Farmworker Justice Immigration Update: 06/30/17

Two Anti-Immigrant Bills Passed in House of Representatives Yesterday

Representative Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, introduced two anti-immigrant bills that were approved by the House yesterday (June 29). The two bills are entitled the “No Sanctuary for Criminals Act” (H.R. 3003) and “Kate's Law” (H.R. 3004). The “No Sanctuary for Criminals Act” targets sanctuary cities and seeks to coerce state and local jurisdictions into enforcing immigration law, while also requiring mandatory detention for broader categories of undocumented persons, among other provisions. “Kate’s Law,” in turn, enhances the government’s ability to prosecute illegal reentry cases and increases the sentences that may be imposed. This is significant because more than half of all federal criminal prosecutions are for illegal reentry and the prison system is already overburdened.

Farmworker Justice joined over 400 non-governmental organizations urging members of Congress to oppose these bills, which will further the criminalization and incarceration of immigrants and ultimately make communities less safe. These bills demonize immigrants, who actually are less likely to commit crimes than the native-born. Though the bills passed in the House, they have a lower likelihood of passing in the Senate. However, it is important that we continue to advocate against increasing the Trump Administration’s capacity for mass detentions and deportations. The White House has stated that it “strongly supports” both bills and that they will likely be signed into law if they are presented to the President.

House Immigration Agenda: Guestworker Changes May Follow Enforcement Bills

On Tuesday (June 27), Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID) was appointed to head the Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security of the House Judiciary Committee. Rep. Labrador, a former immigration lawyer who was elected in 2010 with the Tea Party wave, supported the two anti-immigrant bills that passed in the House yesterday and has also introduced another enforcement-focused bill, the Davis-Oliver Act.  In a recent press call, Labrador stated that he believes the Davis-Oliver Act will get a vote in the House and that after passage of these enforcement-centered bills, he plans to focus on the issue of guestworkers. He also specifically referenced the H-2A visa program and a possible expansion of the program to include year-round jobs on dairy farms. Idaho is the fourth-largest dairy production state. Additionally, Labrador noted that there are draft plans underway for a guestworker proposal involving 3-year visas which would require undocumented workers to first leave the U.S. in order to be eligible.  

Landmark Ruling Affirms Immigrant Workers’ Protections against Retaliation

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals recently issued a favorable opinion affirming key federal protections for immigrant workers asserting their rights. The case, Arias v. Raimondo (which Farmworker Justice joined as amicus curiae) involved Jose Arias, an immigrant dairy worker who sued his employer for various wage violations. His employer’s attorney reported Mr. Arias to immigration authorities in an attempt to have him removed from the U.S. before trial and Mr. Arias subsequently sued the attorney. The Ninth Circuit Court ruled that the attorney could be held liable under the Fair Labor Standards Act’s (FLSA) anti-retaliation provision, which protects workers regardless of their immigration status. This decision is a victory for workers, and is the result of years of litigation by California Rural Legal Assistance (CRLA) and Legal Aid at Work.

Immigrants’ Health Compromised by Increased Immigration Enforcement

The current context of increased immigration enforcement is having a real impact on the health of immigrant communities. Health providers across the country have noted a decrease in the number of immigrants seeking medical care, even for chronic and possibly life-threatening conditions. In addition, the anxiety of possible deportation and/or family separation is having an adverse impact on the mental health of immigrants, including young children, resulting in physical symptoms such as stomach pain, dizziness, shortness of breath, and insomnia, among many others.

Past studies have demonstrated a correlation between increased immigration enforcement and a decrease in immigrants’ use of preventive health services, as well as tangible negative impacts on health outcomes. Reluctance to seek medical care among farmworkers may also exacerbate physical conditions resulting from the arduous tasks associated with agricultural work.  As noted by a farmworker in a recent article in The Atlantic: “we put our lives out there in the fields for a job that will never give our health back.”

Recent Supreme Court Developments Affecting Immigrants

Muslim Ban – On June 26, the Supreme Court made a long awaited announcement regarding President Trump’s “Muslim Ban” Executive Order. The Court agreed to take on the issue and said it will begin hearing oral arguments in October. The Court also allowed parts of President Trump’s EO to go into effect, allowing a temporary travel ban for refugees and citizens of six predominantly Muslim countries, unless they have a “bona fide relationship” with a person or entity in the U.S. On June 28, the State Department issued guidelines regarding what types of personal and professional relationships qualify for this exception, which it then partially modified the next day in order to clarify that fiancé relationships are included. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) also published a set of FAQs on the ban yesterday (June 29), just before it officially went into effect at 8:00 p.m. Litigation on the new ban is already underway, as the state of Hawaii has submitted a motion asking for clarification on the scope of the ban. It remains to be seen whether the implementation of the ban will once again lead to confusion at ports of entry, as well as further litigation.  

DACA – Also on Monday, the Supreme Court asked the Trump Administration for its views on whether those in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program are legally present in the country. The request was directed to Jeffrey Wall, the acting U.S. Solicitor General, and is related to the case of Brewer v. Arizona Dream Act Coalition (ADAC). The Brewer case concerns a 2012 directive by then-Arizona governor Jan Brewer ordering the state not to provide driver’s licenses to DACA recipients. In 2014, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) supported DACA enrollees in their challenge to the directive, and an appellate court ordered the state of Arizona to issue licenses to DACA recipients. An estimated 21,000 Arizona DACA recipients have since been issued driver’s licenses. However, it is unclear whether the government’s position will change under the new Administration and the Supreme Court is currently weighing whether it will take the case. In the meantime, the licenses currently held by DACA recipients remain valid and operational, as does the DACA program itself, although it continues to be under attack.

Ten States, Led by Texas Attorney General, Call on U.S. Government to End DACA

The Attorney General of Texas, Ken Paxton, along with the Attorneys General of nine other states and the governor of Idaho, have sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions asking that the U.S. government rescind the 2012 memorandum establishing DACA and cease to accept or renew applications for the program. The state of Texas, along with 25 other states, had previously sued the U.S. government over the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) program, a proposed extension of DACA. As a result of that litigation, the DAPA program was blocked before it could be implemented. The recent Texas Attorney General letter threatens to expand the scope of litigation to include DACA unless the U.S. government agrees to rescind the program. It establishes September 5, 2017 as the deadline for the government to act.