Farmworker Justice Immigration Update 2/17/17

Immigration Raids Instilling Fear; Preparedness and Rapid Response Efforts Expanding

Immigration raids are taking place across the country following new immigration enforcement priorities laid out by the Trump Administration in one of a string of proposed and signed Executive Orders targeting immigrants.  Farmworkers and other immigrant communities are facing fear and uncertainty as they confront a heightened risk of encountering immigration enforcement actions.   

Farmworker Justice condemns these raids as senseless and heartless; they are causing needless fear and stress in farmworker and other immigrant communities.  Farmworker Justice, along with many other organizations, is working to ensure that farmworkers and others are receiving information about their rights in the event of immigration law enforcement.  Farmworker Justice, SPLC, and the United Farm Workers Foundation participated in a webinar this week through CIRI and IAN, a recording of which will soon be available on IAN’s website.  There are multiple sources for information about immigrant rights and Know Your Rights training available online.  Many resources are available on NILC’s webpage, including a “know your rights” card as well as materials explaining basic rights.

This is an extremely difficult time for many immigrant communities and we urge you to think about creating preparedness plans and rapid response networks in your communities, if you are not already doing so.  Some of the many difficult questions and considerations facing mixed status immigrant families include ensuring that their children will be taken care of in the event the parents or caretakers are detained or deported.  Parents must make arrangements for the necessary paperwork to ensure a responsible individual will assume care and custody for their children and know how to ensure children are able to join their parents if they are deported and choose to be reunited in their country of origin.  Fortunately, many groups are addressing these questions and are working to create family preparedness plans, including this one from ILRC.  Please contact us for additional information and resources in your community.

Agricultural Businesses Identify Serious Risks from Immigration Enforcement

Agribusiness is also feeling the heat of the increased immigration enforcement.  A growing chorus of growers, despite their broad support for then candidate Trump, is concerned about the future outlook of their workforce and their operations.  Farmworker Justice President Bruce Goldstein, speaking as a panelist at the February 2nd Food Tank Summit in Washington, D.C., was asked about the current environment and prospects of widespread immigration enforcement.  He responded by saying that “if we were to engage in massive deportations, our agricultural system would collapse.”

Multiple media articles have addressed grower concerns about their workforce; unfortunately, growers are also using this platform to criticize the H-2A program as being too burdensome and difficult to use.  The truth is that 95% of applications to DOL for H-2A workers are approved and in a timely manner.  The program’s rapid expansion belies claims that it is inaccessible.  Expansion of the already abusive H-2A program is not a solution to our broken immigration system and the senseless immigration enforcement we are now seeing.  Streamlining access to the H-2A industry and including year-round industries does nothing to address the needs of our current experienced workers and the insecurity they and their families are facing; in fact, it could lead to their displacement.  Greater protections for farmworkers and a path to legal immigration status and citizenship are needed.

Attracting and Retaining Workers by Improving Wages and Benefits

For farms experiencing labor shortages, one farm provides a clear model for attracting workers.  Christopher Ranch, the country’s largest fresh garlic producer, decided to increase wages in order to attract workers.  While the California state minimum wage is set to rise to $15 per hour in 2022, the grower is looking to get there by 2018, and has already bumped pay from $11 to $13 per hour this year.  As a result, they report a wait list of 150 workers.  While we recognize that some regions or growers may be experiencing bona fide labor shortages, more often than not these growers are not offering sufficient pay and working conditions in order to attract a stable workforce.

Guestworker Legislation:  H.R. 641, The BARN Act, re-introduced in 115th Congress

U.S. Rep. Rick Allen (GA) has re-introduced the Better Agricultural Resources Now Act, or BARN Act. Allen had also proposed the legislation in the previous Congress, and our summary of that bill can be found here.

The bill fundamentally transforms the H-2A program, eroding the rights and protections of foreign guestworkers and causing further harm to U.S. workers.  Among other provisions, the bill would transfer oversight of the application process from the Department of Labor to the Department of Agriculture while also limiting access to legal services, eliminate the housing guarantee, and expand the program to include year-round jobs.  The bill also sets an arbitrary wage cap at 115% of the applicable federal or state minimum wage, which would almost certainly fall below the current adverse effect wage rate (AEWR) for most states.

Labor Secretary Nominees: Andrew Puzder Withdraws, Alex Acosta Nominated

After a hearing date for the Labor Secretary nominee had finally been set, and amid growing concern that he did not have enough votes from his own party, Andrew Puzder removed himself from consideration.

Farmworker Justice opposed his nomination and is pleased that he has withdrawn.  President Trump has now nominated Alex Acosta.  We at Farmworker Justice look forward to learning about Mr. Acosta’s vision for the Department’s fulfillment of its mission.  The Department of Labor maintains important programs affecting agricultural workers.  These include employment and training programs, licensing farm labor contractors, setting occupational safety standards, administering the H-2A agricultural guestworker program, and enforcing the minimum wage and other wage-hour laws.  Many farmworkers experience low wages and violations of their limited labor protections.  We hope to learn the nominee’s views on building a more sustainable, prosperous and equitable agricultural sector.

Challenge

Responding to the dire situation created by President Trump’s actions and statements on immigration, an anonymous donor has issued a matching challenge.  Every dollar raised between now and May 1st, will be matched up to $10,000.  Please help us serve immigrant farmworkers by meeting this challenge.  Any amount of your donation will help.  Donations are tax-deductible.  Donate with a credit card online or send a check to Farmworker Justice, 1126 16th St., NW, Suite 270, Washington, D.C. 20036.  Thank you.

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