in to uplift these families. Establishing an Office of Colonias and Farmworker Initiatives is an important component of ensuring these underserved communities have a seat at the table. I’m proud to co-lead legislation like this as we continue the effort to elevate the needs of colonia residents and farmworkers.”

“Texas’ border communities are not political props – they are vibrant, diverse places with unique issues and needs. They are also chronically under-counted, under-served, and under-invested in, leaving local officials and organizations unable to support and serve those who call our colonias home,” said Congresswoman Jasmine Crockett. “As a member of the House Agriculture Committee and the Agricultural Labor Working Group, I have also seen the need for greater coordination between federal agencies to better serve farmworkers. I’m honored to work with Reps. Cuellar and Escobar to introduce legislation to fill this need by establishing a dedicated office focused on addressing the unique challenges both farmworkers and colonias face in accessing federal programs.”

“As the largest and oldest Hispanic organization in the United States, LULAC is proud to support the Office of Colonias and Farmworker Initiatives Establishment Act of 2023 that Congressman Henry Cuellar (D-TX-28) is introducing in the House of Representatives. We believe that the establishment of this office is vital to the colonias communities, farmworkers, and their families, to ensure that they are aware of and receive the services that are vital for their survival and well-being,” said Domingo Garcia, National President of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC).

“The National Rural Housing Coalition is pleased to endorse Rep. Henry Cuellar’s legislation establishing an Office of Colonias and Farmworker Initiatives at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). There is a pressing need to improve housing and community facilities in the Colonias and farmworker communities. Rep. Cuellar’s legislation promises better coordination and the potential to bring a ‘whole of government’ approach to improving these communities,” said Bob Rapoza, Executive Secretary of the National Rural Housing Coalition. “We appreciate the Congressman’s leadership on this important issue.”

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“The Office of Colonias and Farmworker Initiatives Establishment Act of 2023 is welcome and long overdue commonsense legislation. Farmworkers are elemental to the agricultural industry, and, as such, are indispensable to national security. Yet, despite the value they bring to our nation, they are often devalued by society. This much-needed measure will help rectify that by ensuring these essential workers are aware of life-changing federal programs and have the access to participate in them to not only improve their lives and those of their family members, but also to contribute more richly to their communities. AFOP applauds Representative Cuellar for all of his efforts on behalf of our nation’s farmworkers,” said Daniel Sheehan, Executive Director of the Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs (AFOP).

“RCAP strongly supports The Office of Colonias and Farmworker Initiatives Establishment Act of 2023. As communities on the fringe both geographically and economically, Colonias have historically been underserved and overlooked. It is critical to prioritize Colonias and Farmworkers when looking to bolster rural infrastructure. Struggling water and wastewater services in Colonias are not uncommon, especially without technical assistance, and severe weather continually increases their vulnerability. We applaud Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX-28), Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-TX-16), and Rep. Jasmine Crockett (D-TX-30) for introducing this important bill that will improve government outreach and assistance for Colonias and Farmworkers,” said Olga Morales-Pate, Chief Executive Officer of the Rural Community Assistance Partnership (RCAP).

This legislation directs the new Office to improve engagement, recommend new initiatives and programs to benefit these communities, provide technical assistance, and create an interagency federal coordinating committee to improve access to programs benefiting colonias communities and farmworkers and their families. The Act builds on previous work dating back to the 1990s by Dr. Cuellar at the state and federal level to improve conditions in colonias – including passing landmark legislation in Texas and working with former U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison to increase funding for colonias. In addition, as a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee, Dr. Cuellar secured report language in the fiscal year 2022 omnibus appropriations bill calling for the USDA to explore creating an Office of Colonias and Farmworker Initiatives.

The Office of Colonias and Farmworker Initiatives Establishment Act of 2023 is endorsed by the following organizations: Alianza Nacional de Campesinas, Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs, Chicanos Por La Causa, Enterprise Community Partners, Habitat for Humanity International, Housing Assistance Council, League of United Latin American Citizens, Local Initiatives Support Corporation, Migrant Justice, National Association for Latino Community Asset Builders, National Education Association, National Migrant and Seasonal Head Start Association, National Rural Housing Coalition, Raza Development Fund, Rural Community Assistance Partnership, and United Migrant Opportunity Services.

For more information on the Office of Colonias and Farmworkers Initiative Establishment Act of 2023, click here.

Dr. Cuellar is a strong supporter of colonias and farmworkers. Click here to read about his work for colonias and farmworkers in the House Appropriations Committee, here for his work as Texas Secretary of State, and here for his work in the Texas Legislature.

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