Farmworker Justice Immigration Update 5/16/17

Call to Save Haitian TPS!

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is currently considering whether or not to extend Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for more than 50,000 Haitians in the United States. This decision is expected to be made very soon. Church World Service (CWS) is coordinating a call-in campaign to ask DHS Secretary Kelly to extend TPS. To participate, please call the DHS Comment Line at (202) 282-8495 and leave a message urging Secretary Kelly to extend TPS for Haitians for at least another 18 months.

Senator Feinstein Introduces Agricultural Worker Program Act of 2017

On May 3, 2017, Sen. Feinstein (D-CA) introduced the “Agricultural Worker Program Act of 2017,” S.1034. The bill would allow many undocumented farmworkers and their family members the opportunity to earn legal immigration status and citizenship. It was originally co-sponsored by Senators Harris (D-CA), Leahy (D-VT), Bennet (D-CO) and Hirono (D-HI), and has garnered the additional support of Senators Gillibrand (D-NY), Udall (D-NM) and Franken (D-MN). Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) expressed strong support for the bill and plans to introduce a companion bill in the House of Representatives soon.

Farmworker Justice supports the Agricultural Worker Program Act because it would provide a needed, meaningful opportunity for farmworkers and family members to earn lawful permanent residency with a path to citizenship. The farmworkers and family members who obtain immigration status under this legislation would no longer have to live and work in fear of arrest and deportation.  The Agricultural Worker Program Act stands in stark contrast to bills in the House that would create harsh agricultural guestworker programs with no solution for the current undocumented workers or their employers who depend on their skills, experience and knowledge.  Sen. Feinstein’s bill is already supported by many labor and immigrant rights organizations, including UFW, FLOC, and PCUN, as well as organizations that serve the Latino community.  For more information on the bill, please see our Fact Sheet.

Bill Introduced by Sen. Johnson Would Authorize State-Operated Guestworker Programs

Sen. Johnson (R-WI) has introduced the “State Sponsored Visa Pilot Program Act of 2017,” S. 1040. The bill would allow individual states to create and run their own guestworker programs. Under our Constitution, immigration policy is a federal issue and for good reason. It does not make sense to allow states to enact 50 different laws regulating admission to the U.S. of foreign citizens. In addition, Sen. Johnson’s bill lacks protections against the abuses that are endemic to guestworker programs.  Farmworker Justice will soon be posting a Fact Sheet summarizing Sen. Johnson’s proposed bill.    

Trump Administration and Agricultural Workers: Harmful Impact and Troubling Indications

As farmworker communities continue to live in fear of increased and broader immigration enforcement, the Trump Administration is sending conflicting messages about its conduct and plans regarding undocumented agricultural workers. Reportedly, the Administration has indicated that it is not targeting agricultural workers for enforcement, yet ICE agents have been present and active in farmworker communities around the country. ICE recently raided a Pennsylvania mushroom operation, resulting in the detention of a dozen workers.

There are also indications that the Administration is considering revising the H-2A agricultural guestworker program, both to expand its scope to year-round industries such as dairy and to strip away important government oversight and labor protections. In an interview with The Economist last week, President Trump noted that he “wants farm workers to come in” because “they are great people, and they work on the farms and then they go back home,” stating that the Administration is going to have “work visas for the farmworkers.”  Secretary Perdue also stated in recent remarks about NAFTA re-negotiation that he is working on a proposal to help foreign-born workers staff U.S. dairies, even though these operations are year-round.

These comments follow Trump’s executive order on rural prosperity and the meeting Trump and Secretary Perdue held on April 25 with over a dozen agribusiness representatives, including H-2A users. Farmworker Justice is troubled that the Administration’s recent actions regarding agriculture and rural communities have been marked by an absence of farmworker voices. The lack of inclusion of key stakeholder groups in the Administration’s discussions regarding agriculture and rural communities is highlighted in a recent Civil Eats article. As stated by Farmworker Justice’s Bruce Goldstein, the Administration’s policies so far “fail to address in any meaningful way the challenges addressed by agricultural workers and their families who are so important to rural communities and the economy.” These challenges are being exacerbated by the fear and anxiety caused by the Administration’s indiscriminate immigration enforcement actions.

Monitoring the H-2A Program

Farmworker Justice continues to monitor Congress and the Administration for potential changes to the H-2A program through legislation or regulation.  In addition to demands by agricultural employers for changes in wages, benefits, housing and processes under the H-2A program, dairy farm representatives have been pressing hard to expand the H-2A program to include their year-round jobs.

This piece in the Fresno Bee explores different viewpoints about the growing H-2A program. DOL’s second-quarter statistics on the H-2A program for FY 2017 show an increase of 30% in use of the program thus far.  During FY 2016, DOL approved 165,000 H-2A jobs, an increase of about 20% from the year before.

A recently-filed lawsuit in Arizona highlights some of the abuses that are all too common in the H-2A program. The suit, brought by the U.S. Department of Labor, accuses an Arizona farm employer of housing its H-2A workers in dangerous and unsanitary conditions, including inside school buses and window-less trailers, as well as paying them illegally low wages.

Texas Passes Anti-Immigrant Law

On May 7, 2017, Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed into law SB-4, a harsh anti-immigrant law that would penalize cities, universities and other government entities if their police and other officials do not detain and turn over to federal authorities individuals who appear to be undocumented immigrants. The law combines a prohibition against so-called “sanctuary” jurisdictions and a “show me your papers” component. The law, which is set to go into effect on September 1, 2017, is likely to  result in racial profiling and other violations of the constitutional rights of immigrants and government officials.  The ACLU has issued a travel alert in response to the law, and it has been widely condemned by civil rights groups, immigrant rights groups, immigration lawyersand religious leaders.  Texas is a significant agricultural state and the Rio Grande Valley remains the home base for thousands of farmworkers who migrate throughout the U.S. for agricultural work.

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For more updates about key issues affecting farmworkers and the work of Farmworker Justice, including how to support our organization, please visit our website or follow us on social media.

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