FJ Blog

Friday, 22 August 2014

President Obama is expected to announce his plans regarding immigration policy in the coming weeks upon completion of a review by agency officials.

However, some Democratic Senate candidates prefer that he wait to take administrative action on immigration until after the November elections. Senate Democratic leadership has not taken a position on the timing of the President’s announcement, saying that it is up to the President.

Some advocates predict that the President will create an affirmative relief program for millions of undocumented immigrants who are not a priority for deportation. These individuals would apply, undergo a background check and receive protection from deportation and work authorization for a temporary period of time. The program’s criteria could be similar to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Applicants could be required to demonstrate residence in the U.S. for a certain number of years in the U.S. There could also be application criteria based on relationship to family members who have immigration or citizenship status in the U.S.

There have been some who question the President’s authority to create a broad affirmative relief program. However, many legal scholars and immigration experts have argued that the President has ample legal authority to create a broad affirmative relief program. Such a program will improve the administration’s execution of the law and use of enforcement resources to apprehend serious criminals, such as human traffickers and members of drug cartels, and focus on securing the border. The President’s authority is explained in NILC’s factsheet available here.

Farmworker Justice is part of a group of labor unions and immigrants’ advocates urging the Administration to provide greater protections for immigrant workers in labor disputes. Currently, undocumented workers who win a case for being fired for joining a labor union or filing a complaint for sexual harassment cannot obtain reinstatement to their job; for this reason many workers will not take such risks. Such workers should be eligible for a temporary stay of deportation and work authorization. Similarly, workers on temporary visas have little recourse to enforce their labor rights because their visas often expire before the case is adjudicated and they are forced to return home. Worse still, some employers contact immigration authorities to have workers deported if they join a union organizing drive or challenge illegal job practices. Such retaliation has a profound chilling effect on other workers experiencing rights violations. Granting deferred action to workers exercising their civil and labor rights would send a strong message to bad-actor employers that they can no longer use the immigration system to exploit workers. The New York Times Editorial on this issue is available here.

Business groups including growers’ associations have also been meeting with Obama Administration officials to discuss their priorities for administrative relief. High tech groups are requesting that the Administration make some changes to the high-skilled visa system such as the way that the yearly caps on greencards are counted.

Despite the fact that over half of the farm labor force is undocumented, there does not appear to be a strong unified push by agribusiness groups for affirmative relief in the form of protection from deportation and work authorization for undocumented farmworkers. Some groups have asked for reduced immigration enforcement in agriculture. One growers’ association said that it is not pushing for aggressive executive action because its members do not want to anger Republicans and spoil the chances for legislative action.

Statements by some agricultural trade associations further indicate that many of them do not support affirmative administrative relief:

United Fresh Produce Association (representing shippers, processors and marketers) states: “there are unique considerations that agriculture has to deal with and so blanket initiatives may not be as helpful to agriculture as might be intended.”

AmericanHort (representing nurseries and greenhouses) states: “first “do no harm,” meaning, avoid measures that might accelerate the attrition of agricultural and seasonal workers at a time of worsening labor shortages.”

Some growers assume that farmworkers who receive work authorization will leave agriculture; therefore, the President should not grant them work authorization and they should remain working in agriculture with the threat of deportation hanging over their heads.

Farmworker Justice, the United Farm Workers and many others are encouraging the Administration to include farmworkers in any administrative relief program. It would be morally reprehensible, legally questionable and economically disastrous to exclude farmworkers. Farmworkers who are undocumented suffer in the form of low pay and poor conditions, and their lack of status should not be perpetuated. Moreover, agricultural employers should compete in the marketplace by improving wages, benefits and working conditions to retain workers.

In addition, it is not necessarily true that most farmworkers would leave agriculture upon obtaining relief. Many people make their careers doing farm work and some lack the education and language skills for other jobs. More than 20 years after the farmworker legalization program in the 1986 immigration reform, 2007-09 data show that 17% of foreign-born workers still performing agricultural work had been legalized by that program; many others would have aged out, died or were promoted to management.

Some growers associations are also asking the Obama Administration for changes to the H-2A agricultural guestworker program rules, but one noted that it is unlikely to be an Obama Administration priority. Farmworker Justice opposes any changes to the H-2A program rules that would lower wages or reduce worker protections for H-2A workers and domestic workers in corresponding employment. As explained in our H-2A report, No Way to Treat a Guest: Why the H-2A Program Fails US and Foreign Workers, despite the existing protections, H-2A workers are still subject to abuse. Growers have tried this before. In 2008, they convinced the outgoing Bush Administration to make changes to the H-2A program rules that lowered wages and reduced protections for workers. In 2009, the incoming Obama Administration reversed these changes.

In other news regarding the H-2A program, the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, AFL-CIO, has mounted an impressive campaign this summer to expand the number farmworkers under collective bargaining agreements at employers that use the H-2A program. FLOC has been pressing the big tobacco corporations to negotiate along with the growers to reach agreements for fair treatment of farmworkers.

Farmworker Justice continues to press the administration to create a broad, bold affirmative relief program that includes undocumented farmworkers and their families and protects workers.  

by Megan Horn
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Monday, 18 August 2014

Today is the last day that the EPA will accept public comments on proposed revisions to the Worker Protection Standard (WPS) that provides the regulatory minimum for occupational pesticide exposure protection. Other workers who are exposed to toxic substances are covered by stronger protections, issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). The result is that the men, women, and children who produce the nation’s food are less protected from workplace hazards than other workers.

Although the proposed changes to the WPS will not address all the challenges in the fields, they are a step in the right direction to prevent pesticide illness. If the final rule includes our recommended improvements, the results will include greater awareness by farmworkers of the risks they face and preventative measures; and fewer pesticide-related injuries, illnesses, and deaths among farmworkers and their family members.

The agricultural industry is working hard to dissuade the EPA from adopting the rules that benefit farmworkers the most. Today, Politico reported the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture submitted comments that “call on the EPA to scrap the proposed changes.”

Farmworker Justice and other farmworker advocates have provided the EPA with extensive information to justify stronger protections for farmworkers. Your voice is needed to make sure farmworker safety does not take a back seat to the interests of agribusiness and pesticide manufacturers.

Please join Farmworker Justice and urge the EPA to protect farmworkers from pesticide exposure. You have until midnight tonight to submit comments.

Visit our website to use our model comments and submit by midnight tonight!
 

by Jessica Felix-Romero
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Monday, 04 August 2014

Over the last few weeks of its legislative session before a 5-week long summer recess, the House enacted several anti-immigrant measures, even as they failed to provide needed reforms for our broken immigration system.

The Humanitarian Crisis at the Border

Congress has begun its recess without providing any additional funding to the Obama Administration to deal with the crisis of unaccompanied minors from Central America seeking refuge in the U.S. The administrative funding to house and process tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors is expected to run out before the end of the Congressional recess and President Obama has requested Congress to authorize $3.7 billion of emergency supplemental funding. Last week, the Senate tried to pass a supplemental funding bill for $3.57 billion, but it was blocked in a vote of 50-44 (60 votes were needed). Friday, the House passed a bill to authorize $694 million in additional funding for the border but the amount falls far short of the needed appropriations. The bill includes harmful changes to the Trafficking Victims Protection Act that would reduce due process protections for the children, allowing the government to deport the children at a faster pace. The House took this action despite the fact that a broad majority of Americans see these children as refugees. Advocates are concerned that if the process of removal is expedited many children who are eligible for asylum or some other form of relief would be deported, possibly to their death. The bill is unlikely to become law as the Senate Democratic Leadership opposes these changes to current law and President Obama threatened to veto the bill if it comes to his desk. 

House Leadership once again caved to the extremist anti-immigrant minority in the House as part of a deal to get conservative House members to vote for the supplemental funding bill. In conjunction with the border funding bill, the House also voted on a bill to prevent any expansion of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and any new individuals from enrolling. Eleven Republicans voted against the bill, they are mostly from districts with a high percentage of Latino voters; and four Democrats, Representatives Mike McIntyre (NC), Rahall (WV), Collin Peterson (MN) and John Barrow (GA), voted for the bill. After House Republican Leadership killed any chance for immigration reform legislation this year, it adds insult to injury that they ended the summer legislative session by passing bills that would harm refugee children and that would allow DREAMers to be deported. 

The Child Tax Credit 

Last week, the House passed a bill that would expand the Child Tax Credit (CTC) to higher income families, while failing to extend an expiring provision of law that allows working poor families earning as little as $3,000 per year to access the CTC. The bill would also require that parents applying for the CTC (ACTC) have a Social Security number, effectively denying the credit to millions of poor families, most of which have U.S. citizen children. Again, the House managed to pass a bill that hurts immigrant families while failing to bring up any immigration reform legislation.

Affirmative Relief

Over 100 faith leaders and immigrant activists were arrested on Thursday in front of the White House protesting the President’s deportation policies. The groups are urging President Obama to go bold in his plans for administrative relief for undocumented immigrants. The groups also said that the government should focus on expanding resources for the unaccompanied children at the border fleeing violence in their home countries. The action was followed by additional immigration relief events, including an August 2 rally at the White House. 

Advocates have been meeting with Obama Administration officials to discuss proposals for an affirmative administrative relief program that would provide relief from immigration enforcement and work authorization for some sector of the undocumented population. Some reports have stated that the the administration is looking at providing relief for around 4 to 5 million undocumented immigrants. However, on Sunday a senior White House advisor, Dan Pfeiffer, called those numbers “uninformed speculation.” Farmworker Justice, in a letter to Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson and other officials, stressed the importance of affirmative immigration relief to farmworker families and the agricultural sector and the need for a broad, bold program to stay deportation and grant work authorization. We also described the unique circumstances farmworkers face so that they may be taken into account in creating the eligibility criteria and implementation plans in any affirmative relief program.

Agribusiness continues to push for immigration reform for agriculture. The American Farm Bureau Federation and the Partnership for a New American Economy released an advertisement that focuses on a labor shortage in agriculture; unfortunately, there was no discussion of the need to legalize the estimated 1.25 million undocumented farmworkers. While there is a shortage of documented farmworkers, there is not a national shortage of workers. There are pockets of oversupply of farmworkers in some parts of the country and other areas where the labor market is tighter. An affirmative relief program for undocumented immigrants that includes farmworkers and their family members would help stabilize the labor market and would better enable farmworkers and others to work without fear. Growers also have access to the unlimited H-2A temporary agricultural guestworker program, which has greatly expanded in recent years. Ultimately, however, Congress must legalize the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. and offer them the opportunity to become citizens. 

Workplace Raid in Florida Packing Plant

The urgent need for immigration reform is evidenced by a disturbing workplace raid that took place in a Naples, FL fruit and vegetable packing plant on July 16th. The Florida Insurance Fraud Division arrested 105 workers purportedly for using false identification. Reportedly the investigation was triggered due to a discovery that a worker who sought workers’ compensation had admitted to using false identification. It is unclear whether any of the other workers applied for workers’ compensation. According to one report, some of the workers are being charged with third degree felonies of identity theft and/or workers’ compensation fraud. According to the Florida Immigrant Coalition, some of the workers have been transferred to ICE custody. Others could be picked up and deported at a later date. The Florida Immigrant Coalition’s executive director, Maria Rodriguez, called the actions a cruel immigration raid. She stated, “It is no secret that many immigrant workers are forced to use invalid Social Security numbers, often with a wink and a nod from their employers, if they want to survive and feed their families. Employers knowingly rely on these workers for their own economic survival.” Beyond the devastating impact to this community, the raid may have a chilling effect on workers in the broader Florida immigrant community who may be entitled to benefits such as workers’ compensation. 

One last thing: Read Rep. Marcy Kaptur’s (D-OH) op-ed in the Nation on her visit with tobacco workers in North Carolina and the Farm Labor Organizing Committee’s work to improve their wages and working conditions.

Your support enables Farmworker Justice to help farmworkers win a more just immigration system.

by Megan Horn
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