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August 21, 2017

Mario Gutierrez, 1949-2017

With great sadness, we report the death of Mario Francisco de la Caridad Gutierrez Garcia, on August 16.  Mario Gutierrez was serving as the Chair of the Board of Directors of Farmworker Justice.  He was Executive Director of the Center for Connected Health Policy, based in Sacramento.  Mario died unexpectedly of complications following surgery.  

The entire Farmworker Justice family has expressed its deep sorrow to Mario’s wife, Debra Johnson.

Mario joined our Board of Directors in 2009 and was elected Chair in December 2015.  Farmworker Justice staff first met Mario through his work at The California Endowment where he was a leader in helping to improve California farmworkers’ health.  Mario was a visionary, extraordinarily bright and creative, generous, and a joy to collaborate with.  He was a nationally-recognized expert on telehealth and health in rural communities.  His knowledge of philanthropy and nonprofit organizational development was immensely helpful to the Farmworker Justice Board of Directors.  His passion for justice for farmworkers, their families and their communities was strong and inspiring.  His death is a great loss.

A memorial service is planned at the Sierra Health Foundation in Sacramento on August 23 at 2pm.

Read the obituary in the Sacramento Bee 

August 02, 2017

Farmworker Justice opposes the proposed RAISE Act introduced by Sen. Perdue of Georgia and Sen. Cotton of Arkansas with the support of President Trump.  If enacted, the bill would substantially restrict immigration and deprive families of the opportunity to be together and contribute to this nation.  The underlying message of this bill is to scapegoat immigrants for the problems this country faces.  Demonizing immigrants is intended to distract us from the constructive solutions that are needed. 


Any immigration policy proposal needs to take into account the agricultural system’s dependence on the highly-productive, honorable labor of immigrants, a majority of whom currently lack authorized immigration status.  Farmworkers possess skills and experience that our economy needs.  The bill’s sponsors claim they want to focus on allowing “ultra high-skilled” people to obtain some visas, but this economy and our society benefits from immigrants in all walks of life. This bill does nothing to address the reality that hundreds of thousands of farmworkers who produce our food and contribute to rural communities are living and working under the threat of arrest, deportation and separation of their families. 


Congress should ensure the stability of the farm labor force and security of our food supply by granting undocumented farmworkers the opportunity to earn immigration status and citizenship.  Employers should improve wages and working conditions to attract and retain farmworkers, and some are doing so.  If additional farmworkers are needed in the future for our farms and ranches to produce our food, they should have the opportunity to enter this country as immigrants and the opportunity to become citizens with economic freedom and democratic rights.

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.

 

Featured Blog

August 22, 2017

H-2A Farmworker Death in Washington

Farmworker Justice extends its condolences to the family and friends of Honesto Silva Ibarra. Mr. Ibarra was a farmworker employed under the H-2A guestworker program who passed away on August 6, while employed by Sarbanand Farms in Sumas, Washington. The exact cause of Mr. Ibarra’s death has not been officially determined, but some of his colleagues allege that inadequate working conditions may have contributed to the tragic outcome. A group of more than 70 workers were fired and evicted after striking to protest Mr. Ibarra’s treatment and their working conditions.  The workers and their employer have conflicting accounts of the events leading up to and following Mr. Ibarra’s death.   The U.S. Department of Labor is currently investigating the situation. Farmworker Justice has lent support to community-based organizations who are aiding these courageous H-2A workers.     

H-2A Grower in Arizona Sued by Trump Administration for Abusive Conditions

The Wall Street Journal recently reported on the U.S. Department of Labor’s  lawsuit obtaining a preliminary injunction against an H-2A employer in Arizona, G-Farms, which housed workers in school buses and semitrailers, living conditions described as a “horror show” which could have resulted in worker deaths.  FJ’s Bruce Goldstein was quoted in the article, warning that several legislative proposals would weaken H-2A protections and invite further abuse.

Vulnerability of Guestworkers Inherent, in the U.S. and Abroad

As summarized in an op-ed on the proposed expansion of the H-2A program to year-round jobs:  “Sometimes, lacking realistic access to legal protections, the best thing for a worker is to leave an abusive farm and find work where conditions are better. If, however, their jobs were tied to a visa as they would be under the proposed H-2A expansion, workers who left a job - no matter how exploitative - would automatically lose their visas and be subject to deportation. That vulnerability - built into guestworker programs - has resulted in a well-documented, decades-long history of exploitation.”

The vulnerability of agricultural guestworkers is not unique to the United States, however. A recent New York Times article details the reality of foreign guestworkers in Canada, who also fear retaliation and deportation if they speak out against their employer or try to assert their rights.   

Criticism of Proposal to Reduce Legal Immigration

President Trump recently endorsed the RAISE Act, a bill that calls for a significant reduction in immigration to the U.S. and which Farmworker Justice has condemned.   Economists and others are warning about the potential negative impacts of reducing so-called “low-skilled” immigration to the U.S. A recent Bloomberg article argues that “low-skilled” and “high-skilled” labor are actually complementary, and “low-skilled” labor is especially crucial to agriculture. Without enough labor to pull in harvests, U.S. agricultural output would shrink. In an op-ed, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) used the example of his family’s ranch to stress the importance of immigrants in working class jobs to the past and future of this country.  Farmworker Justice strongly opposes the RAISE Act.  

Trump Administration Discontinues Humanitarian Immigration Programs

Termination of Central American Minors (CAM) Parole Program  

On August 16, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a notice ending the Central American Minors (CAM) parole program. The program allowed children from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala to apply for refugee status if they have at least one parent in the U.S. The change will affect thousands of children, putting them at risk of being permanently separated from their families and enduring dangerous conditions in their home countries. The notice not only ends the possibility of future applications under the program, it also revokes existing offers already made to children who had not yet travelled to the U.S.  The decision has been decried by faith groups for turning away immigrant children in need of protection.

Haitian TPS Holders Flee to Canada

Farmworker Justice has reported in previous updates on DHS’ decision to terminate Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Haitians, which is now set to expire in January 2018. Since the announcement of this decision by the U.S. government, Canada has seen a marked increase in border crossings by Haitians seeking asylum. For many years, Haitian immigrants have labored in east coast agricultural jobs.

Update on Farmworker Health and Safety

This week we are kicking off a new section of our update focused on farmworkers’ access to health care and occupational health and safety, which have been key parts of our mission for many years. The issues of immigration policy and health are intertwined, especially for farmworkers, the large majority of whom are immigrants.

Farmworkers Face Challenges to Access Healthcare:

Farmworkers and their families who are lawfully present in the U.S., including H-2A workers, are eligible to buy health insurance coverage through the Affordable Care Act (ACA)’s health insurance exchanges. Still, there is great confusion about eligibility and the enrollment process, as described by our Senior Health Policy Analyst Alexis Guild. Recent legislative efforts to repeal the ACA have exacerbated this uncertainty. It is worth noting that the ACA remains unchanged and is still the law of the land. Farmworker Justice will continue to work to ensure that farmworker communities are informed about the law and that provisions that promote health insurance access remain in place.  

Chemical Previously Set to Be Banned By EPA Involved in Farmworker Drift Incident

Officials in Kern County, California, have fined two companies for a pesticide drift incident that injured 37 farmworkers in May of this year. The workers, who were picking cabbage in a nearby field, had symptoms including fainting and vomiting, and at least five of them had to receive medical attention. Several other pesticide drift incidents have occurred in the state this summer and are being investigated. One of the pesticides involved in the May incident contained chlorpyrifos, a chemical that has been shown to cause severe and permanent neurological harm, particularly in children; including autism, diminished IQ, ADHD and other neurological disorders. Chlorpyrifos was slated to be banned by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in March 2017 after agency scientists found the pesticide to be unsafe for use in any amount, but EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt reversed the EPA’s decision. Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) has introduced a bill in Congress entitled the “Protect Children, Farmers, and Farmworkers from Nerve Agent Pesticides Act of 2017” (S. 1624) to ban the use of the chemical.

 

 

 

August 04, 2017

Please note that the legislative proposals discussed below have not been passed by Congress. There is still time to contact lawmakers about these proposals. Please ask your Members of Congress to 1) oppose expansion of the H-2A agricultural guestworker program to year-round jobs in the DHS appropriations bill and other efforts to weaken H-2A worker protections and 2) support the Agricultural Worker Program Act, S. 1034 and H.R. 2690.  We need legalization for farmworkers, not unfair H-2A reforms that would replace our nation’s undocumented farmworkers with exploitable temporary workers.

“RAISE” Act - President Trump Endorses Bill Limiting Legal Immigration

On August 2, 2017, President Trump publicly endorsed the “Reforming American Immigration for a Strong Economy” (RAISE) Act, S. 1720. The bill, introduced in the Senate by Sen. Cotton (R-AR) and Sen. Perdue (R-GA), would significantly reduce legal immigration by, among other provisions, sharply limiting family-sponsored immigration and decreasing refugee admissions. The bill also would drastically change eligibility criteria by prioritizing visa applicants who are “high-skilled,” highly educated and English-speaking.  When asked about the need of many businesses for people without such extensive credentials, Trump’s advisor said it would be dealt with in a separate bill on guestworkers (see below).  Several Republicans and most Democrats already oppose the RAISE Act.  Sen. Feinstein (D-CA) noted in her press statement that the bill disregards the contributions of farmworkers and would not allow them the opportunity to apply for legal status. Farmworker Justice released a statement condemning the bill and its potential negative impact on farmworkers. FJ’s President Bruce Goldstein was interviewed on MSNBC by Chris Jansing on August 3 about the bill’s implications for farmworkers.

Guestworker Proposals and Contradictions Multiplying

During a White House press conference on the RAISE Act on August 2, reporters questioned President Trump’s support for slashing immigration allegedly to protect U.S. workers from competition while simultaneously using temporary foreign workers at his businesses, including a Trump-owned vineyard and the Mar-a-Lago resort.   In response, Stephen Miller, a senior advisor to the President who is known for his anti-immigrant views, sought to distinguish between the type of legal immigration addressed in the RAISE Act and the guestworker programs used by President Trump, stating that they are “totally separate categories.”  This discussion underscored the juxtaposition within the Trump Administration of nativist voices calling for deportations and reduced immigration in the name of protecting U.S. workers and   business interests that hire immigrants, use guestworker programs and express the need for more immigration.  

A recent article in The Economist challenges the assumptions of some in the Trump administration who believe the country is overrun by low-skilled immigrants, pointing specifically to agricultural work as an example of a sector that depends on immigrant labor to fill labor shortages. The article also details the rise in the use of the H-2A program.  The exponential growth of the H-2A guestworker visa program, along with the program’s potential for labor abuses, are also analyzed in a recent exposé in the American Prospect. In it, Farmworker Justice President Bruce Goldstein expresses our organization’s concern that “without any reforms, an expansion of the H-2A program will only lead to the abuse of more workers.”

Bill Introduced by Sen. Paul and Sen. Tester Would Expand H-2A Program

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) recently introduced the “Paperwork Reduction for Farmers Act,” S. 1578. While the legislation is framed as a bill that would “streamline” the H-2A application process through procedures such as electronic filing, it also includes provisions that would fundamentally change the H-2A agricultural guestworker program. It would expand the H-2A program to include year-round jobs and lessen important labor protections, including recruitment requirements for U.S. workers. Please see our fact sheet for a summary of the bill.

More Agricultural Guestworker Program Proposals Likely

As we have stated in previous updates, there are  indications of additional legislative efforts underway to expand and/or weaken the protections in the H-2A agricultural guestworker program or replace it with an even more-anti-worker, anti-immigrant program. Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), Chair of the House Judiciary Committee, is expected to introduce such a bill in September. Farmworker Justice will continue monitoring this issue and will provide an analysis of any relevant legislation if and when it is introduced.

Farmworker Justice is also deeply concerned regarding recent reports of discussions between the governments of the United States and Mexico about a possible new bilateral agricultural guestworker program. Farmworker Justice has released a statement cautioning against such an agreement, based on the lessons learned from both the Bracero and H-2A guestworker programs. We believe that the U.S. is a nation of immigrants, not guestworkers.  

Sen. Cornyn Presents Border Security Bill, Says Pres. Trump is an “Immigration Ally”

Yesterday, Sen. Cornyn (R-TX), introduced the “Building America’s Trust Act,” S. 1757, a bill which would authorize $15 billion in funding to go toward border security efforts over the next four years. The bill is cosponsored by Senators John Barrasso (R-WY), Ron Johnson (R-WI), and Thom Tillis (R-NC). The bill includes funding for “smart, multi-layered infrastructure” along the Southern border, allows the federal government to withhold funding from local governments who are considered “sanctuary jurisdictions” and would incorporate “Kate’s Law,” a measure that would increase penalties for immigrants who re-enter the country after deportation. President Trump’s call for a border wall has faced resistance in Congress and it is still unclear how this issue may affect negotiations for the FY 2018 budget, which must be approved by September 30 in order to prevent a government shutdown.  

Protecting Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Program

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which has provided protection and opportunities for approximately 800,000 young immigrants, continues to be under threat by the Trump administration. Currently, there are two legal cases which may determine the fate of the program: United States v. Texas and Arizona Dream Act Coalition (ADAC) v. Brewer. For a summary of these cases and their possible outcomes, please see the National Immigration Law Center’s (NILC) summary of legal threats to DACA.

In light of this looming uncertainty, two recent legislative proposals seek to protect DACA recipients and other young immigrants. On July 20, Sen Durbin (D- IL) and Sen. Graham (R-SC) introduced the bi-partisan DREAM Act of 2017, S. 1615. Congresswomen Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) introduced a companion bill in the House of Representatives a few days later (H.R. 3440). For a guide to the practical implications of the DREAM Act, please see United We Dream’s (UWD) short summary of the bill, including ways you can help defend DACA.

The second legislative proposal, entitled the “American Hope Act of 2017” (H.R. 3591) was introduced by Rep. Gutierrez (D-IL) in the House of Representatives on July 28 and already has over 100 cosponsors. The bill would give those with DACA and others who arrived in the United States as children a path to permanent legal status and eventual citizenship. You can read UWD’s summary of the bill here.

UWD, along with various other immigrant rights organizations, is also organizing a national day of action to protect DACA on August 15th.  For more details on the event and information on how you can participate, please click here.

Agricultural Worker Program Act of 2017

The House version of the Agricultural Worker Program Act, H.R. 2690, introduced by Rep. Gutierrez (D-IL) now has 57 cosponsors.  Sen. Feinstein introduced the bill in the Senate, S. 1034, with 9 cosponsors.  Farmworker Justice strongly supports this bill, which would grant “blue cards” and the opportunity for green cards and citizenship for undocumented farmworkers and their immediate family members.  

A Parting Note on the Statue of Liberty

Trump Advisor Stephen Miller, obsessed with denigrating immigrants and immigration at this week’s press conference, felt the need to state that the Emma Lazarus poem that was placed on the Statue of Liberty in 1903 was not on the statute when it was erected in 1886.  To him the poem does not express this nation’s values despite its decades-long status as the embodiment of the hopes and dreams of the immigrants who arrived at Ellis Island and the nation itself.  In fact, the stirring words of “The New Colossus” were written in 1883 to help raise funds for the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty:  "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore, send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”



 

 

 

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.

 

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.