FJ Blog

Thursday, 20 November 2014

President Obama Announces Plan to Defer the Deportation of up to 5 Million Undocumented Persons

Farmworker Justice applauds President Obama for taking positive executive action to address our broken immigration system. We celebrate with the hundreds of thousands of hard-working farmworkers who will qualify for this relief. Farmworker Justice has been working towards a more just immigration system for farmworkers for decades and with the hard work of so many, we stand one step closer to the reform our immigration system so desperately needs. We vow to continue fighting until Congress passes legislation for all undocumented immigrants, including farmworkers who are not covered by this executive action. Our press statement on the President’s announcement is available here.

The President’s plan includes a series of actions, the most significant of which is a plan to provide relief from deportation for up to 5 million undocumented immigrants (this number includes individuals eligible for DACA). Deferred action participants may also apply for work authorization. Individuals may qualify for the new program if they are the parents of US citizens or legal permanent residents (LPR) and have been in the US since January 1, 2010. Applicants must have US citizen or LPR children as of the date of the announcement, November 20, 2014. Applicants will be required to pay a fee and pass a criminal and national security background check. USCIS will not be accepting applications to this program for several months, likely until sometime in the spring. Deferred action and work authorization will last for 3 years and be renewable.

A very rough estimate of farmworkers eligible for deferred action is 450,000. Available data are inadequate to confidently state a number or even a range. There may be about 2.4 million farmworkers in the U.S.; between 50% and 70% are undocumented. Surveys show that a large majority (over 80%) have resided in the U.S. for at least five years; a substantial portion (probably less than one-half) are parents of children who are U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents.

DACA Program Expanded:
The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA) will also be expanded to cover more individuals. The requirement that applicants have continuously resided in the US since June 15, 2007 will be changed to January 1, 2010. Significantly, the requirement that applicants were under the age of 31 as of June 15, 2012 will be eliminated, so there will be no upper age limit for applicants who otherwise qualify.

Worker Protections:
According to the White House, “The Department of Labor (DOL) is expanding and strengthening immigration options for victims of crimes (U visas) and trafficking (T visas) who cooperate in government investigations. An interagency working group will also explore ways to ensure that workers can avail themselves of their labor and employment rights without fear of retaliation.” As more details become available, we will analyze how this might impact workers on the ground.

Enforcement:
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is also revising its enforcement priorities through a new enforcement memo. Enforcement will be focused on people who committed major crimes and on border enforcement. DHS will be eliminating the Secure Communities program and replacing it with a new program that is aligned with the new priorities.

Other Changes to Visa Programs:
There will also be changes related to H-1B and L visas, students in STEM fields, and entrepreneurs. DHS and the White House will have more information on these plans available on their websites soon.

We will be engaging in more detailed analysis that we will share with you all. We are working with the UFW, UFWF and other farmworker organizations to implement the President’s deferred action program to ensure that as many eligible farmworkers as possible are able to learn about the program and apply. The United Farm Workers Foundation has created a website, sisepuede.org, which provides information about administrative relief. We will also be posting materials on our webpage, www.farmworkerjustice.org.   

by Megan Horn
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Wednesday, 19 November 2014

President Obama to Announce Executive Action on Immigration Tomorrow Evening

The White House announced today via a statement and video that President Obama will announce his plans for executive action on immigration in a speech at 8:00pm ET Thursday evening. You can watch the President’s speech tomorrow at WhiteHouse.gov/Live. On Friday, President Obama will give a more in-depth speech at Del Sol High School in Las Vegas, Nevada explaining his executive action.

Farmworker Justice is pleased that the President is moving ahead with executive action to address our broken immigration system. We urge the President to provide broad, bold administrative relief that includes farmworkers and their family members.

There are an estimated 2.5 million farmworkers laboring on our farms and ranches to bring food to our tables. At least half of farmworkers – roughly 1.25 million – are undocumented immigrants. The presence of so many undocumented farmworkers in the labor force makes them vulnerable to exploitation and abuse, depressing the wages and working conditions for all farmworkers. Farmworkers make important contributions to our communities and our economies and should be protected from deportation and provided with work authorization.
The United Farm Workers (UFW), the UFW Foundation and the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) held a symbolic Thanksgiving meal in front of the White House today with workers who harvest and produce food commonly eaten at Thanksgiving. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL); Arturo Rodriguez, President, UFW; Esther Lopez, International Vice President and Director of Civil Rights and Community Action Department, UFCW; and several farmworkers and food processing workers spoke about the importance of executive action for farmworkers and food processing workers. They called on President Obama to deliver the most inclusive changes to immigration policy possible through executive action. 

Meanwhile, according to a Wall Street Journal article, some growers are expressing concern that “giving farm workers the ability to work legally will prompt many to seek other jobs… ‘Unless it includes incentives for people to continue to work in the ag force, it could hasten attrition,’ said Craig Regelbrugge, national co-chairman of the Agriculture Coalition for Immigration Reform.” Farmworker Justice believes that agricultural employers should be required to compete for labor and attract job applicants by improving wages and working conditions. As explained in a report by knowledgeable researchers, the majority of farmworkers legalized under the 1986 immigration reform law continued to work for years in agriculture and the same would likely occur for farmworkers granted status today.

We do not yet have details about the President’s executive action plans and rumors are flying. Some media reports suggest the President’s action may provide protection from deportation and work authorization to undocumented immigrants with U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident (LPR) children who have been in the U.S. for a significant period of time – possibly 5 to 10 years. There may also be an expansion of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Many hard-working undocumented immigrants in agriculture and elsewhere could benefit from such criteria, but many would be left out. The majority of undocumented farmworkers have strong ties to the United States, and have lived and worked here for at least five years, and for many, at least ten years. However, others have entered the United States more recently or do not have citizen or LPR children. We will be analyzing the President’s announcement to share with you how the executive action will impact farmworkers.

Some opponents of legalizing undocumented individuals claim that the President doesn’t have the legal authority to enact such administrative relief. This is false. President Obama has clear legal authority to defer the deportations of millions of undocumented immigrants with strong ties to our communities and to provide them with work authorization. As part of the President’s existing authority to enforce the law, he can and must set priorities, target resources, and shape how laws are to be implemented. Since the 1950’s, every President, including both Republican and Democratic Presidents, has used his authority to defer the deportations of millions of people in the country without status. Nonetheless, some Members of Congress have promised to introduce legislation to stop the President from exercising his legal authority under immigration law; Farmworker Justice will join with others to oppose such efforts.

Administrative relief is vitally important, but the struggle does not end there. Only Congress can create an opportunity for undocumented farmworkers and their family members and the rest of the 11 million to obtain permanent immigration status and an opportunity for citizenship. Farmworker Justice will continue to fight for a permanent solution that offers the 11 million undocumented immigrants in this country a path to citizenship.

We will also continue to fight against harsh one-sided guestworker programs because they are inhumane and not an appropriate solution to securing a productive agricultural sector in which farmworkers are treated fairly. The H-2A agricultural guestworker program serves employers’ needs but subjects many farmworkers to abuses. Yet some House members are planning to push for a new agricultural guest worker program. The people who come to this country to produce our food should be treated as immigrants who can raise their families and earn an opportunity for U.S. citizenship.

Stay tuned for more information about the President’s executive action and what you can do to help farmworkers in your communities obtain relief from deportation fears.

by Megan Horn
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Friday, 07 November 2014

With the midterm elections over, all eyes are turned to the President to see what steps he will take to address our broken immigration system. As you may recall, in September President Obama announced a delay in his plans for administrative action to address the broken immigration system, which he had previously promised would take place by the end of the summer. The President’s stated reason for delay was that his Administration needed more time to explain the Central American child refugee crisis to the American people and to build support for his administrative action. While not the stated basis for his delay, this week’s elections were widely regarded as a primary reason for this setback.  

At a press conference on Wednesday, President Obama reaffirmed his commitment to take executive action to improve the immigration system by the end of the year. While President Obama said that he would prefer that Congress pass immigration reform legislation, he was committed to taking executive action given the House’s failure to act. President Obama noted that he would like legislation to eventually replace his administrative action, but stated, “But what I’m not going to do is just wait. I think it’s fair to say that I’ve shown a lot of patience and have tried to work on a bipartisan basis as much as possible, and I’m going to keep on doing so.” The President declined to give any details on what form the relief will take. The anticipated announcement of administrative action on immigration is rumored to include a program that could protect millions of undocumented immigrants from deportation and provide them with work authorization.

Republican gains on Tuesday are not likely to have a significant impact on the potential for immigration reform legislation to pass in the next two years. Republicans gained enough Senate seats (7 so far, plus they could pick up two more: the Alaska race has not yet been called and Louisiana has a runoff scheduled for December 6th) to take majority control of the Senate and enough House seats to give them the largest majority they have had since World War II. However, Tuesday’s election results are not viewed as a referendum on public support for immigration reform; in fact exit polling shows that 57% of voters support a path to citizenship.

Immigration legislation that would create a path to permanent immigration status and citizenship for undocumented immigrants is very unlikely to pass in the next two years. The current Congress was the best opportunity to pass comprehensive immigration reform in recent years and the House refused to bring the Senate-passed comprehensive immigration reform bill up for a vote, or for that matter, any immigration reform bill. Instead, the only votes the House held on immigration were to seek to end the DACA program and to expedite the removal of unaccompanied minors from Central America fleeing violence to the U.S. There is no indication that the House will be any different in the next two years, especially once the Presidential primary season begins.

There may be some efforts in Congress to block the President’s executive action on immigration. Congress may also seek to pass bills that provide even more money to increase the militarization of the border and create harmful guestworker programs. Farmworker Justice will continue to educate Congress and the public about the need for legal status and citizenship for farmworkers and other aspiring Americans. We will also continue our work to improve the H-2A agricultural guestworker program, to explain the inherent flaws in the guestworker model and to fight off bad proposals for agricultural guestworker programs.

Farmworker Justice believes that now is the time for President Obama to act boldly to provide expansive affirmative administrative relief to address the millions of undocumented people who contribute to our economy and society but suffer due to our broken immigration system. The Administration must take action because Congress has failed to address the urgent need for comprehensive immigration reform. Any action President Obama takes must be broad and inclusive of farmworkers, the majority of whom are undocumented. Broad, bold administrative relief would help farmworkers, their families and their communities, and would help stabilize the farm labor force and ensure a prosperous agricultural sector. We will continue our advocacy to ensure farmworkers are included in the anticipated administrative relief. We are also working with our allies to ensure that farmworkers will be able to access and take maximum advantage of any administrative relief opportunities.

Thank you for your support of farmworkers.

by Megan Horn
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