Two weeks have passed since President Obama’s announcement of executive relief. Farmworker Justice, along with many individuals and organizations, is working hard to share information about the upcoming opportunity for deferred action through the new deferred action program for parents (DAPA) and the expanded DACA programs. Information is available on our webpage, www.farmworkerjustice.org, and the sisepuede.org website. We are working with the UFW Foundation and other farmworker and immigration groups to plan for the implementation of administrative relief when the application period begins in around May 2015. Our Spanish-language outreach flyer can be found here.
Even as we continue to plan to implement administrative relief, we are also having to defend the program against congressional attacks. Following last week’s Thanksgiving recess, Congress returned this week to a brief session. As expected, President Obama’s executive action on immigration came under immediate attack by House Republicans.
On Tuesday, the House Committee on Homeland Security held a hearing titled “Open Borders: The Impact of Presidential Amnesty on Border Security.” Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson testified at the hearing, defending the executive actions on immigration as a common sense approach to enforcing immigration law. The House Judiciary Committee also held a hearing on Tuesday, with a biased title “President Obama’s Executive Overreach on Immigration.” As the name implies, the hearing focused on whether or not the President has the authority to take his administrative actions on immigration, particularly the Deferred Action for Parental Accountability program (DAPA). Republicans and their witnesses claimed that the President does not have the authority to create deferred action programs. The Democrat members’ witness, Marielena Hincapie, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, defended the President’s constitutional authority as a proper exercise of prosecutorial discretion. Farmworker Justice submitted statements for the record of both hearings to support the president’s executive action and highlight its importance to agricultural workers.
With some exceptions, there is broad consensus among legal scholars that the President has ample authority to create DAPA and DACA along with his other executive actions on immigration. His actions are supported by a legal memo by the Office of Legal Counsel. One hundred and thirty-five legal scholars have signed a statement stating that the President’s actions were constitutional and within his legal authority. Separately, four lawyers who formerly served as general counsel to US Citizenship and Immigration Services wrote a letter supporting the President’s authority to take these actions.
On Thursday, the House passed Rep. Yoho’s (R-FL) bill, H.R. 5759, the “Preventing Executive Overreach on Immigration Act of 2014” by a 219-197 vote. H.R. 5759 asserts that President Obama’s deferred action program has no statutory or constitutional basis and seeks to categorically prevent the executive branch of the government from providing deferred action going forward, with only limited exceptions. The bill also incorrectly implies that President Obama’s deferred action programs provide categorical relief, instead of case-by-case relief. The House voted largely along party lines with a few pro-immigration reform Republicans voting against it and 3 Democrats voting for the measure.
Farmworker Justice condemns the House’s passage of HR 5759, which would strip away potential protections and work authorization from the many aspiring Americans who could benefit from the President’s executive authority, including the parents of US citizen and LPR children and DACA individuals who came to the country as children. Instead of playing political games, the House should take up and pass HR 15, the comprehensive immigration reform bill that is similar to the bill passed by the Senate over a year ago, S.744.
Yoho’s bill was largely a symbolic measure as the Senate is not expected to take it up and President Obama has promised to veto it. A few other anti-immigrant Republicans voted against the bill or abstained from voting in protest because they would like the House to be more aggressive in opposing the President’s action. Specifically, those members along with Senator Ted Cruz would like to see the deferred action programs defunded through the government spending bills up for a vote next week, even though this would almost certainly lead to a government shutdown.
House Speaker John Boehner and other Republican leaders do not support shutting down the government (Republicans were largely blamed for the last shut down). Instead, Speaker Boehner proposes to split the funding bill in two parts, funding all of the government except for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) until September 2015 and funding DHS, which among other things is responsible for immigration services and enforcement, only for a few months. That way, this fight can play out again in 2015 when Republicans control both houses of Congress.
Seventeen states also filed a lawsuit against the President arguing that his executive actions are in violation of his constitutional duty to enforce the laws and are placing an illegal burden on state budgets. The lawsuit is led by Attorney General and Governor-elect of Texas, Greg Abbott. It is unclear whether the states have standing, or the right to sue the President at all.
Some grower groups have expressed concern that the President’s administrative relief will not be very helpful to them and that it may instead harm them by giving their workers work authorization and the ability to “migrate into other industries that give them year-round work, holidays, pensions, more security. And that would be obviously detrimental to agriculture.”
We are expecting to see efforts to pass an agricultural program in the upcoming Congress. Incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has declared that he will “bust up” the Senate comprehensive immigration reform bill to pass it in pieces. He said that he would like to focus on border security, E-verify and changes to the H-1B and H-2A programs. McConnell, however, did not promise to bring up the piece that would offer undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship. We will be watching any efforts to change the H-2A program closely. Despite many grower complaints that the H-2A temporary foreign agricultural worker program is “unworkable,” the H-2A program has seen huge increases in recent years. Program use has expanded over 140% since 2005, with 18% growth in the last year alone. From our perspective, the H-2A program’s modest protections are inadequate to protect workers and the program is rife with abuse. H-2A workers typically arrive indebted and fearful, are tied to an employer for an entire season, and must leave the country when the job ends, factors which make workers extremely vulnerable to abuse.
In the upcoming Congressional session, Farmworker Justice will continue to fight against proposals for harsh and exploitative temporary agricultural guestworker programs and will urge Congress to provide farmworkers and other aspiring Americans currently residing in the US a path to permanent legal status and eventual citizenship.