Farmworker Justice Special Immigration Policy Update April 6, 2017

Agricultural Employers Weigh In with Trump on Immigration

A national coalition of 70 agricultural employer associations last week sent President Trump a letter stating its interest in immigration reform.  The letter is posted on the website of the Agricultural Workforce Coalition.  

The three-page letter’s conclusion calls for two key legislative changes to the immigration system: “work eligibility for our existing workforce” and “farmer-friendly programs to provide future legal guest workers.”

The request for “work eligibility for the existing workforce” relates to the letter’s stated need for “maintaining access to our current workforce.”  Acknowledging that many farmworkers are undocumented immigrants and cannot easily be replaced, the letter informs the President that “an enforcement-only approach to immigration” would be devastating to farmers and the agricultural economy.

The growers’ letter does not request that undocumented farmworkers be granted an opportunity to earn legal immigration status and citizenship.  Nor does the letter address the status of the spouses and children of undocumented family members.

Rather, the letter vaguely tells the President that the growers want legislation to “allow for work authorization for experienced agricultural workers.”  Thus, the growers support legislation that would grant undocumented farmworkers a mere temporary work permit.

Immigration reform is urgently needed, but it must be fair, humane and respectful of farmworkers and their family members.  Temporary work permits – or guestworker status – would deprive them of economic bargaining power and political power.  This is a nation of immigrants.  Farmworkers and their family members deserve an opportunity for immigration status.

A large part of the growers’ letter focuses on the demands for short-term changes to the H-2A agricultural guestworker program and its eventual replacement by a new agricultural guestworker program.  Our views on this longstanding demand are available elsewhere.  Here, we briefly restate that (1) the H-2A agricultural guestworker program is already abusive toward both U.S. farmworkers and foreign guestworkers and its modest protections and their enforcement should be strengthened, not be weakened, and (2) if this country needs additional farmworkers in the future, they and their family members should be given the opportunity to come to this country and work not merely as guestworkers but as immigrants who are eligible for citizenship.

Undocumented farmworkers and their family members very much need immigration reform.  They are vulnerable in many ways.  Now, increased immigration enforcement is deporting farmworkers, breaking up families, subjecting farmworkers and their children to fear and disrupting agricultural production.  We must continue to fight against harsh immigration enforcement that punishes farmworkers and their family members.  We must also continue to fight for a compromise on immigration reform that respects the humanity of farmworkers and their families.  

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