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Heinrich, Luján Introduce Legislation to Support Colonias Communities and Farmworkers

WASHINGTON — U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Chair of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies, and U.S. Senator Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) introduced the Office of Colonias and Farmworker Initiatives Establishment Act to ensure that the Department of Agriculture and other federal agencies directly address the needs of farmworkers and colonias communities.  

Colonias are unincorporated communities within 150 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border that lack basic infrastructure such as safe drinking water, wastewater systems, and adequate housing. Recent studies estimate 2,459 colonias exist across New Mexico, Arizona, California, and Texas. In New Mexico, there are 150 colonias. 

This legislation would create an Office of Colonias and Farmworker Initiatives within the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to coordinate intradepartmental and interagency efforts to address the needs of colonias residents and farmworkers, including affordable housing, health care, water and wastewater infrastructure, high-speed internet, and economic development. It would also transfer the existing Farmworker Coordinator position at USDA into this Office, as well as name a new Colonias Coordinator position to work with community groups and nonprofits serving colonias, giving residents a direct voice to advocate for their communities.  

“Working families deserve a level playing field and an equal opportunity to thrive in their communities,” said Heinrich. “By helping farmworkers and residents of colonias better access existing federal programs and resources, this legislation will deliver for those working hard to put food on the table, foster economic growth, and create a more stable foundation for the future.” 

“In New Mexico and across other border states, colonias lack basic infrastructure that impacts their ability to access health care, safe drinking water, and a reliable internet connection, among other necessities. The residents and farmworkers living in these communities need an advocate in their corner at the federal level committed to their success," said Luján. "That’s why I’m proud to join Senator Heinrich to introduce this legislation that creates an office dedicated to colonias and farmworkers, and responsible for addressing their needs." 

The Office of Colonias and Farmworker Initiatives Establishment Act would direct the USDA to ensure that colonias and farmworkers have equitable access to and participation in USDA programs by: 

  • Establishing an Office of Colonias and Farmworker Initiatives within USDA, which would implement a plan to improve outreach to farmworkers and colonias communities, provide input to USDA programs and other federal agencies on policy decisions affecting farmworkers and colonias, and serve as a liaison between nonprofit organizations serving colonias and farmworkers and local, state, and federal government agencies;  
  • Creating an interagency federal coordinating committee to provide recommendations for assisting colonias and farmworkers and their families; 
  • Requiring USDA to establish goals to increase the participation of individuals in colonias and farmworkers in USDA programs. 

The bill is endorsed by Alianza Nacional de Campesinas, Chicanos por la Causa, Enterprise Community Partners, Housing Assistance Council, Local Initiatives Support Corporation, National Association for Latino Community Asset Builders, National Education Association, National Rural Housing Coalition, and Rural Community Assistance Partnership, and League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC). 

"For far too long, farmworker interests and needs have been excluded from the Farm Bill," said Mily Trevino Sauceda, Executive Director, Alianza Nacional de Campesinas. "Senator Heinrich's Office of Colonias and Farmworker Initiatives Establishment Act of 2023 makes a necessary first effort to incorporate them, along with Colonias Communities. We particularly see improved government outreach and resources, for infrastructural needs such as adequate housing and water access, as absolutely critical to ensuring the human rights of some of the most vulnerable people in our country." 

“In alignment with our organization's mission to advance the economic condition, educational attainment, political influence, health, and civil rights of the Hispanic population in the United States, LULAC recognizes the establishment of this office as a cornerstone in the foundation of a brighter future for some of our most vulnerable populations,” said Domingo Garcia, National President, League of United Latin American Citizens. “By championing the Office of Colonias and Farmworker Initiatives Establishment Act, we are not just advocating for a piece of legislation; we are advocating for the acknowledgment, support, and empowerment of communities that form the backbone of our nation's agricultural sector and who contribute immeasurably to our society.” 


Heinrich and U.S. Representative Henry Cuellar secured report language in the FY24 Agriculture Appropriations bill urging the USDA to consider establishing an Office of Colonias and Farmworkers and explore options to streamline and coordinate existing federal programs serving colonias and farmworkers. This legislation aims to build on this effort.  

A one-page summary of the bill is here

The text of the bill is here