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July 27, 2017

Farmworker Justice opposes the “Save Local Business Act” introduced in the House today because it would remove an important mechanism to protect farmworkers and other low-wage workers from suffering violations of the minimum wage and child labor requirements.  

“The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, which sets minimum wage, overtime, and child labor standards, adopted a definition of employment relationships based on 50 years of experience under state laws that evolved to address employers’ efforts to evade child labor and other labor laws.  This bill contravenes 130 years of experience in how to address sweatshops and other labor abuses,” said Bruce Goldstein, President of Farmworker Justice, a national advocacy organization for farmworkers.  “This bill, if enacted, would result in massive violations of the minimum wage and other labor abuses in agriculture that would harm farmworkers and harm the reputation of the entire agricultural sector.”

Many agricultural workers suffer violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act’s minimum wage and other basic labor protections.   Often, when such workers try to remedy illegal employment practices, they run into a problem:  the farm operator that really determines their job terms and has the capacity to prevent abuses denies that it is their “employer” for purposes of the minimum wage and other labor protections.  Instead, the farm operator claims that a “farm labor contractor” or other intermediary is the sole “employer” of the farmworkers on its farm.

In most such cases, the definition of employment relationships in the FLSA allows courts and the Department of Labor to consider the farm operator and the farm labor contractor to be “joint employers” and jointly responsible for complying with the law.   

The so-called “Save Local Business Act” would change the definitions of employment relationships under the FLSA and the National Labor Relations Act (which does not apply to farmworkers).   Because the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act (AWPA) refers to the definition in the Fair Labor Standards Act, the proposed law may also apply to AWPA.  AWPA is the principal federal employment law for farmworkers, regulating employment contracts and the use of farm labor contractors.

This bill would make it far more difficult to hold a farm operator jointly liable for minimum wage violations.  A farm operator could make major decisions about the conditions under which farmworkers are employed, but avoid “employer” status by using a farm labor contractor instead of its own supervisor to ensure that its decisions were carried out.  This is an old avoidance scheme that has been the subject of numerous lawsuits in which farm operators have been held to be joint employers with their farm labor contractors.  This bill seeks to reverse those holdings.  

“Farm operators want to assure their profit by exerting substantial control over the work performed on their farm.  They should not be able to take advantage of the benefits of their power over workers but use farm labor contracting to escape the responsibility owed to workers,” added Goldstein.

 

July 19, 2017

Regarding today’s hearing of the House Judiciary immigration subcommittee titled “Agricultural Guestworkers: Meeting the Growing Needs of American Farmers,” Farmworker Justice President Bruce Goldstein stated:   “The situation facing our nation’s farmworkers and food system is dire.  At least half and likely more of our nation’s farmworkers are undocumented.  These farmworkers are living and working in fear due to the Administration’s criminalization of immigrants and the increasing pace of indiscriminate arrests and deportations of immigrants. The most important step to take now is to pass legislation that gives current undocumented farmworkers and their family members the opportunity to obtain immigration status and eventual U.S. citizenship.”

This hearing is an opportunity to move forward a positive and workable solution in Congress that will meet the needs of workers, agricultural employers, and our food system. The Agricultural Worker Program Act, which was introduced in Congress by Rep. Gutierrrez and Sen. Feinstein, and cosponsors, would recognize the hard work and contributions of experienced farmworkers by providing them an opportunity to earn lawful permanent residency through continued agricultural work. This bill would benefit America by ensuring farmworkers the ability to continue working and contributing to the communities in which they have long been members; providing a stable workforce for employers; and helping to ensure a secure, safe and responsible food system for consumers.

The hearing is focused on agricultural “guestworkers.”  We know from our own history and world-wide experiences that a guestworker system is not an appropriate solution to solve the current problems.  We are already seeing unprecedented expansion in the H-2A program; there is no cap on the number of H-2A visas per year and many more employers are applying.  We are deeply concerned about this expansion: both for our domestic labor force which may be losing access to needed farm jobs, and for H-2A workers, who are vulnerable to exploitation due to their dependent status on their employer and other structural program flaws. America is a nation of immigrants, not guestworkers.  We must respect the humanity of farmworkers and treat them as we would treat others who contribute to our nation’s success, offering them the opportunity to be permanent members of our society and the communities they help build.

July 18, 2017

The House Appropriations Committee, while voting on the spending bill for the Department of Homeland Security today, suddenly added a fundamental, substantive change to the H-2A temporary foreign agricultural worker program.  The amendment would require the U.S. government to approve employers’ applications for permission to hire agricultural guestworkers for jobs that are year-round; H-2A visas could be issued without regard to whether the jobs are temporary or seasonal.  The effort to change the scope of the H-2A program through an amendment on the appropriations bill was led by Rep. Newhouse (R-WA), with the support of Representatives Cuellar (D-TX) and Aguilar (D-CA).

               

Farmworker Justice strongly opposes this proposed change and the method by which it was adopted.  Bruce Goldstein, President of Farmworker Justice, said: “Expanding the H-2A program to year-round jobs would contravene the purpose of the program and further distort the agricultural labor market.  The H-2A program is premised on the idea that it may be difficult to find U.S. workers for seasonal farm jobs because they yield lower annual incomes than year-round jobs. That same logic does not apply to year-round employment. Agricultural employers with year-round jobs should do what any other employer must do to attract and retain workers: improve wages and working conditions.”

 

This amendment does nothing to fix the H-2A program.  The H-2A program is rife with abuses resulting from unscrupulous employers that take advantage of the vulnerable guestworkers, displacing U.S. workers and undermining U.S. workers’ labor standards.  Moreover, expanding the H-2A program to include year-round jobs does nothing to address the roughly one million current farmworkers who are undocumented and face the threat of detection and deportation.  It makes little sense to allow employers to hire H-2A workers to displace their current undocumented farmworkers. 

 

Farmworker Justice calls on Congress to prevent this amendment from passing and to pass legislation granting immigration status and a path to citizenship for undocumented workers and their family members. The solution to the agricultural industry’s reliance on immigrant workers must be to respect the contributions and humanity of those workers by passing comprehensive immigration reform. The Agricultural Worker Program Act would do that by providing an opportunity to move forward a positive and workable solution in Congress that will meet the needs of workers, agricultural employers, and our food system.

Featured Blog

July 21, 2017

This has been a very busy week on immigration. Although our blog focuses on this week’s Congressional attacks on farmworkers, we also want to note yesterday’s introduction of the DREAM Act in the Senate. More information is available here from United We Dream, including a call to continue speaking out to protect DACA, TPS and the entire immigrant community.  

House Hearing on Agricultural Guestworkers

This week, farmworkers faced attacks on several fronts in the House of Representatives. On Wednesday, July 19th, the House Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security held a hearing entitled: “Agricultural Guestworkers: Meeting the Growing Needs of American Agriculture.” The witnesses included U.S. Rep. David Valadao (R-CA), two agricultural employers – Sarah Frey (CEO of Frey Farms) and Jon Wyss (owner of Gebbers Farms) - and Giev Kashkooli of the United Farm Workers (UFW). For those of you who don’t know, the majority party (currently the Republican Party) can typically invite 3 witnesses, while the minority party (currently the Democratic Party) gets only one witness.

Discussion of Goodlatte Agricultural Guestworker Proposal
During the hearing, Rep. Goodlatte (R-VA), the Chair of the Judiciary Committee, shared details about a bill he is drafting which will be similar to one he introduced and reported out of the Judiciary Committee in 2013. He said he plans some adjustments based on his conversations with agribusiness representatives (note that no farmworker voice was included in this process).  Goodlatte stated that his program would enable “illegal farmworkers to participate legally in American agriculture” as guestworkers, but clarified that there would be no pathway to permanent legal status. Goodlatte’s description indicated that key H-2A program labor protections would be removed, as his program would strip out recruitment protections for US workers, free housing and transportation, and wage protections -- or as he put it “unrealistic wage rates dreamt up by DOL bureaucrats.”  

Goodlatte also seemed to indicate that he would remove government oversight, including by expanding the program to include year-round industries such as dairies and food processors, providing limited at-will employment subject to certain conditions (indicating this might be at-will for employers but not workers), and protecting employers from abusive lawsuits (with no mention of what workers facing abusive conditions might be able to do). Goodlatte’s brief description of his upcoming legislation is deeply troubling and we will be watching its development closely.

Rep. Goodlatte’s characterization of the H-2A program’s operation and rules was misleading. For example, Goodlatte criticized the H-2A wage rate as an artificially inflated wage rate, when in reality the program’s Adverse Effect Wage Rate (AEWR) is simply the average wage paid to nonsupervisory field and livestock workers in a survey of farmers by USDA. DOL then publishes these wage rates as the official H-2A AEWR.  UFW’s Giev Kashkooli pointed this out in his testimony and also took on many of the other complaints and mischaracterizations of the H-2A program. As to the complaints of “frivolous litigation,” Kashkooli pointed out that litigation is important to protect farmworkers from abuses like those that took place at Fernandez Farms, including unlawful kickbacks, failure to provide free housing, multiple wage violations, and threats and coercion. Kashkooli also pushed back on complaints about government oversight and housing requirements by pointing to the recent G Farms investigation where the federal government found H-2A workers being housed in converted school buses in the Arizona summer.

Summary of Witness Testimony
The grower witnesses who testified at the hearing criticized the regulations, monitoring, and enforcement actions carried out by the various government agencies who manage the H-2A program, despite their own very successful use of the program. When questioned about how they would improve the program, the employer witnesses called for lowering wages through the elimination of the AEWR as well as the transfer of the program to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), among other changes aimed at “streamlining” the program.

In contrast, during his testimony, Mr. Kashkooli described the origin and importance of the protections in the program, as well as the need for a path to legal status for the farmworkers who toil in our fields, many of whom have been doing this work for decades and have become established in our communities. Mr. Kashkooli spoke about the importance of honoring those who do this important work.  He praised the Agricultural Worker Program Act, which currently has over 50 House cosponsors. Later in his testimony, Mr. Kashkooli reiterated the importance of immigration reform for farmworkers to be able to choose their employer, leave an abusive employer if needed, and move freely around the country without fear.  

Several other Members of Congress and witnesses spoke to the valuable role farmworkers play in our society. Reps. Buck and Valadao both praised the work of farmworkers, with Rep. Buck noting that “[l]abor is the lifeblood of the agricultural industry” and Valadao sharing his view that “[h]ard-working immigrant farmworkers are not only the back-bone of our agriculture industry, but they and their families are the heart and soul of many rural communities.”  Ms. Frey shared that she views her workforce as farmers and family.  

Given this shared recognition of the value farmworkers bring to our successful agricultural system and our rural communities, one is left to wonder why there is not also a shared recognition of the need to ensure these same workers have the ability to safely remain in their communities and contribute to our economy.  Instead, Rep. Goodlatte and his colleagues, as well as the grower witnesses, propose to convert these aspiring Americans to temporary guestworkers who would be separated from their families and forced to return to what is now a foreign country for many of them. Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), the ranking member on the subcommittee, noted that 93% of farmworkers have been in the United States for at least 5 years, with 55% here over 15 years. A majority have children, many of whom are United States citizens.  

Substantive H-2A Amendment Added to Appropriations Bill

During his questioning, Rep. Conyers (D-MI) mentioned the H-2A related appropriations amendment that was sneakily added by the House Appropriations Committee to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) spending bill the day before (Tuesday, July 18). Kashkooli shared that he was “stunned” to learn of the amendment, criticizing the substantive legislating on the H-2A program in the appropriations process as well the harm this would bring to farmworkers. He pointed to the many dangerous conditions in dairy work, including the two recent deaths of farmworkers in manure pit drownings.

Farmworker Justice also learned of this sneak amendment just shortly before it was offered, and is strongly opposed to both the process and substance of the amendment. This effort to change the scope of the H-2A program through an amendment on the appropriations bill was led by Rep. Newhouse (R-WA), with the support of Representatives Cuellar (D-TX) and Aguilar (D-CA).   Rep. DeLauro (D-CT) spoke out against the amendment, noting the substantive and procedural problems with the amendment and the opposition of Farmworker Justice, the UFW, AFL-CIO and UFWC.  

The amendment would allow agricultural employers to petition for H-2A workers for year-round agricultural work without regard to whether those jobs are temporary or seasonal, as is currently required under the H-2A program. The H-2A program is limited in scope to temporary and seasonal jobs because those jobs may be more challenging to fill given their short-term nature. As Ms. Frey, one of the hearing witnesses, noted in response to a question by Rep. Goodlatte, the H-2A program is important for seasonal and temporary work, not year-round employment because “… if we were able to offer year-round employment, that would be very different and we’d be able to fill those positions, I believe, with American workers.”  Importantly, enlarging the scope of the H-2A program to include year-round jobs does nothing to address the roughly one million current farmworkers who are undocumented and face the threat of detection and deportation.  

We have an experienced workforce willing to do this difficult and dangerous work that just needs to be given the opportunity to earn legal immigration status in order to do so without fear. It makes little sense to allow employers to hire H-2A workers without addressing the need to legalize the current undocumented farmworkers already doing this work.  

Importance of Agricultural Worker Program Act

The solution to the agricultural industry’s reliance on immigrant workers must be to respect the contributions and humanity of those workers. The Agricultural Worker Program Act (H.R. 2690, S. 1034), introduced in the House by Rep. Gutierrez (D-IL) and in the Senate by Sen. Feinstein (D-CA) would do that by providing an opportunity to move forward a positive and workable solution in Congress that will meet the needs of workers, agricultural employers, and our food system.

The bill’s approach is the right one, because we know from decades of experience that a guestworker system is inherently flawed and not an appropriate solution. Yet, there is an unprecedented expansion in the H-2A program; there is no cap on the number of H-2A visas per year and many more employers are applying.  We are deeply concerned about this expansion: both for our domestic labor force which may be losing access to needed farm jobs, and for H-2A workers, who are vulnerable to exploitation due to their dependent status on their employer and other structural program flaws. America is a nation of immigrants, not guestworkers.  We must respect the humanity of farmworkers and treat them as we would treat others who contribute to our nation’s success, offering them the opportunity to be permanent members of our society and the communities they help build.

Press Conference Supporting the Agricultural Worker Program Act

Rep. Gutierrez (D-IL) is a member of the Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on Immigration and was also present at the hearing on agricultural guestworkers, where he lifted up the hard work and contributions of these workers and urged Congress to support his proposal. The day before the hearing (Tuesday, July 18th), Rep. Gutierrez held a press conference with five of the bill’s cosponsors from the state of California – Reps. Zoe Lofgren, Judy Chu, Jimmy Panetta, Salud Carbajal and Jim Costa – UFW Political Director Giev Kashkooli and Greisa Martinez, Advocacy Director of United We Dream, all of whom highlighted the importance of this legislation. The press conference was held outside the Capitol building in almost 100-degree heat, to highlight just how grueling farm work can be. During the press conference, the speakers called for those who harvest the fruits and vegetables in the blazing heat for our dinner tables to be given a seat at the table with a path to legal immigration status.

New H-2A Legislation: Guestworker-Only Approach

Also this week: Three Members of Congress, Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), Senator Jon Tester (D-MT), and Representative Trent Kelly (R-MS), introduced the “Paperwork Reduction for Farmers Act.”  Farmworker Justice is still analyzing the legislation but did see that in addition to addressing application procedures for the H-2A program, the bill enlarges the scope of the program to include year-round livestock workers (including dairy and poultry) and equine workers.  We oppose the bill and will share an analysis of this legislation shortly.    

To view the full hearing on agricultural guestworkers, please click here.

To view the full press conference on the Agricultural Worker Program Act, please click here.

For a brief article summarizing the H-2A appropriations amendment, please click here.

 

July 14, 2017

New Agricultural Guestworker Proposals Being Developed by Trump Administration

As previously noted, the Trump Administration is reportedly developing proposals to change or replace the H-2A agricultural guestworker program. More recently, at a meeting during the G20 summit, President Trump and Mexican President Enrique Peña-Nieto agreed to a bilateral discussion on temporary work programs for Mexican migrants in the agriculture sector. The U.S., Canada and Mexico are also renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which may also be an arena in which agricultural work visas are discussed.  Farmworker JusticeJ believes that the concerns of workers regarding guestworker programs would not be adequately addressed during trade negotiations.  In addition, the history and legacy of the abuses under the Bracero Program (1942-1964), which was the product of a U.S.-Mexico agreement, should cause great concern about potential bilateral discussions on an agricultural guestworker program.     

New Agricultural Guestworker Proposals Likely in Congress

House Judiciary Committee Chair Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) is reportedly drafting a new immigration bill addressing agricultural workers.  Although the language of the bill is not yet public, agribusiness media has reported that it will be “less cumbersome” than the H-2A program and will also include the dairy industry.  During a recent House Committee on Agriculture hearing titled “The Next Farm Bill: Technology & Innovation in Specialty Crops,” agribusiness representatives expressed concerns about an agricultural labor shortage amid increased immigration enforcement, critiqued the current H-2A program, and called for reforms to ensure a “workable” guestworker program. In response to these concerns, some Agriculture Committee members referenced the forthcoming Goodlatte bill as a possible solution.

The House Judiciary Committee has also scheduled a hearing next week, specifically on the topic of agricultural guestworkers. However, the exact timing for the introduction of any proposed legislation remains uncertain. While farmworker advocates are unlikely to support a bill introduced by Rep. Goodlatte, who has a long and harmful history on these issues, it is unclear how well-received it would be by agricultural interests, fellow Republicans in Congress and the Trump Administration.  Increasing employers’ access to foreign workers could conflict with potential plans by the Trump Administration to reduce legal immigration and exacerbate tensions between pro-business and anti-immigrant factions within the Administration and Congress.

Fortunately, there is a positive and workable solution in Congress that will meet the needs of workers, agricultural employers, and our food system. As we have shared in the past, the Agricultural Worker Program Act which was introduced in Congress recently, would provide a path to lawful permanent residency for agricultural workers. The list of bill cosponsors in the House and Senate continues to grow.  We appreciate your advocacy efforts in support of this important bill.

Increased Use of H-2A Guestworker Visas and Labor Contractors Continues, Heightening Possibility of Even More Labor Abuses  

In the meantime, the H-2A program is proving to be very workable for employers, with growth of the program almost tripling in size during the last decade: from about 60,000 worker positions certified in FY 2006 to about 165,000 worker positions certified in FY 2016. FY 2017 Department of Labor statistics for the H-2A program show that approximately 97,000 positions have been certified so far this year, an increase of approximately 30% over the same period last year, with a timely approval rate of around 98%.  The H-2A program does not have a cap, which allows for an unlimited supply of foreign workers. FJ continues to be concerned about treatment of both US and domestic workers under the H-2A program.

As stated by Farmworker Justice President Bruce Goldstein in an article regarding H-2A workers in the California wine industry, “the history of the program shows these guest workers are very vulnerable to abuse and many employers take advantage of those vulnerabilities.”  This worker vulnerability is often worsened by the use of labor contractors. As highlighted in another recent article, some employers, including agribusiness giant Monsanto, continue to use labor contractors even after allegations of labor abuse. This is especially concerning in light of the fact that, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, from 2001 to 2015, the number of farm labor contractors and crew leaders nationwide increased by nearly 20%. As pointed out by FJ President Bruce Goldstein in the article, labor contracting situations can lead to rampant violations of farmworkers’ labor rights.

FY 2018 House Appropriations Bills

This week, various House Appropriations Subcommittees published their proposed FY 2018 funding bills. (There are 12 Appropriations Subcommittees and each one submits a funding bill for their area of focus.) It is important to note that the appropriations process is just beginning, and the bills must be reviewed by the Senate and approved by both chambers of Congress. Still, the House Subcommittee proposals will frame the debate going forward, so we will continue to monitor their possible impact on immigrants and farmworkers.

Farmworker Housing – During the mark-up of the Agriculture Appropriations Bill, Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-WA) introduced an amendment that would allow Section 514 housing to be used to house H-2A workers, as a way of addressing the increased need for worker housing resulting from the H-2A program’s continued growth. Section 514 loans are provided to build or improve housing for farm laborers, and H-2A workers are currently not eligible for this type of housing.   Farmworker Justice has opposed using these subsidies for the benefit of H-2A employers because there is a severe shortage of housing for farmworkers in the U.S. and inadequate housing programs for farmworkers.

Immigration Enforcement - The House Appropriations Subcommittee for Homeland Security (DHS) recently presented its proposed FY 2018 appropriations bill, which immigration advocates have described as a “rubber stamp” and “blank check” for President Trump’s deportation policies. Among other provisions, the bill includes $4.4 billion in funding for detention and removal programs and hundreds of millions of dollars to hire 1,000 additional ICE officers and 500 additional CBP officers. The bill also includes $1.6 billion for the construction of a “physical barrier” on the U.S.-Mexico border. The issue of immigration, particularly the funding for the wall, is likely to have an impact on the negotiation of the broader FY 2018 budget, and the battle over this funding could lead to a government shutdown in the fall.   

Sen. Tillis Puts Hold on USCIS Director Nomination Over H-2B Guestworker Visas

In an attempt to get approvals for more visas under the H-2B non-agricultural guestworker program, Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC), has put a “hold” on the nomination of Lee Francis Cissna for Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). A “hold” allows a single lawmaker to delay action on bringing a nominee to the Senate floor for a vote. Democrats already have a hold on Cissna and other Judiciary Committee nominees as part of a broader strategy to protest Republican efforts to repeal Obamacare.

The H-2B seasonal non-agricultural guestworker program has an annual cap of 66,000, but this cap has been increased through Congressional action in the past. This year, Congress gave DHS Secretary John Kelly the authority to issue up to 70,000 additional visas on a last-minute appropriations rider, but he still has not made a decision regarding their allocation. Both the FY2017 budget resolution and FY2018 budget proposal include riders limiting the protections available for H-2B workers. North Carolina is one of the top ten recipients of H-2B workers, and Sen. Tillis has stated that there are not enough U.S. workers to fill summer job vacancies. North Carolina is also a top ten recipient of agricultural workers under the H-2A program and, as with the H-2B non-agricultural visas, agricultural employers in the state similarly assert that there are not enough U.S. workers to fill temporary jobs in agriculture.  

Anti-Union Farm Bill Signed by Governor of North Carolina

On July 13, North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper signed a wide-ranging farm bill which included a last minute, anti-union amendment. The amendment takes away farmworkers’ freedom to use payroll deductions for voluntary union dues or fees and makes it illegal for farmworkers and growers to sign an agreement as part of settlements of lawsuit. The amendments are aimed at the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, AFL-CIO (FLOC), the only agricultural workers’ union in the state, which has collective bargaining agreements with several hundred growers on behalf of thousands of farmworkers in the state. FLOC and the NC State AFL-CIO had previously denounced the amendment, characterizing it as an attack on farmworkers’ rights and retaliation for a series of lawsuits brought by farmworkers against several farms in the state, one of which is owned by a NC state Senator who sponsored the bill.  Despite a campaign by FLOC and allies, Gov. Cooper refused to veto the bill. 

DHS Sec. Kelly Says Administration Will Not Commit to Protecting DACA or TPS

In a closed door meeting with members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) on July 12, DHS Sec. John Kelly stated that although he personally supports the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, he cannot guarantee that the Administration will defend it in court.  At the meeting, Sec. Kelly urged Congress to find a legislative solution. When asked about the fate of Temporary Protected Status (TPS), particularly for the countries of Nicaragua, Honduras and El Salvador, whose designations are due to expire next year, Sec. Kelly did not commit to their renewal. Shortly after the meeting, Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), who was present at the meeting and is the Chair of the Immigration Task Force of the CHC, issued a call to action to protect DACA and TPS and fight mass deportations,  describing immigration as “an integral part of who we are as a country.”  

Farmworker Justice “Unidos” Initiative Seeks to Empower Farmworker Communities

Rebecca Young, Senior Project Director at Farmworker Justice, recently spoke about the importance of empowering existing and emerging leadership among the immigrant farmworker community. While discussing Farmworker Justice’s “Unidos” initiative (in collaboration with the Vista Community Clinic), Young emphasized the importance of addressing concerns about increased immigration enforcement as part of the initiative’s efforts to improve access to cancer screening and treatment for immigrant farmworkers and their families.  Please click here for the full article.



 

June 30, 2017

Two Anti-Immigrant Bills Passed in House of Representatives Yesterday

Representative Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, introduced two anti-immigrant bills that were approved by the House yesterday (June 29). The two bills are entitled the “No Sanctuary for Criminals Act” (H.R. 3003) and “Kate's Law” (H.R. 3004). The “No Sanctuary for Criminals Act” targets sanctuary cities and seeks to coerce state and local jurisdictions into enforcing immigration law, while also requiring mandatory detention for broader categories of undocumented persons, among other provisions. “Kate’s Law,” in turn, enhances the government’s ability to prosecute illegal reentry cases and increases the sentences that may be imposed. This is significant because more than half of all federal criminal prosecutions are for illegal reentry and the prison system is already overburdened.

Farmworker Justice joined over 400 non-governmental organizations urging members of Congress to oppose these bills, which will further the criminalization and incarceration of immigrants and ultimately make communities less safe. These bills demonize immigrants, who actually are less likely to commit crimes than the native-born. Though the bills passed in the House, they have a lower likelihood of passing in the Senate. However, it is important that we continue to advocate against increasing the Trump Administration’s capacity for mass detentions and deportations. The White House has stated that it “strongly supports” both bills and that they will likely be signed into law if they are presented to the President.

House Immigration Agenda: Guestworker Changes May Follow Enforcement Bills

On Tuesday (June 27), Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID) was appointed to head the Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security of the House Judiciary Committee. Rep. Labrador, a former immigration lawyer who was elected in 2010 with the Tea Party wave, supported the two anti-immigrant bills that passed in the House yesterday and has also introduced another enforcement-focused bill, the Davis-Oliver Act.  In a recent press call, Labrador stated that he believes the Davis-Oliver Act will get a vote in the House and that after passage of these enforcement-centered bills, he plans to focus on the issue of guestworkers. He also specifically referenced the H-2A visa program and a possible expansion of the program to include year-round jobs on dairy farms. Idaho is the fourth-largest dairy production state. Additionally, Labrador noted that there are draft plans underway for a guestworker proposal involving 3-year visas which would require undocumented workers to first leave the U.S. in order to be eligible.  

Landmark Ruling Affirms Immigrant Workers’ Protections against Retaliation

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals recently issued a favorable opinion affirming key federal protections for immigrant workers asserting their rights. The case, Arias v. Raimondo (which Farmworker Justice joined as amicus curiae) involved Jose Arias, an immigrant dairy worker who sued his employer for various wage violations. His employer’s attorney reported Mr. Arias to immigration authorities in an attempt to have him removed from the U.S. before trial and Mr. Arias subsequently sued the attorney. The Ninth Circuit Court ruled that the attorney could be held liable under the Fair Labor Standards Act’s (FLSA) anti-retaliation provision, which protects workers regardless of their immigration status. This decision is a victory for workers, and is the result of years of litigation by California Rural Legal Assistance (CRLA) and Legal Aid at Work.

Immigrants’ Health Compromised by Increased Immigration Enforcement

The current context of increased immigration enforcement is having a real impact on the health of immigrant communities. Health providers across the country have noted a decrease in the number of immigrants seeking medical care, even for chronic and possibly life-threatening conditions. In addition, the anxiety of possible deportation and/or family separation is having an adverse impact on the mental health of immigrants, including young children, resulting in physical symptoms such as stomach pain, dizziness, shortness of breath, and insomnia, among many others.

Past studies have demonstrated a correlation between increased immigration enforcement and a decrease in immigrants’ use of preventive health services, as well as tangible negative impacts on health outcomes. Reluctance to seek medical care among farmworkers may also exacerbate physical conditions resulting from the arduous tasks associated with agricultural work.  As noted by a farmworker in a recent article in The Atlantic: “we put our lives out there in the fields for a job that will never give our health back.”

Recent Supreme Court Developments Affecting Immigrants

Muslim Ban – On June 26, the Supreme Court made a long awaited announcement regarding President Trump’s “Muslim Ban” Executive Order. The Court agreed to take on the issue and said it will begin hearing oral arguments in October. The Court also allowed parts of President Trump’s EO to go into effect, allowing a temporary travel ban for refugees and citizens of six predominantly Muslim countries, unless they have a “bona fide relationship” with a person or entity in the U.S. On June 28, the State Department issued guidelines regarding what types of personal and professional relationships qualify for this exception, which it then partially modified the next day in order to clarify that fiancé relationships are included. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) also published a set of FAQs on the ban yesterday (June 29), just before it officially went into effect at 8:00 p.m. Litigation on the new ban is already underway, as the state of Hawaii has submitted a motion asking for clarification on the scope of the ban. It remains to be seen whether the implementation of the ban will once again lead to confusion at ports of entry, as well as further litigation.  

DACA – Also on Monday, the Supreme Court asked the Trump Administration for its views on whether those in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program are legally present in the country. The request was directed to Jeffrey Wall, the acting U.S. Solicitor General, and is related to the case of Brewer v. Arizona Dream Act Coalition (ADAC). The Brewer case concerns a 2012 directive by then-Arizona governor Jan Brewer ordering the state not to provide driver’s licenses to DACA recipients. In 2014, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) supported DACA enrollees in their challenge to the directive, and an appellate court ordered the state of Arizona to issue licenses to DACA recipients. An estimated 21,000 Arizona DACA recipients have since been issued driver’s licenses. However, it is unclear whether the government’s position will change under the new Administration and the Supreme Court is currently weighing whether it will take the case. In the meantime, the licenses currently held by DACA recipients remain valid and operational, as does the DACA program itself, although it continues to be under attack.

Ten States, Led by Texas Attorney General, Call on U.S. Government to End DACA

The Attorney General of Texas, Ken Paxton, along with the Attorneys General of nine other states and the governor of Idaho, have sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions asking that the U.S. government rescind the 2012 memorandum establishing DACA and cease to accept or renew applications for the program. The state of Texas, along with 25 other states, had previously sued the U.S. government over the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) program, a proposed extension of DACA. As a result of that litigation, the DAPA program was blocked before it could be implemented. The recent Texas Attorney General letter threatens to expand the scope of litigation to include DACA unless the U.S. government agrees to rescind the program. It establishes September 5, 2017 as the deadline for the government to act.

 

 

 

Immigration

Quick access to our dual-language resources about immigration enforcement specifically for farmworkers. Resources include preparedness checklists, FAQs about raids, and Know Your Rights Toolkits.

Immigration is a critically important issue for farmworkers. Learn about current legislation proposals impacting farmworkers.

Learn about the history of guestworker programs, H-2A program for temporary agricultural work, and the H-2B visa program.