FJ Blog

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

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.

--------

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.

Your support makes our work possible as we help farmworkers fight for justice.  Farmworker Justice is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization; donations are tax-deductible to the full extent of the law.  Thank you for your support.

www.farmworkerjustice.org

www.facebook.com/farmworkerjustice  

www.twitter.com/farmwrkrjustice

by Iris Figueroa
(0 total comments)
Monday, 08 May 2017

On April 13, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) released a final rule regarding market stabilization within the health insurance marketplace.[i] The rule makes several changes to current ACA provisions, including open enrollment, Special Enrollment Periods, and guaranteed availability, among others. It is likely that these changes will make access to health insurance more difficult for eligible farmworkers and their families.

Perhaps one of the most significant changes made in the rule is the shorter timeframe for open enrollment 2018. Like past open enrollment periods, this year’s open enrollment period was supposed to be from November 1st, 2017 to January 31st, 2018. Now, open enrollment 2018 will end six weeks sooner on Dec. 15th. Farmworkers, especially those who are limited English proficient or lack familiarity with the U.S. health care system, rely on in-person assistance to successfully enroll in health insurance through the marketplace. Farmworker enrollment efforts are often more time-intensive, requiring several appointments pre- and post-enrollment. Assuming that there are no changes in navigator funding, it will be critical that outreach and enrollment programs in farmworker communities are prepared to provide the same level of assistance within a shorter timeframe.

The rule also re-interprets the ACA’s guaranteed availability provision. Insurers are required to accept all consumers who enrolled, regardless of past payment history. Now, under the rule, insurers can penalize new consumers who re-enroll in health insurance and have premium debt from the last 12 months.[ii] Farmworkers who migrate or lack access to postal services may inadvertently miss a premium payment. Some farmworkers will need assistance to make timely monthly premium payments in order to avoid any future penalty.

Lastly, the rule made several changes to eligibility and enrollment during special enrollment periods (SEPs). Beginning in June, 100% pre-enrollment verification will be required for enrollment outside of the open enrollment period due to a permanent move, loss of minimum essential coverage, or Medicaid/CHIP denial. Enrollment will be pended until the verification process is complete, which involves submitting supporting documents to the marketplace (either online or by mail) within 30 days. This presents an enormous challenge to farmworkers, especially migratory workers and workers in the U.S. on H-2A temporary work visas, who may not have access to documents like leases or utility bills, or may not live in places where these documents are in their name. Fortunately, CMS recognized that not all consumers will be able to fulfill the verification requirements. CMS will implement “reasonable flexibility” that will allow individuals to send a letter about their situation if they are not able to provide sufficient supporting documentation. This may be an important tool for farmworker consumers who are unable to provide supporting documentation regarding their SEP eligibility.

Farmworkers and their families, given the risky and low-paying nature of farm work, need affordable and accessible healthcare options. The final CMS rule presents a new set of obstacles for farmworkers to obtain affordable health insurance. Assisters in farmworker communities will need to develop strategies to overcome these obstacles and maintain access to health insurance for eligible farmworkers and their families. FJ will continue to provide timely information around issues that affect farmworker access to health insurance.

 

[i] You can find the final rule at https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2017-04-18/pdf/2017-07712.pdf.

[ii] The penalty would be added to their monthly premium and would only apply to consumers who are applying for health insurance with the same issuer or an issuer in the same control group.

by Virginia Ruiz
(0 total comments)
Monday, 01 May 2017

Executive Order on Rural Communities

On April 25, 2017, President Trump issued an Executive Order on “Promoting Agricultural and Rural Prosperity in America,” establishing an inter-agency task force to develop policies in this area, including changes that “ensure access to a reliable workforce” in agriculture. This language, as well as the composition of the task force, seems aimed at benefitting agri-business at the expense of farmworkers’ health and well-being, as noted by FJ President Bruce Goldstein in a recent op-ed. The order does not address farmworker concerns and was announced during a meeting of Trump and the new Secretary of Agriculture, Sonny Perdue, with over a dozen agricultural employers, and no farmworkers or farmworker organizations present.

 

ICE Raids Pennsylvania Mushroom Farm

In an alarming sign that immigration agents may start conducting agricultural worksite raids, ICE agents raided a Chester County, PA mushroom farm last week, detaining at least nine workers. ICE was allegedly looking for four individuals; however none of these individuals was among the workers detained. According to the farm owner, ICE agents apparently did not have a warrant for entering the private property, raising questions about the raid’s lawfulness. The raid seems to contradict the Trump administration’s recent assurances to agricultural employers that it would be sensitive to the agriculture industry in its immigration enforcement actions.

 

Judge Enjoins “Sanctuary City” Provision of Trump Executive Order

Last week, a federal judge in California blocked the Trump administration’s threat to withhold federal funds from so-called “sanctuary jurisdictions”. As part of a lawsuit filed by the cities of Santa Clara and San Francisco, the judge issued a nationwide injunction of Section 9 of President Trump’s January 2017 Executive Order on immigration enforcement, which states that “sanctuary jurisdictions” will not be eligible to receive federal grants.  For more information on what constitutes a sanctuary jurisdiction, as well as the status of current litigation on this issue, please see ILRC’s FAQ on Sanctuary Cities.  

 

Deal on 2017 Budget Reached, Possibly Averting Government Shutdown

After extending the budget approval deadline for an additional week (from April 28 to May 5), Congress announced yesterday that it had reached a deal on a more than $1 trillion spending bill for the rest of the 2017 fiscal year, which goes through September 30.  Although the bill does not include funding for construction of a border wall, it does include an additional $1.5 billion in funds for border security, with the limitation that the funds be used solely for technology investments and repairs to existing fencing and infrastructure. The Senate and House Minority leaders (Charles Schumer and Nancy Pelosi) stated that as part of the negotiations they were able to force Republicans to withdraw more than 160 unrelated policy measures, known as riders, from the bill. Unfortunately, policy riders on the H-2B guest worker program remain in the agreement, and an exemption from the H-2B cap for returning workers was added. Congress must pass the bill before Friday evening in order to avert a shutdown, and is expected to vote on it early this week.  The battle over the budget for fiscal year 2018, which starts on October 1st, has already begun, with President Trump demanding huge funding cuts.

 

Perdue and Acosta Confirmed to Key Cabinet Posts

Sonny Perdue was confirmed as Agriculture Secretary on April 24th with little opposition, although the vote did mark the first time since the Reagan administration that a USDA chief has not been unanimously approved.  Perdue has widespread support from agri-business groups. As Georgia’s governor, he signed anti-immigrant legislation that discouraged migrant farmworkers from traveling to the state, leading the next Governor to a failed experiment with prison labor.

The vote to confirm Alexander Acosta as Secretary of Labor on April 27th was more contested and mostly split along party lines.  Acosta had a controversial history in the Justice Department Civil Rights Division under George W. Bush.  However, many groups had expressed relief that at least one Cabinet member would come from the Latino community (Acosta is the son of Cuban immigrants).  During remarks at his swearing-in ceremony, Acosta stated that “too many Americans have seen jobs filled by foreign workers,” heightening uncertainty about how he will handle immigration-related issues during his tenure. His conservative views also raise questions about how he will address policy issues and wage-hour enforcement affecting farmworkers and their employers.  

Farmworker Justice intends to help farmworkers have an impactful voice with these two new members of the President’s Cabinet.

 

Happy International Workers Day!

On this day of action and commemoration, we urge you to continue to stand up for workers’ rights and immigrants’ rights and thank you for all that you do in your respective communities.

--------

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.

Your support makes our work possible as we help farmworkers fight for justice.  Farmworker Justice is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization; donations are tax-deductible to the full extent of the law.  Thank you for your support.

www.farmworkerjustice.org

www.facebook.com/farmworkerjustice  

www.twitter.com/farmwrkrjustice

by Iris Figueroa
(0 total comments)