Today, the Supreme Court ruled against the Obama Administration’s executive action on immigration. The Court announced that the eight Justices were split 4-4 in U.S. v. Texas, and consequently the lower court rulings against the Administration remain in place. The one-sentence opinion simply says that the lower court decision is affirmed. The injunction against the programs remains in place while the litigation proceeds.
The decision means that the Obama Administration may not implement the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) and expanded Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). More than 700,000 farmworkers and family members would have been eligible to apply under these programs, which would grant a temporary reprieve from deportation and temporary work authorization.
“We are extremely disappointed and saddened that hard-working farmworkers and their family members who contribute to this country will not have the opportunity to apply for DAPA or the expanded DACA initiatives,” said Bruce Goldstein, President of Farmworker Justice, a national advocacy organization for farmworkers. “The majority of the people laboring on our farms and ranches lack authorized immigration status; these programs would have provided some of them with temporary protection from deportation and authorization to work.”
He added: “We will continue to help farmworkers fight for immigration reform to bring greater justice to the fields and to ensure a prosperous, productive agricultural sector of the economy. We count on farmworkers for our food and they should be able to count on us for fair treatment. Farmworker Justice will continue to advocate for Congressional action to grant a path to immigration status and citizenship for undocumented farmworkers and other undocumented immigrants living and working in the US.”
The newest Farmworker Justice Newsletter contains timely updates on our immigration work, a new skin cancer prevention project, an update on the progress of the Equitable Food Initiative and much more.
Many farmworkers in the United States are paid the minimum wage and therefore will benefit from the minimum wage increases that California and New York plan to adopt. Farmworker Justice applauds California’s and New York State’s actions and all of the workers and advocates who fought hard for the increases. However, we are somewhat disappointed with the shortcomings in the New York legislation and even in California there is more policy change needed.
Farmworker Justice is pleased that the California legislation will boost wages for workers statewide from the current $10.00 an hour to $10.50 in January and gradually up to $15.00 by 2022 and will be adjusted annually for inflation after that. While some farmworkers earn more than the minimum wage, the increase will affect tens of thousands of California farmworkers.
California legislators should now pass the bill extending overtime pay to agricultural workers, who deserve equality with other workers.
While workers in New York will also receive a sorely needed minimum wage increase above the current $9.00 per hour, Governor Cuomo compromised on the minimum wage for upstate New York, where the minimum wage will increase by $0.70 a year going up to only $12.50 by 2021. There are many farms, as well as urban areas, in upstate New York. New York City’s minimum wage will increase to $15 by the end of 2018. New York City’s suburbs will be given a few more years to reach the $15 minimum.
According to media reports, the New York budget deal also “includes $30 million set aside to help farmers pay the higher wage to workers.” That money could be better spent improving farmworkers’ conditions and enforcement of their rights.
The NY Farm Bureau expressed strong opposition to the bill, even after the subsidy was announced. Growers’ claims of the effects of wage increases on food production are overblown. Agricultural labor economist and professor at UC-Davis Philip Martin, predicts that if farmworker wages go up by 47%, household grocery bills would go up just $21.15 a year, or $1.76 a month. Moreover, California is by far the most successful agricultural state and has a higher minimum wage, collective bargaining rights for farmworkers and other labor protections.
New York farmworker advocates and allies have come close to passing legislation to grant farmworkers rest breaks, collective bargaining rights and other protections that workers in other sectors have. The state legislature should pass the farmworker bill of rights.
The NY compromise is disappointing due to its limitations, but it is a significant increase, that will help many farmworkers in the state’s substantial dairy industry, apple harvests and other produce farms. NY’s current minimum wage of $9 and California’s current minimum wage of $10 already are substantially higher than the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour and that of other states with major agricultural sectors.
We at Farmworker Justice hope that the worker organizing that led California and New York to increase their minimum wages will help pave the way for a federal minimum wage increase as well as improvements in other states.
The people who spend their days picking fruits and vegetables are struggling to find food for their own families. Numerous studies across the United States have thoroughly documented the staggering rates of both hunger and food insecurity that plague farmworker communities. For example, one study of Georgia farmworkers found that 63% of migrant and seasonal workers surveyed struggled to feed themselves and their families. Additionally, farmworkers often face countless barriers when trying to get food, including low wages, poor public transportation, and a lack of culturally-appropriate food, among others. Among farmworker families, the average income is between $17,500 and $20,000, which falls well below the 2016 federal poverty level of $24,300 for a family of four. Given these numerous barriers, what resources can farmworkers utilize to feed their families?
From federally-led programs such as the National School Breakfast Program to the local food pantry in your neighborhood, there are numerous government and charitable programs that help feed hungry Americans. Though participation varies region to region, the main programs that farmworkers typically access are the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP); the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program; and the National School Breakfast and Lunch Programs, in addition to local soup kitchens, food pantries, and other alternative food programs. When effectively implemented, federal nutrition programs have been effective in reducing food insecurity among some farmworker families. However, farmworkers often face a variety of barriers to accessing these food assistance programs, and the programs alone do not adequately address the alarming levels of food insecurity in farmworker communities. .
Immigration status poses a significant barrier for many farmworkers in accessing food assistance. For instance, SNAP identifies eligible categories of immigrants and generally requires that they have been in their qualified status for five years before receiving any cash transfers. Additionally, some farmworkers avoid enrolling in any federal nutrition programs because of the belief that participating in public assistance may compromise one’s immigration or residency status. Farmworkers also commonly live in rural communities, where resources such as food pantries and soup kitchens can be inaccessible for families without adequate transportation. Farmworkers who live in labor camps, motels, various forms of substandard housing or who are homeless also often lack the proper equipment for food preparation and storage. Other barriers include poor translation services, poor quality of food donations, and misinformation on eligibility and availability of resources. Thus, existing food assistance programs are not amenable to the unique needs and harsh living conditions of farmworkers.
So what can be done to solve this problem? A permanent solution requires that farmworkers receive fair wages to fully meet their families’ financial needs and that they have the opportunity to become immigrants and citizens with the same basic rights as other workers. In the short term, more emergency food programs must address the immediate hunger in farmworker communities by offering a larger, more frequent supply of fresh, healthy, and culturally-appropriate foods directly in farmworker communities. Sadly, one study in Northern California revealed that farmworkers, and especially those that are undocumented, already depend on emergency food as their main food source. Farmworkers can enroll in food assistance programs by visiting their local human services department or social service referral organizations. Simultaneously, service providers can also educate families about and enroll farmworkers into federal assistance programs like SNAP and WIC, to address the longer-term food insecurity. On a policy level, states can take action to expand their eligibility requirements for SNAP and other public assistance programs. For example, California provides state-funded food stamps to certain non-citizens who do not qualify for SNAP, a program known as the California Food Assistance Program.
Though drastically changing the current system of food assistance would greatly benefit farmworkers, these changes must consider factors such as language proficiency, cultural competency, and immigration status to be successful. Hunger doesn’t happen simply because a family doesn’t have enough to eat, but also because of a variety of factors unrelated to food; likewise, eliminating hunger does not require simply providing food, but also ensuring living wages and access to forms of federal assistance to eliminate poverty. A fundamental change in the current food assistance programs is vital for addressing hunger among farmworker communities, but we must continue to advocate for the overall livelihood of farmworkers to ensure the people that help us live a hunger-free and food secure life are also living a life that is free of hunger and food insecurity.
On November 20th, 2014 President Obama announced his plans for executive action on immigration. We applaud the President’s action, which includes a deferred action program that provides relief from deportation and work authorization for millions of undocumented individuals, including hundreds of thousands of farmworkers and their family members.
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.