FJ Blog

Friday, 16 June 2017

35th Anniversary of Plyler v. Doe Decision on Right to Education for Immigrant Children

Yesterday (June 15, 2017) marked the 35th anniversary of the Plyler v. Doe decision, a seminal Supreme Court case that established the right to public education for immigrant children, regardless of their status. Several of the courageous parents who brought the case against a school district in Tyler, Texas worked in agriculture, including in the area’s then-famous rose industry.  In spite of this landmark decision, some states and localities continue to enact policies attempting to weaken immigrant children’s access to school using the same arguments the Court rejected in 1982. For guidance on how to help ensure that immigrant children exercise this important right, please see NILC’s Model Campus Safe Zones Resolution Language and The Leadership Conference’s Resources to Protect Immigrant Children in School (available in English and Spanish). Protecting immigrant children’s right to an education remains as essential today as it was 35 years ago.   

5th Anniversary of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Program

Yesterday also marked five years since the enactment of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, established by President Obama in 2012.  Since its creation, more than 780,000 young people have enrolled in the program. A 2014 study estimated that about 100,000 farmworkers and children of farmworkers are eligible for DACA. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) processed thousands of DACA applications and work permits during the first quarter of 2017, showing that the program has continued at a robust pace despite concerns about its fate.

Last night, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced the rescission of the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) program, which had not gone into effect due to legal challenges. It is important to note that the DHS announcement on the rescission of DAPA makes clear that the DACA program remains in place. In fact, in its accompanying guidance, DHS explicitly states that “rescission [of DAPA] will not affect the terms of the original DACA program.” These recent developments offer a somewhat optimistic prospect for DACA enrollees, but it is imperative that immigrant rights advocates and lawmakers continue to monitor the issue and push back against attacks on the program.

Secretary Perdue Announces Possible Changes to Agricultural Labor Policy

During a visit to Idaho earlier this month, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue told reporters that he has spoken to President Trump repeatedly about the role of immigrant workers in agriculture. Perdue specifically highlighted dairy producers’ year-round need for workers and stated that there are agricultural jobs that U.S. workers are not willing to fill. According to reporting by Politico Pro, Perdue also signaled that Kristi Boswell, one of his advisors and a former American Farm Bureau Federation lobbyist, is working on the issue. Secretary Perdue did not give any indication about when the proposal would be made public.

On June 15, Secretary Perdue convened the first meeting of a new interagency task force on agriculture and rural America.  During the meeting, Secretary Perdue noted the importance of a “reliable farm supply of agricultural workers,” but did not elaborate on the statement. Wayne Palmer, current chief of staff at the Department of Labor (DOL), was also present at the meeting, but was silent on the issue. One of the task force’s stated objectives is to “develop a reliable workforce” and it plans to issue its recommendations in October. As we noted when Trump signed the Executive Order on Rural Prosperity, the farmworker voice was ignored by the Administration in the meeting leading to the Executive Order and in the Executive Order itself. That shortcoming should not continue. 

Department of Labor (DOL) – Mixed Messages on Labor Rights/H-2A Enforcement  

Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta has stated that the DOL will vigorously enforce laws involving fraud and abuse in guestworker visa programs, as part of an effort to protect American workers. In his statement, Acosta highlighted the DOL’s recent legal action against “G Farms,” an H-2A program employer accused of housing and wage violations. Although Farmworker Justice believes that this enforcement action is a positive step, we are concerned about another recent announcement by the DOL rescinding its guidance on joint employment. Withdrawing the agency’s informal guidance does not change the law. However, it raises questions about the Secretary’s views on holding growers accountable for labor violations when utilizing farm labor contractors, a prevalent practice generally and in guestworker visa programs. DOL’s mixed messaging is also apparent from reports that some local DOL investigators are not questioning growers about joint employment relationships, as well as reports that they are conducting fewer workplace audits. Another sign of a more employer-friendly approach appears in the Trump Administration’s budget, which calls for more compliance assistance to employers and less money overall for enforcement. The direction of DOL’s enforcement will depend significantly on key personnel appointments, which are still pending.  

Lee Francis Cissna Nominated for USCIS Director Position

President Trump has nominated Lee Francis Cissna for the position of Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Cissna’s nomination has been approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee, paving the way for a confirmation vote by the Senate.  Cissna volunteered on President Trump’s campaign team and has stated that he provided technical expertise to those drafting President Trump’s immigration policies. The Congressional Hispanic Caucus and various immigrant rights organizations are urging Senators to vote against Cissna’s nomination.  

Current Litigation Challenging President Trump’s Immigration Executive Orders

Although the issues discussed below may not directly affect farmworkers, the outcome of these ongoing cases related to President Trump’s immigration orders will likely determine the limits of the President’s authority on immigration policy, as well as the extent of constitutional guarantees that protect states and individuals.

“Sanctuary Jurisdictions” – One of President Trump’s January 2017 executive orders on immigration, entitled “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States,” included a provision calling for the withdrawal of funding for “sanctuary jurisdictions.” As the result of lawsuits brought by the counties of San Francisco and Santa Clara in California, on April 25, 2017, a District Court judge ordered an injunction of this provision (Section 9(a) of the Executive Order). Last month, Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a memorandum clarifying that the provision only applies to certain federal grants. Last week, the government filed a motion to dismiss the challenge to its policy. A hearing on the government’s motion to dismiss has been tentatively scheduled for July 12.

“Muslim Ban” – Another executive order on immigration issued in January, entitled “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States,” called for a temporary ban on the admission of individuals from certain Muslim-majority countries, as well as refugees. The implementation of the order led to chaos, protests and lawsuits all around the country. In response, President Trump issued a revised version of the Executive Order in March. Most recently, two Appeals Court decisions (in the 4th Circuit and 9th Circuit) upheld existing injunctions against the Executive Order. The Trump Administration has asked the Supreme Court to address the issue, and the Court is expected to announce whether it will take the case later this month.

 

 

 

by Iris Figueroa
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Friday, 02 June 2017

Rep. Gutierrez Introduces Companion Bill to Agricultural Worker Program Act in House

On May 25, 2017, Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), joined by 26 original cosponsors, introduced H.R. 2690, the “Agricultural Worker Program Act of 2017,” a companion to the Senate bill of the same name introduced by Sen. Feinstein earlier this month, S.1034. Farmworker Justice strongly 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. For more information on the Agricultural Worker Program Act, please see our Fact Sheet. A full list of cosponsors of H.R. 2690 is available online.

Farmworker Justice Fact Sheet on Sen. Johnson State Guestworker Bill

Last month, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), with co-sponsor Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), introduced the “State Sponsored Visa Pilot Program Act of 2017,” S. 1040. The bill would allow individual states to create and sponsor their own temporary work visas for foreign citizens. For more information on the State Sponsored Visa Pilot Program Act of 2017, please see our Fact Sheet.

House Judiciary Committee Passes Draconian Anti-Immigrant Bill

Last week, the House of Representatives concluded its “mark-up” of H.R. 2431, the "Michael Davis, Jr. and Danny Oliver in Honor of State and Local Law Enforcement Act," which has been dubbed the "Trump Mass Deportation Act" by immigrant rights’ activists. Similar versions of the bill, formerly known as the “SAFE Act”, were introduced in 2013 and 2015, but did not pass. Among other provisions, the bill, which has been described as “draconian” by Human Rights Watch, would criminalize undocumented immigrants, expand the range of criminal offenses that would make immigrants deportable, increase penalties for immigration offenses, eliminate due process protections and authorize local law enforcement to act as immigration agents. Some members of the law enforcement community have been vocal about their opposition to the bill and their concerns that it will actually make communities less safe.

Uncertainty about Future of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) Designation

On May 22, 2017, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) extended Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for almost 60,000 Haitians for an additional six months (the program will now expire on January 22, 2018). Although this decision is preferable to the immediate termination of TPS status for Haitians, it falls short of the 18-month extension requested by numerous groups, including immigrant rights advocates, faith leaders, members of Congress, and Haitian government representatives. The decision has led to increased uncertainty for TPS holders from other countries, such as El Salvador and Honduras. Adding to this uncertainty, Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL), along with three cosponsors, recently introduced the “TPS Reform Act of 2017,” a bill which would make it harder to establish and/or extend TPS designations. TPS designations provide crucial relief for immigrants who are faced with dangerous situations if they return to their home countries, as the result of natural disasters, life-threatening epidemics, or other circumstances.

Trump Administration’s 2018 Budget Proposal

Last week, President Trump released his budget proposal for FY 2018. Although it is important to keep in mind that this proposal is merely the starting point for budget negotiations, the priorities reflected in the document are very concerning. Below, we summarize some of the aspects of the proposal that could most significantly impact farmworkers.

Increased Funding for Immigration Enforcement and Detention

The Trump Administration’s proposed FY 2018 budget includes billions of dollars to ramp up the Administration’s plans for the increased detention and deportation of immigrants. Amidst deep cuts to most government agencies, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) would receive a budget increase of 23%, while DHS would receive a budget increase of 7%, and a $2.7 billion increase for border security and immigration enforcement, including funds to hire new immigration agents and build portions of a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico.

Decrease in Funding for Key Agencies

The DOL budget for FY 2018 would be reduced from $46 billion to $44.2 billion, with a massive reduction of almost $2.5 billion, or about 20%, of the agency’s discretionary budget. The National Farmworker Jobs Program, which provides programs for migrant and seasonal farmworkers for about $82 million, would be completely de-funded.

Proposal for H-2 Visa Application Fees. According to a proposal also included in the budget, DOL could soon start charging fees to employers who seek to hire foreign workers in order to cover the operating costs for foreign labor certification programs. Employers currently need to ascertain to the Labor Department that they've tried unsuccessfully to hire U.S. workers and that they would pay wages high enough not to disadvantage U.S. workers. Under the budget proposal, employers would also have to pay fees to cover the costs of DOL's prevailing wage determination and the issuing of labor certifications. (Those services are currently free.)

OSHA’s overall budget would be cut by approximately $8 billion, while its budget for regulations would be cut by about 10%. Additionally, the OSHA Susan Harwood Training Grant program, which serves vulnerable worker communities, would be completely eliminated. The proposed budget would also reduce USDA funding by more than 20% and would sharply reduce funding for food security programs.

Marked Increase in Use of H-2A Program in California

Use of the H-2A agricultural worker visa has continued to rise this year. In the state of California, use of the program has increased exponentially over the last five years. This issue continues to be highlighted by the L.A. Times in a series of recent articles detailing use of the program, including employers’ reasons for hiring H-2A workers and concerns about worker housing.

CNN Story on Coalition of Immokalee Workers

The CNN Freedom Project recently published a story on agricultural workers in the tomato industry in Florida, highlighting the invaluable work of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and its Fair Food Program initiative.

New Report on Immigrant Dairy Workers in New York State

The Worker Justice Center of New York and the Workers’ Center of Central New York just released a new report entitled: “Milked: Immigrant Dairy Farmworkers in New York State.” The report details the treatment and working conditions of the immigrant laborers who toil in the state’s milking parlors and barns.

by Iris Figueroa
(0 total comments)
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.

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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.

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by Iris Figueroa
(0 total comments)