FJ Blog

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Implementation of Immigration Orders Likely to Impact Farmworker Communities

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) recently released a series of memos, fact sheets and FAQs detailing its plans for implementing the new immigration orders signed by President Trump on January 25th, which focused on immigration enforcement both at the border and in the interior of the country. Perhaps the most significant feature of the orders is a change in immigration enforcement priorities. In its guidance materials, DHS confirms the broad scope of the new enforcement priorities, stating that it will not exempt any classes or categories of people from potential enforcement and that all of those in violation of immigration laws may be subject to immigration arrest, detention and removal. The guidance also states that DHS will not target DACA recipients or deviate from its established procedure for avoiding “sensitive locations” such as schools and hospitals, but it is still unclear whether these policies are being adhered to.

The effect of these orders and their implementation is the criminalization of immigration and increased uncertainty even for those who have been in this country for years, have U.S. citizen children who have grown up here, and have no criminal records. In Oregon, ICE has detained multiple workers, many of whom do not have criminal records, including one nursery worker who has several U.S. citizen children and has lived in the United States for about 15 years.  As stated by Farmworker Justice’s Bruce Goldstein in a recent Modern Farmer article: “These people work really hard at low-wage jobs to feed the country. To be vilified this way is causing them great harm.”

Trump’s immigration policies could also have a chilling effect on workplace complaints. As stated by Farmworker Justice’s Adrienne DerVartanian in a recent Bloomberg BNA article, agriculture, where a large portion of the workforce is undocumented, is an industry in which “violations of rights are rampant” and “the current environment, with a real focus on immigration enforcement and raids, has created an increase in the level of fear and concerns.”

Farmworkers are not the only ones concerned about the prospect of increased enforcement. Growers and other agricultural employers are worried about the possible impacts of increased immigration enforcement on the availability of workers. This concern has been voiced by employers across different geographical regions and agricultural industries around the country, including blueberries in New Jersey (as an aside, as mentioned in this article, White House adviser KellyAnne Conway grew up in southern New Jersey, worked as a blueberry picker during summer breaks from school and was crowned New Jersey Blueberry Princess in 1982 - but the blueberry industry, along with others in agriculture, is facing a crisis due to Trump's immigration policies and deportations), tomatoes in Michigan, apples in Maine, and dairy in New York, just to cite some examples. Unfortunately, even as many farmers express concern for their current workforce and want a way for those workers to adjust status, many are also calling for limiting protections and government oversight in the H-2A program. Some growers are emphasizing their political connections and hoping these will work to their benefit.

In this difficult political context, Farmworker Justice will keep fighting to ensure that farmworkers’ labor and human rights are respected while highlighting the need for progressive, sensible immigration reform that respects farmworkers.  Some of you may have heard or read Trump’s recent comments that he is open to immigration reform.  It is not clear what such proposed reform would entail, nor how it would move forward given the deep damage and lack of trust among immigrants and their supporters.  Nonetheless, it is obviously an issue we will be following closely.

Confirmation Process for Key Cabinet Positions in Trump Administration Continues   

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee has re-scheduled Alexander Acosta’s confirmation hearing for Secretary of Labor for March 22nd (it had originally been scheduled for March 15th). Acosta was the Trump Administration’s second choice for the post, after Andrew Puzder withdrew from consideration amidst controversy about his company’s labor practices, unpaid taxes for an undocumented domestic employee and past allegations of domestic violence.

Acosta is currently the Dean of Florida International University’s law school and has previously been through confirmation hearings for various government posts; having served on the National Labor Relations Board, the civil-rights division of the Justice Department and as a U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida during the George W. Bush administration.

Farmworker Justice has signed on to a letter with many other national organizations calling for a thorough review of Mr. Acosta’s record. We hope that the upcoming confirmation hearing will serve to provide further information about Acosta’s views on both labor and immigration, particularly on issues that affect farmworkers such as enforcing the minimum wage and other wage-hour laws, administering the H-2A agricultural guestworker program, and setting occupational safety standards. 

Now that Acosta’s confirmation hearing has been set, only one Cabinet-level hearing remains to be scheduled – that of Agriculture Secretary nominee Sonny Perdue. Perdue’s views on immigration are concerning--as Georgia governor, Perdue signed into law the state’s harsh anti-immigrant bill in 2006.  The delay in Perdue’s confirmation has frustrated some farm-state lawmakers who view it as a sign that the Trump Administration is not prioritizing rural America. The Senate Agriculture Committee had been waiting for weeks for the necessary paperwork to move forward with the nomination, including ethics forms and an FBI background check. The Committee finally received some documents this past Friday, March 10th. Perdue owns several agriculture-related businesses which may give rise to conflicts of interest and was fined for various ethics violations during his time as governor of Georgia.


by Iris Figueroa
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Tuesday, 21 February 2017

The Department of Homeland Security’s guidance implementing President Trump’s executive orders on immigration enforcement sets the stage for increasing the number of deportations, which already had reached record levels, and for expanding the people targeted for deportation.  A majority of the nation’s 2.5 million farmworkers employed on farms and ranches are undocumented immigrants. This guidance will cause more of them to be swept up in immigration raids.  “For more than 20 years, with a wink and a nod, we have allowed agricultural employers to hire unauthorized immigrants to harvest our crops and work in our dairies.  Farmworkers did not create the broken immigration system.  Mass deportations of farmworkers would be cruel and economically harmful,” said Bruce Goldstein, President of Farmworker Justice.  Farmworker Justice advocates for an opportunity for undocumented farmworkers and their family members to earn immigration status and citizenship.

by Jessica Felix-Romero
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Friday, 17 February 2017

Immigration Raids Instilling Fear; Preparedness and Rapid Response Efforts Expanding

Immigration raids are taking place across the country following new immigration enforcement priorities laid out by the Trump Administration in one of a string of proposed and signed Executive Orders targeting immigrants.  Farmworkers and other immigrant communities are facing fear and uncertainty as they confront a heightened risk of encountering immigration enforcement actions.   

Farmworker Justice condemns these raids as senseless and heartless; they are causing needless fear and stress in farmworker and other immigrant communities.  Farmworker Justice, along with many other organizations, is working to ensure that farmworkers and others are receiving information about their rights in the event of immigration law enforcement.  Farmworker Justice, SPLC, and the United Farm Workers Foundation participated in a webinar this week through CIRI and IAN, a recording of which will soon be available on IAN’s website.  There are multiple sources for information about immigrant rights and Know Your Rights training available online.  Many resources are available on NILC’s webpage, including a “know your rights” card as well as materials explaining basic rights.

This is an extremely difficult time for many immigrant communities and we urge you to think about creating preparedness plans and rapid response networks in your communities, if you are not already doing so.  Some of the many difficult questions and considerations facing mixed status immigrant families include ensuring that their children will be taken care of in the event the parents or caretakers are detained or deported.  Parents must make arrangements for the necessary paperwork to ensure a responsible individual will assume care and custody for their children and know how to ensure children are able to join their parents if they are deported and choose to be reunited in their country of origin.  Fortunately, many groups are addressing these questions and are working to create family preparedness plans, including this one from ILRC.  Please contact us for additional information and resources in your community.

Agricultural Businesses Identify Serious Risks from Immigration Enforcement

Agribusiness is also feeling the heat of the increased immigration enforcement.  A growing chorus of growers, despite their broad support for then candidate Trump, is concerned about the future outlook of their workforce and their operations.  Farmworker Justice President Bruce Goldstein, speaking as a panelist at the February 2nd Food Tank Summit in Washington, D.C., was asked about the current environment and prospects of widespread immigration enforcement.  He responded by saying that “if we were to engage in massive deportations, our agricultural system would collapse.”

Multiple media articles have addressed grower concerns about their workforce; unfortunately, growers are also using this platform to criticize the H-2A program as being too burdensome and difficult to use.  The truth is that 95% of applications to DOL for H-2A workers are approved and in a timely manner.  The program’s rapid expansion belies claims that it is inaccessible.  Expansion of the already abusive H-2A program is not a solution to our broken immigration system and the senseless immigration enforcement we are now seeing.  Streamlining access to the H-2A industry and including year-round industries does nothing to address the needs of our current experienced workers and the insecurity they and their families are facing; in fact, it could lead to their displacement.  Greater protections for farmworkers and a path to legal immigration status and citizenship are needed.

Attracting and Retaining Workers by Improving Wages and Benefits

For farms experiencing labor shortages, one farm provides a clear model for attracting workers.  Christopher Ranch, the country’s largest fresh garlic producer, decided to increase wages in order to attract workers.  While the California state minimum wage is set to rise to $15 per hour in 2022, the grower is looking to get there by 2018, and has already bumped pay from $11 to $13 per hour this year.  As a result, they report a wait list of 150 workers.  While we recognize that some regions or growers may be experiencing bona fide labor shortages, more often than not these growers are not offering sufficient pay and working conditions in order to attract a stable workforce.

Guestworker Legislation:  H.R. 641, The BARN Act, re-introduced in 115th Congress

U.S. Rep. Rick Allen (GA) has re-introduced the Better Agricultural Resources Now Act, or BARN Act. Allen had also proposed the legislation in the previous Congress, and our summary of that bill can be found here.

The bill fundamentally transforms the H-2A program, eroding the rights and protections of foreign guestworkers and causing further harm to U.S. workers.  Among other provisions, the bill would transfer oversight of the application process from the Department of Labor to the Department of Agriculture while also limiting access to legal services, eliminate the housing guarantee, and expand the program to include year-round jobs.  The bill also sets an arbitrary wage cap at 115% of the applicable federal or state minimum wage, which would almost certainly fall below the current adverse effect wage rate (AEWR) for most states.

Labor Secretary Nominees: Andrew Puzder Withdraws, Alex Acosta Nominated

After a hearing date for the Labor Secretary nominee had finally been set, and amid growing concern that he did not have enough votes from his own party, Andrew Puzder removed himself from consideration.

Farmworker Justice opposed his nomination and is pleased that he has withdrawn.  President Trump has now nominated Alex Acosta.  We at Farmworker Justice look forward to learning about Mr. Acosta’s vision for the Department’s fulfillment of its mission.  The Department of Labor maintains important programs affecting agricultural workers.  These include employment and training programs, licensing farm labor contractors, setting occupational safety standards, administering the H-2A agricultural guestworker program, and enforcing the minimum wage and other wage-hour laws.  Many farmworkers experience low wages and violations of their limited labor protections.  We hope to learn the nominee’s views on building a more sustainable, prosperous and equitable agricultural sector.


Responding to the dire situation created by President Trump’s actions and statements on immigration, an anonymous donor has issued a matching challenge.  Every dollar raised between now and May 1st, will be matched up to $10,000.  Please help us serve immigrant farmworkers by meeting this challenge.  Any amount of your donation will help.  Donations are tax-deductible.  Donate with a credit card online or send a check to Farmworker Justice, 1126 16th St., NW, Suite 270, Washington, D.C. 20036.  Thank you.

Farmworker Justice


by Matt Clark
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