Farmworker Justice Immigration Update: 06/02/17

Rep. Gutierrez Introduces Companion Bill to Agricultural Worker Program Act in House

On May 25, 2017, Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), joined by 26 original cosponsors, introduced H.R. 2690, the “Agricultural Worker Program Act of 2017,” a companion to the Senate bill of the same name introduced by Sen. Feinstein earlier this month, S.1034. Farmworker Justice strongly 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. For more information on the Agricultural Worker Program Act, please see our Fact Sheet. A full list of cosponsors of H.R. 2690 is available online.

Farmworker Justice Fact Sheet on Sen. Johnson State Guestworker Bill

Last month, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), with co-sponsor Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), introduced the “State Sponsored Visa Pilot Program Act of 2017,” S. 1040. The bill would allow individual states to create and sponsor their own temporary work visas for foreign citizens. For more information on the State Sponsored Visa Pilot Program Act of 2017, please see our Fact Sheet.

House Judiciary Committee Passes Draconian Anti-Immigrant Bill

Last week, the House of Representatives concluded its “mark-up” of H.R. 2431, the "Michael Davis, Jr. and Danny Oliver in Honor of State and Local Law Enforcement Act," which has been dubbed the "Trump Mass Deportation Act" by immigrant rights’ activists. Similar versions of the bill, formerly known as the “SAFE Act”, were introduced in 2013 and 2015, but did not pass. Among other provisions, the bill, which has been described as "draconian" by Human Rights Watch, would criminalize undocumented immigrants, expand the range of criminal offenses that would make immigrants deportable, increase penalties for immigration offenses, eliminate due process protections and authorize local law enforcement to act as immigration agents. Some members of the law enforcement community have been vocal about their opposition to the bill and their concerns that it will actually make communities less safe.

Uncertainty about Future of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) Designation

On May 22, 2017, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) extended Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for almost 60,000 Haitians for an additional six months (the program will now expire on January 22, 2018). Although this decision is preferable to the immediate termination of TPS status for Haitians, it falls short of the 18-month extension requested by numerous groups, including immigrant rights advocates, faith leaders, members of Congress, and Haitian government representatives. The decision has led to increased uncertainty for TPS holders from other countries, such as El Salvador and Honduras. Adding to this uncertainty, Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL), along with three cosponsors, recently introduced the “TPS Reform Act of 2017,” a bill which would make it harder to establish and/or extend TPS designations. TPS designations provide crucial relief for immigrants who are faced with dangerous situations if they return to their home countries, as the result of natural disasters, life-threatening epidemics, or other circumstances.

Trump Administration’s 2018 Budget Proposal

Last week, President Trump released his budget proposal for FY 2018. Although it is important to keep in mind that this proposal is merely the starting point for budget negotiations, the priorities reflected in the document are very concerning. Below, we summarize some of the aspects of the proposal that could most significantly impact farmworkers.

Increased Funding for Immigration Enforcement and Detention

The Trump Administration’s proposed FY 2018 budget includes billions of dollars to ramp up the Administration’s plans for the increased detention and deportation of immigrants. Amidst deep cuts to most government agencies, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) would receive a budget increase of 23%, while DHS would receive a budget increase of 7%, and a $2.7 billion increase for border security and immigration enforcement, including funds to hire new immigration agents and build portions of a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico.

Decrease in Funding for Key Agencies

The DOL budget for FY 2018 would be reduced from $46 billion to $44.2 billion, with a massive reduction of almost $2.5 billion, or about 20%, of the agency’s discretionary budget. The National Farmworker Jobs Program, which provides programs for migrant and seasonal farmworkers for about $82 million, would be completely de-funded.

Proposal for H-2 Visa Application Fees. According to a proposal also included in the budget, DOL could soon start charging fees to employers who seek to hire foreign workers in order to cover the operating costs for foreign labor certification programs. Employers currently need to ascertain to the Labor Department that they've tried unsuccessfully to hire U.S. workers and that they would pay wages high enough not to disadvantage U.S. workers. Under the budget proposal, employers would also have to pay fees to cover the costs of DOL's prevailing wage determination and the issuing of labor certifications. (Those services are currently free.)

OSHA’s overall budget would be cut by approximately $8 billion, while its budget for regulations would be cut by about 10%. Additionally, the OSHA Susan Harwood Training Grant program, which serves vulnerable worker communities, would be completely eliminated. The proposed budget would also reduce USDA funding by more than 20% and would sharply reduce funding for food security programs.

Marked Increase in Use of H-2A Program in California

Use of the H-2A agricultural worker visa has continued to rise this year. In the state of California, use of the program has increased exponentially over the last five years. This issue continues to be highlighted by the L.A. Times in a series of recent articles detailing use of the program, including employers’ reasons for hiring H-2A workers and concerns about worker housing.

CNN Story on Coalition of Immokalee Workers

The CNN Freedom Project recently published a story on agricultural workers in the tomato industry in Florida, highlighting the invaluable work of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and its Fair Food Program initiative.

New Report on Immigrant Dairy Workers in New York State

The Worker Justice Center of New York and the Workers’ Center of Central New York just released a new report entitled: “Milked: Immigrant Dairy Farmworkers in New York State.” The report details the treatment and working conditions of the immigrant laborers who toil in the state’s milking parlors and barns.