Farmworker Justice Immigration Update: 08/04/17

Please note that the legislative proposals discussed below have not been passed by Congress. There is still time to contact lawmakers about these proposals. Please ask your Members of Congress to 1) oppose expansion of the H-2A agricultural guestworker program to year-round jobs in the DHS appropriations bill and other efforts to weaken H-2A worker protections and 2) support the Agricultural Worker Program Act, S. 1034 and H.R. 2690.  We need legalization for farmworkers, not unfair H-2A reforms that would replace our nation’s undocumented farmworkers with exploitable temporary workers.

“RAISE” Act - President Trump Endorses Bill Limiting Legal Immigration

On August 2, 2017, President Trump publicly endorsed the “Reforming American Immigration for a Strong Economy” (RAISE) Act, S. 1720. The bill, introduced in the Senate by Sen. Cotton (R-AR) and Sen. Perdue (R-GA), would significantly reduce legal immigration by, among other provisions, sharply limiting family-sponsored immigration and decreasing refugee admissions. The bill also would drastically change eligibility criteria by prioritizing visa applicants who are “high-skilled,” highly educated and English-speaking.  When asked about the need of many businesses for people without such extensive credentials, Trump’s advisor said it would be dealt with in a separate bill on guestworkers (see below).  Several Republicans and most Democrats already oppose the RAISE Act.  Sen. Feinstein (D-CA) noted in her press statement that the bill disregards the contributions of farmworkers and would not allow them the opportunity to apply for legal status. Farmworker Justice released a statement condemning the bill and its potential negative impact on farmworkers. FJ’s President Bruce Goldstein was interviewed on MSNBC by Chris Jansing on August 3 about the bill’s implications for farmworkers.

Guestworker Proposals and Contradictions Multiplying

During a White House press conference on the RAISE Act on August 2, reporters questioned President Trump’s support for slashing immigration allegedly to protect U.S. workers from competition while simultaneously using temporary foreign workers at his businesses, including a Trump-owned vineyard and the Mar-a-Lago resort.   In response, Stephen Miller, a senior advisor to the President who is known for his anti-immigrant views, sought to distinguish between the type of legal immigration addressed in the RAISE Act and the guestworker programs used by President Trump, stating that they are “totally separate categories.”  This discussion underscored the juxtaposition within the Trump Administration of nativist voices calling for deportations and reduced immigration in the name of protecting U.S. workers and   business interests that hire immigrants, use guestworker programs and express the need for more immigration.  

A recent article in The Economist challenges the assumptions of some in the Trump administration who believe the country is overrun by low-skilled immigrants, pointing specifically to agricultural work as an example of a sector that depends on immigrant labor to fill labor shortages. The article also details the rise in the use of the H-2A program.  The exponential growth of the H-2A guestworker visa program, along with the program’s potential for labor abuses, are also analyzed in a recent exposé in the American Prospect. In it, Farmworker Justice President Bruce Goldstein expresses our organization’s concern that “without any reforms, an expansion of the H-2A program will only lead to the abuse of more workers.”

Bill Introduced by Sen. Paul and Sen. Tester Would Expand H-2A Program

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) recently introduced the “Paperwork Reduction for Farmers Act,” S. 1578. While the legislation is framed as a bill that would “streamline” the H-2A application process through procedures such as electronic filing, it also includes provisions that would fundamentally change the H-2A agricultural guestworker program. It would expand the H-2A program to include year-round jobs and lessen important labor protections, including recruitment requirements for U.S. workers. Please see our fact sheet for a summary of the bill.

More Agricultural Guestworker Program Proposals Likely

As we have stated in previous updates, there are  indications of additional legislative efforts underway to expand and/or weaken the protections in the H-2A agricultural guestworker program or replace it with an even more-anti-worker, anti-immigrant program. Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), Chair of the House Judiciary Committee, is expected to introduce such a bill in September. Farmworker Justice will continue monitoring this issue and will provide an analysis of any relevant legislation if and when it is introduced.

Farmworker Justice is also deeply concerned regarding recent reports of discussions between the governments of the United States and Mexico about a possible new bilateral agricultural guestworker program. Farmworker Justice has released a statement cautioning against such an agreement, based on the lessons learned from both the Bracero and H-2A guestworker programs. We believe that the U.S. is a nation of immigrants, not guestworkers.  

Sen. Cornyn Presents Border Security Bill, Says Pres. Trump is an “Immigration Ally”

Yesterday, Sen. Cornyn (R-TX), introduced the “Building America’s Trust Act,” S. 1757, a bill which would authorize $15 billion in funding to go toward border security efforts over the next four years. The bill is cosponsored by Senators John Barrasso (R-WY), Ron Johnson (R-WI), and Thom Tillis (R-NC). The bill includes funding for “smart, multi-layered infrastructure” along the Southern border, allows the federal government to withhold funding from local governments who are considered “sanctuary jurisdictions” and would incorporate “Kate’s Law,” a measure that would increase penalties for immigrants who re-enter the country after deportation. President Trump’s call for a border wall has faced resistance in Congress and it is still unclear how this issue may affect negotiations for the FY 2018 budget, which must be approved by September 30 in order to prevent a government shutdown.  

Protecting Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Program

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which has provided protection and opportunities for approximately 800,000 young immigrants, continues to be under threat by the Trump administration. Currently, there are two legal cases which may determine the fate of the program: United States v. Texas and Arizona Dream Act Coalition (ADAC) v. Brewer. For a summary of these cases and their possible outcomes, please see the National Immigration Law Center’s (NILC) summary of legal threats to DACA.

In light of this looming uncertainty, two recent legislative proposals seek to protect DACA recipients and other young immigrants. On July 20, Sen Durbin (D- IL) and Sen. Graham (R-SC) introduced the bi-partisan DREAM Act of 2017, S. 1615. Congresswomen Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) introduced a companion bill in the House of Representatives a few days later (H.R. 3440). For a guide to the practical implications of the DREAM Act, please see United We Dream’s (UWD) short summary of the bill, including ways you can help defend DACA.

The second legislative proposal, entitled the “American Hope Act of 2017” (H.R. 3591) was introduced by Rep. Gutierrez (D-IL) in the House of Representatives on July 28 and already has over 100 cosponsors. The bill would give those with DACA and others who arrived in the United States as children a path to permanent legal status and eventual citizenship. You can read UWD’s summary of the bill here.

UWD, along with various other immigrant rights organizations, is also organizing a national day of action to protect DACA on August 15th.  For more details on the event and information on how you can participate, please click here.

Agricultural Worker Program Act of 2017

The House version of the Agricultural Worker Program Act, H.R. 2690, introduced by Rep. Gutierrez (D-IL) now has 57 cosponsors.  Sen. Feinstein introduced the bill in the Senate, S. 1034, with 9 cosponsors.  Farmworker Justice strongly supports this bill, which would grant “blue cards” and the opportunity for green cards and citizenship for undocumented farmworkers and their immediate family members.  

A Parting Note on the Statue of Liberty

Trump Advisor Stephen Miller, obsessed with denigrating immigrants and immigration at this week’s press conference, felt the need to state that the Emma Lazarus poem that was placed on the Statue of Liberty in 1903 was not on the statute when it was erected in 1886.  To him the poem does not express this nation’s values despite its decades-long status as the embodiment of the hopes and dreams of the immigrants who arrived at Ellis Island and the nation itself.  In fact, the stirring words of “The New Colossus” were written in 1883 to help raise funds for the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty:  "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore, send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”