Farmworker Justice Immigration Update
Momentum to pass comprehensive immigration reform continues to build. The White House has hinted that President Obama’s State of the Union Address may outline his immigration proposal. An increasing number of Senators and Representatives are speaking about reaching a compromise. Even the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and labor leaders have been working together to press for legislative action. Efforts at a legislative compromise face many obstacles.
In the Senate, the co-called “gang of 8” Senators is seeking agreement on a compromise a bill. The group includes Senators Schumer (D-NY), Durbin (D-IL), Menendez (D-NJ), Bennet (D-CO), Graham (R-SC), Lee (R-UT) and Flake (R-AZ). Sen. Leahy (D-VT), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, plans to hold hearings on immigration reform next month. Sen. Rubio (R-FL) has garnered media attention, proposing to “ease the way for skilled engineers and seasonal farm workers while strengthening border enforcement and immigration laws.” He also proposes to create a path for the 11 million undocumented immigrants to “earn” a working permit and, apparently, citizenship.
In the House, Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R.-Va.), Chair of the House Judiciary Committee, has expressed interest in allowing undocumented immigrants to receive a legal status without a path to citizenship. In the past he has sponsored bills on agricultural guestworker programs that would remove important labor protections and government oversight. Rep. Trey Gowdy, the new Chair of the Immigration Subcommittee, has received high marks from immigration restrictionists but recently indicated that he is carefully examining the issues, including the humanitarian consequences of immigration policies. However, Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.), Raul Labrador (R-ID), Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D.-CA) and Paul Ryan (R-WI), among others, have expressed interest in developing a bipartisan compromise.
Agriculture continues to be at the center of the discussion, but the debate about farmworkers and their employers is just beginning again and it may take a different form and path than in the past. Farmworker Justice continues to press Congress to provide a roadmap to citizenship for the 11 million aspiring Americans who lack authorized immigration status, including approximately one million farmworkers and their family members. We are also working to ensure that any legislation with a new visa program to fill future labor needs in agriculture will protect U.S. workers’ jobs and not create incentives to discriminate against U.S. workers. As important contributors to our economy, farmworkers, now and in the future, should be given true economic freedom to seek the best agricultural jobs and an opportunity to earn immigration status and citizenship. Future farmworkers should also enjoy the same workplace protections as other workers.
New Grower Immigration Group: The Agriculture Workforce Coalition Releases Troubling Statement on Immigration Policy
A new agribusiness coalition, the Agriculture Workforce Coalition, has formed to promote an immigration policy proposal. It is not yet clear what exactly they are proposing as they have published only a brief statement about its contents. While some of the description may seem reasonable and simple, it appears in reality to be a complicated proposal for several guestworker programs from which longstanding protections for U.S. workers and vulnerable foreign workers have been omitted. While the statement mentions an adjustment of status for undocumented workers, it noticeably does not include a road map to citizenship.
The guestworker proposal offers growers two options: the first creates “at-will” employees, who may work for several employers for up to 11 months at a time, while the second, ties workers to a “contract” with one employer for up to 12 months, renewable indefinitely, and requiring them to return home for at least 30 days over a three-year period. This proposal looks like a combination of other failed, guestworker proposals that we’ve seen in the past. The plan would provide unchecked access to vulnerable guestworkers, which will depress wages and working conditions for farmworkers, who already experience inadequate labor standards. U.S. farmworkers and newly legalized farmworkers would face job loss by guestworkers pressured to work for less.
For more information, see Farmworker Justice’s full statement on the Agricultural Workforce Coalition’s proposal.
Rep. Ross introduces “Legal Agricultural Workforce Act”: A 19th Century Policy for the 21st Century
Unfortunately, Representative Ross (R-FL) doesn’t appear to be joining the other members of his party who are trying to enact a compromise solution for immigration reform that could actually pass both houses of Congress. Instead, he’s filed the Legal Agricultural Workforce Act, HR 242, which would create a massive new guestworker proposal with no meaningful labor protections. Ross ignores the lessons of history by eliminating virtually all of the labor protections that have been recognized for decades as necessary to prevent displacement of U.S. workers, depression of U.S. workers’ wage rates, and exploitation of foreign citizens. His proposal would devastate America’s farmworkers and endanger our nation’s food system. Moreover, Rep. Ross’s guestworker legislation does nothing to provide status for current undocumented farmworkers.
Farmworker Justice will continue to fight one-sided guestworker proposals such as this one in the 113th Congress. For more information, read Farmworker Justice’s statement on the Legal Agricultural Workforce Act.
Forward With Your Promise Caravan Heads to Washington to Press for Immigration Reform
A group of Florida immigrant organizations, including the Farmworker Association of Florida, has embarked on a caravan from Florida to Washington, DC, to urge President Obama and Congress to follow through on his promises to pass comprehensive immigration reform this year. The group has made many stops throughout the South and will arrive in Washington in time for President Obama’s inauguration, and plans to visit Congressional offices as well.
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