Farmworker Justice Immigration Update - 09/08/2017

A Note to our Readers:  We are kicking off a new section of our update focused on farmworkers’ access to health care and occupational health and safety, which have been key parts of our mission for many years. The issues of immigration policy and health are intertwined, especially for farmworkers, the large majority of whom are immigrants.

Trump Administration Ends Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Program

           On September 5, the Trump Administration announced that it is ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, a decision that was condemned by politicians on both sides of the aisle, business sector representatives, faith organizations and multiple advocacy groups, including Farmworker Justice. Terminating DACA places the almost 800,000 individuals whom the program allows to work and live in the United States at risk of deportation, and will have a significant negative impact on our nation’s workforce and communities.

What does this mean for current DACA enrollees? The most important thing to keep in mind is that both deferred action and work authorization for current DACA recipients will remain valid until the specific expiration date on individual documents. However, no new DACA applications will be accepted. Those for whom DACA authorization is set to expire between now and March 5, 2018 must apply for renewal by October 5, 2017. For more details on the implications of the Administration’s decision for individual DACA recipients, please see NILC’s “Top 5 Things to Know” and guidance on DACA and employment, as well as the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) FAQs on DACA’s rescission.

What will happen to the program? Congress must take action by passing clean legislation such as the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act of 2017 - without harmful add-ons such as provisions related to interior enforcement or guestworker programs. Various DACA-related bills have been introduced in Congress in addition to the DREAM Act. You can read a summary of current proposals here.  The Senate Judiciary Committee will be holding an immigration-focused hearing on September 13th to discuss DACA, as well as guestworker programs. There is also ongoing litigation regarding the DACA program, including a lawsuit filed earlier this week by the Attorney General of NY, along with the Attorney Generals of 15 other states and D.C., to protect Dreamers.

What can you do to defend DACA? There are many ways to help Dreamers in your community, including by sharing stories, contacting your local representatives and planning or participating in an event in your area.  

House Judiciary Committee Chair Announces Imminent Agricultural Guestworker Bill

           On September 6, in an op-ed, Rep. Bob Goodlatte, Chair of the House Judiciary Committee, announced that he will soon introduce legislation that would replace the H-2A agricultural guestworker program.  The new program would lower wage rates, reduce government oversight and otherwise weaken labor standards, and will likely not allow undocumented farmworkers and their family members to earn permanent immigration status or citizenship. Goodlatte held a hearing on agricultural guestworkers on July 19, when he announced his intention to introduce a new version of a bill he sponsored in 2013.  Farmworker Justice will prepare a summary of the bill when it is introduced.

Please help express your opposition to harmful guestworker proposals for agriculture, including Goodlatte’s guestworker bill and the H-2A amendments to the appropriations process, by joining our sign-on letter. The deadline for sign-on has been extended to September 14 - organizational sign-ons only please. Thank you very much for your support of farmworkers.

Court Blocks Key Provisions of SB-4, Texas Anti-Immigrant Law

            Last week, a Texas District Court temporarily blocked key provisions of Texas’ SB-4 anti-immigrant law, which went into effect on September 1, 2017. The ruling enjoined many provisions in the law, including those which sought to force local law enforcement officers and government officials to engage in immigration enforcement. It is also important to note that officers cannot stop someone solely to ask about immigration status, and though officers may inquire about a person’s immigration status, individuals always have the right to remain silent. For more information about SB-4 and your rights, please see the ACLU of Texas’ summary.

Congress Passes Short-Term Spending Bill to Fund Government through December

           In a surprising turn of events in fiscal negotiations, President Trump has agreed to a short-term plan to fund the government proposed by Congressional Democrats. The short-term plan extends government funding and the debt limit through early December, and also includes disaster funding to address the impacts of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. The Senate and House have both approved the spending package, and President Trump is expected to sign it soon. The spending package for FY2018 will still need to be approved in December. Farmworker Justice has been monitoring efforts by some legislators to add a “rider” to the spending bills to make harmful changes to the H-2A agricultural guestworker program. The rider is not included in the short-term funding bill, but we must continue to educate members of Congress to push back against the proposed changes in preparation for the next round of funding.  

Update on Farmworker Health and Safety

Farmworkers Face Challenges to Access Healthcare

Farmworkers and their families who are lawfully present in the U.S., including H-2A workers, are eligible to buy health insurance coverage through the Affordable Care Act (ACA)’s health insurance exchanges. Still, there is great confusion about eligibility and the enrollment process, as described by our Senior Health Policy Analyst Alexis Guild. Recent legislative efforts to repeal the ACA have exacerbated this uncertainty. It is worth noting that the ACA remains unchanged and is still the law of the land. Farmworker Justice will continue to work to ensure that farmworker communities are informed about the law and that provisions that promote health insurance access remain in place.

Cuts to ACA Outreach and Enrollment Assistance Programs Could Impact Farmworkers

On August 31, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), the federal agency that oversees Affordable Care Act (ACA) implementation, announced drastic cuts in navigator, outreach, and education funding ahead of the 2018 Open Enrollment. In addition to cutting funding for advertising and educational activities by 90% (from $100 million last year to $10 million this year), CMS is also cutting navigator funding, despite requests from numerous advocacy organizations, including Farmworker Justice, to at least maintain past funding levels for outreach and enrollment. Navigators, who provide in-person education and enrollment assistance, are crucial to ensure that farmworkers and other underserved communities receive appropriate information and assistance to understand and enroll in health insurance.

Farmworkers, especially, rely heavily on in-person assistance to navigate the U.S. health care system and the ACA. This reduction in funding will harm current and future efforts to enroll farmworker communities in health insurance and connect them to health care. It's important to note that DACA recipients are not eligible to purchase health insurance in the ACA marketplaces. However, in a few states, DACA recipients are eligible for state-funded Medicaid.

Chemical Previously Set to Be Banned By EPA Involved in Farmworker Drift Incident

Officials in Kern County, California have fined two companies for a pesticide drift incident that injured 37 farmworkers in May of this year. The workers, who were picking cabbage in a nearby field, had symptoms including fainting and vomiting, and at least five of them had to receive medical attention. Several other pesticide drift incidents have occurred in the state this summer and are being investigated.

One of the pesticides involved in the May incident contained chlorpyrifos, a chemical that has been shown to cause severe and permanent neurological harm, particularly in children; including autism, diminished IQ, ADHD and other neurological disorders. Chlorpyrifos was slated to be banned by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in March 2017 after agency scientists found the pesticide to be unsafe for use in any amount, but EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt reversed the EPA’s decision. Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) has introduced a bill in Congress entitled the “Protect Children, Farmers, and Farmworkers from Nerve Agent Pesticides Act of 2017” (S. 1624) to ban the use of the chemical. You can sign on to this Earthjustice petition to support S. 1624.