FJ Blog

Monday, 11 September 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.

by Iris Figueroa
(0 total comments)
Tuesday, 22 August 2017

H-2A Farmworker Death in Washington

Farmworker Justice extends its condolences to the family and friends of Honesto Silva Ibarra. Mr. Ibarra was a farmworker employed under the H-2A guestworker program who passed away on August 6, while employed by Sarbanand Farms in Sumas, Washington. The exact cause of Mr. Ibarra’s death has not been officially determined, but some of his colleagues allege that inadequate working conditions may have contributed to the tragic outcome. A group of more than 70 workers were fired and evicted after striking to protest Mr. Ibarra’s treatment and their working conditions.  The workers and their employer have conflicting accounts of the events leading up to and following Mr. Ibarra’s death.   The U.S. Department of Labor is currently investigating the situation. Farmworker Justice has lent support to community-based organizations who are aiding these courageous H-2A workers.     

H-2A Grower in Arizona Sued by Trump Administration for Abusive Conditions

The Wall Street Journal recently reported on the U.S. Department of Labor’s  lawsuit obtaining a preliminary injunction against an H-2A employer in Arizona, G-Farms, which housed workers in school buses and semitrailers, living conditions described as a “horror show” which could have resulted in worker deaths.  FJ’s Bruce Goldstein was quoted in the article, warning that several legislative proposals would weaken H-2A protections and invite further abuse.

Vulnerability of Guestworkers Inherent, in the U.S. and Abroad

As summarized in an op-ed on the proposed expansion of the H-2A program to year-round jobs:  “Sometimes, lacking realistic access to legal protections, the best thing for a worker is to leave an abusive farm and find work where conditions are better. If, however, their jobs were tied to a visa as they would be under the proposed H-2A expansion, workers who left a job - no matter how exploitative - would automatically lose their visas and be subject to deportation. That vulnerability - built into guestworker programs - has resulted in a well-documented, decades-long history of exploitation.”

The vulnerability of agricultural guestworkers is not unique to the United States, however. A recent New York Times article details the reality of foreign guestworkers in Canada, who also fear retaliation and deportation if they speak out against their employer or try to assert their rights.   

Criticism of Proposal to Reduce Legal Immigration

President Trump recently endorsed the RAISE Act, a bill that calls for a significant reduction in immigration to the U.S. and which Farmworker Justice has condemned.   Economists and others are warning about the potential negative impacts of reducing so-called “low-skilled” immigration to the U.S. A recent Bloomberg article argues that “low-skilled” and “high-skilled” labor are actually complementary, and “low-skilled” labor is especially crucial to agriculture. Without enough labor to pull in harvests, U.S. agricultural output would shrink. In an op-ed, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) used the example of his family’s ranch to stress the importance of immigrants in working class jobs to the past and future of this country.  Farmworker Justice strongly opposes the RAISE Act.  

Trump Administration Discontinues Humanitarian Immigration Programs

Termination of Central American Minors (CAM) Parole Program  

On August 16, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a notice ending the Central American Minors (CAM) parole program. The program allowed children from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala to apply for refugee status if they have at least one parent in the U.S. The change will affect thousands of children, putting them at risk of being permanently separated from their families and enduring dangerous conditions in their home countries. The notice not only ends the possibility of future applications under the program, it also revokes existing offers already made to children who had not yet travelled to the U.S.  The decision has been decried by faith groups for turning away immigrant children in need of protection.

Haitian TPS Holders Flee to Canada

Farmworker Justice has reported in previous updates on DHS’ decision to terminate Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Haitians, which is now set to expire in January 2018. Since the announcement of this decision by the U.S. government, Canada has seen a marked increase in border crossings by Haitians seeking asylum. For many years, Haitian immigrants have labored in east coast agricultural jobs.

Update on Farmworker Health and Safety

This week 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.

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.  

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.

 

 

 

by Iris Figueroa
(0 total comments)
Friday, 04 August 2017

Please note that the legislative proposals discussed below have not been passed by Congress. There is still time to contact lawmakers about these proposals. Please ask your Members of Congress to 1) oppose expansion of the H-2A agricultural guestworker program to year-round jobs in the DHS appropriations bill and other efforts to weaken H-2A worker protections and 2) support the Agricultural Worker Program Act, S. 1034 and H.R. 2690.  We need legalization for farmworkers, not unfair H-2A reforms that would replace our nation’s undocumented farmworkers with exploitable temporary workers.

“RAISE” Act - President Trump Endorses Bill Limiting Legal Immigration

On August 2, 2017, President Trump publicly endorsed the “Reforming American Immigration for a Strong Economy” (RAISE) Act, S. 1720. The bill, introduced in the Senate by Sen. Cotton (R-AR) and Sen. Perdue (R-GA), would significantly reduce legal immigration by, among other provisions, sharply limiting family-sponsored immigration and decreasing refugee admissions. The bill also would drastically change eligibility criteria by prioritizing visa applicants who are “high-skilled,” highly educated and English-speaking.  When asked about the need of many businesses for people without such extensive credentials, Trump’s advisor said it would be dealt with in a separate bill on guestworkers (see below).  Several Republicans and most Democrats already oppose the RAISE Act.  Sen. Feinstein (D-CA) noted in her press statement that the bill disregards the contributions of farmworkers and would not allow them the opportunity to apply for legal status. Farmworker Justice released a statement condemning the bill and its potential negative impact on farmworkers. FJ’s President Bruce Goldstein was interviewed on MSNBC by Chris Jansing on August 3 about the bill’s implications for farmworkers.

Guestworker Proposals and Contradictions Multiplying

During a White House press conference on the RAISE Act on August 2, reporters questioned President Trump’s support for slashing immigration allegedly to protect U.S. workers from competition while simultaneously using temporary foreign workers at his businesses, including a Trump-owned vineyard and the Mar-a-Lago resort.   In response, Stephen Miller, a senior advisor to the President who is known for his anti-immigrant views, sought to distinguish between the type of legal immigration addressed in the RAISE Act and the guestworker programs used by President Trump, stating that they are “totally separate categories.”  This discussion underscored the juxtaposition within the Trump Administration of nativist voices calling for deportations and reduced immigration in the name of protecting U.S. workers and   business interests that hire immigrants, use guestworker programs and express the need for more immigration.  

A recent article in The Economist challenges the assumptions of some in the Trump administration who believe the country is overrun by low-skilled immigrants, pointing specifically to agricultural work as an example of a sector that depends on immigrant labor to fill labor shortages. The article also details the rise in the use of the H-2A program.  The exponential growth of the H-2A guestworker visa program, along with the program’s potential for labor abuses, are also analyzed in a recent exposé in the American Prospect. In it, Farmworker Justice President Bruce Goldstein expresses our organization’s concern that “without any reforms, an expansion of the H-2A program will only lead to the abuse of more workers.”

Bill Introduced by Sen. Paul and Sen. Tester Would Expand H-2A Program

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) recently introduced the “Paperwork Reduction for Farmers Act,” S. 1578. While the legislation is framed as a bill that would “streamline” the H-2A application process through procedures such as electronic filing, it also includes provisions that would fundamentally change the H-2A agricultural guestworker program. It would expand the H-2A program to include year-round jobs and lessen important labor protections, including recruitment requirements for U.S. workers. Please see our fact sheet for a summary of the bill.

More Agricultural Guestworker Program Proposals Likely

As we have stated in previous updates, there are  indications of additional legislative efforts underway to expand and/or weaken the protections in the H-2A agricultural guestworker program or replace it with an even more-anti-worker, anti-immigrant program. Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), Chair of the House Judiciary Committee, is expected to introduce such a bill in September. Farmworker Justice will continue monitoring this issue and will provide an analysis of any relevant legislation if and when it is introduced.

Farmworker Justice is also deeply concerned regarding recent reports of discussions between the governments of the United States and Mexico about a possible new bilateral agricultural guestworker program. Farmworker Justice has released a statement cautioning against such an agreement, based on the lessons learned from both the Bracero and H-2A guestworker programs. We believe that the U.S. is a nation of immigrants, not guestworkers.  

Sen. Cornyn Presents Border Security Bill, Says Pres. Trump is an “Immigration Ally”

Yesterday, Sen. Cornyn (R-TX), introduced the “Building America’s Trust Act,” S. 1757, a bill which would authorize $15 billion in funding to go toward border security efforts over the next four years. The bill is cosponsored by Senators John Barrasso (R-WY), Ron Johnson (R-WI), and Thom Tillis (R-NC). The bill includes funding for “smart, multi-layered infrastructure” along the Southern border, allows the federal government to withhold funding from local governments who are considered “sanctuary jurisdictions” and would incorporate “Kate’s Law,” a measure that would increase penalties for immigrants who re-enter the country after deportation. President Trump’s call for a border wall has faced resistance in Congress and it is still unclear how this issue may affect negotiations for the FY 2018 budget, which must be approved by September 30 in order to prevent a government shutdown.  

Protecting Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Program

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which has provided protection and opportunities for approximately 800,000 young immigrants, continues to be under threat by the Trump administration. Currently, there are two legal cases which may determine the fate of the program: United States v. Texas and Arizona Dream Act Coalition (ADAC) v. Brewer. For a summary of these cases and their possible outcomes, please see the National Immigration Law Center’s (NILC) summary of legal threats to DACA.

In light of this looming uncertainty, two recent legislative proposals seek to protect DACA recipients and other young immigrants. On July 20, Sen Durbin (D- IL) and Sen. Graham (R-SC) introduced the bi-partisan DREAM Act of 2017, S. 1615. Congresswomen Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) introduced a companion bill in the House of Representatives a few days later (H.R. 3440). For a guide to the practical implications of the DREAM Act, please see United We Dream’s (UWD) short summary of the bill, including ways you can help defend DACA.

The second legislative proposal, entitled the “American Hope Act of 2017” (H.R. 3591) was introduced by Rep. Gutierrez (D-IL) in the House of Representatives on July 28 and already has over 100 cosponsors. The bill would give those with DACA and others who arrived in the United States as children a path to permanent legal status and eventual citizenship. You can read UWD’s summary of the bill here.

UWD, along with various other immigrant rights organizations, is also organizing a national day of action to protect DACA on August 15th.  For more details on the event and information on how you can participate, please click here.

Agricultural Worker Program Act of 2017

The House version of the Agricultural Worker Program Act, H.R. 2690, introduced by Rep. Gutierrez (D-IL) now has 57 cosponsors.  Sen. Feinstein introduced the bill in the Senate, S. 1034, with 9 cosponsors.  Farmworker Justice strongly supports this bill, which would grant “blue cards” and the opportunity for green cards and citizenship for undocumented farmworkers and their immediate family members.  

A Parting Note on the Statue of Liberty

Trump Advisor Stephen Miller, obsessed with denigrating immigrants and immigration at this week’s press conference, felt the need to state that the Emma Lazarus poem that was placed on the Statue of Liberty in 1903 was not on the statute when it was erected in 1886.  To him the poem does not express this nation’s values despite its decades-long status as the embodiment of the hopes and dreams of the immigrants who arrived at Ellis Island and the nation itself.  In fact, the stirring words of “The New Colossus” were written in 1883 to help raise funds for the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty:  "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore, send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”



 

 

 

by Iris Figueroa
(0 total comments)