FJ Blog

Friday, 22 April 2016

Monday, April 18th, 2016 marked a historic day for the immigrants’ rights movement, when thousands of advocates nationwide traveled to the Supreme Court to rally in support of the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) program, which would grant temporary relief to millions of undocumented parents, and the expansion of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (expanded DACA) program. Inside the Supreme Court, the justices heard oral arguments in United States vs. Texas, the case that has temporarily suspended the implementation of DAPA and expanded DACA.

The Rally in Front of the Supreme Court of the U.S.

The brisk early morning air quickly warmed up once Kica Matos, the Director of Immigrant Rights and Racial Justice at the Center for Community Change and the MC for the day, took the stage and electrified both the massive crowd and atmosphere with excitement, hope, and perseverance. The steps of the Supreme Court were crowded with immigrant families and advocacy groups from over 26 states who filled the air with passionate chants, cheers, and music to send a clear message to the Court – treat our families with the respect and dignity we deserve. Read one attendee’s New York Times Op-ed titled, What I Will Do When I Get My Papers.

The powerful rally was fueled and propelled by inspirational speeches, heart-wrenching stories, and powerful music that symbolized the diversity of the larger movement. Speakers included immigrant and labor rights activists, members of Congress, and most importantly, undocumented youth and parents, who shared personal stories and urged the Supreme Court to vote to keep families together. The collective energy at the rally was at a constant high as fellow advocates met one another and rallied together in solidarity.

Many advocates and affected community members camped outside the Supreme Court the night before so they could attend the oral arguments. An estimated 45 immigrant families attended the oral argument, as did many lawyers from immigrants’ rights organizations.

The Oral Argument in the Supreme Court

In addition to hearing from lawyers for Texas and the Federal Government, the Justices heard from Tom Saenz, President and General Counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund who represents 3 mothers who would be eligible for DAPA and are intervenors in the case. Counsel for the US House of Representatives (controlled by Republicans) was also given time to argue on the side of Texas that the programs should be permanently blocked.

Attorneys who attended the arguments have said that the Solicitor General and MALDEF did a good job defending the legality of the programs and arguing against Texas’s standing (right to sue based on a tangible harm) in the case. Most of the time during oral argument was spent discussing standing. There was also significant legalistic discussion around whether deferred action is a “status” and the meaning of “lawful presence” that highlighted just how confusing and complex immigration law is.

In an apparent dramatic development in the Supreme court, Texas seemed to have shifted its argument away from arguing that the Federal Government lacks authority to grant deferred action to a large number of people. Now it is arguing primarily that the Government doesn’t have authority to offer work authorization. One major problem with this argument is that the regulation that allows people with deferred action to apply for work authorization has been on the books since 1987. In addition, many other classes of people under immigration law receive work authorization under this regulation such as people with Temporary Protected Status or applicants for asylum. Invalidating that regulation would upend the immigration system and affect millions of other immigrants. For more information on the issues discussed during the oral argument, listen to AILA’s webcast or read the American Immigration Council’s blog.

What’s Next

It’s very hard to predict outcome of this case. Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor and Kagan appeared to be squarely on the side of the Federal Government. In one potential outcome, the five or more justices will decide that Texas and the other states lacked standing, the case will be thrown out and the programs would be likely to move forward sometime this summer. Since Justice Scalia passed away, there is another likely scenario, where there will be a 4-4 tie among the justices. In this scenario, the lower court decision suspending the programs would not be overturned and the case would be remanded – or sent back -- to the appellate court and district court for further litigation over the issues, which could last for another year or more. We expect a decision by the end of June. If there is a 4-4 decision, it may be released sooner.

by Megan Horn
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Thursday, 31 March 2016

Today's guest blog is written by Peter O'Driscoll, Executive Director of the Equitable Food Initiative.  The Equitable Food Initiative (EFI) brings together workers, growers and retailers in the effort to produce better fruits and vegetables. As produce farms comply with the EFI Standard—for improved working conditions, pesticide management, and food safety—the entire food system sees benefits, all the way from farm workers to consumers.

There's a reason we still celebrate Farmworker Awareness Week each year. Despite landmark events over the past six decades -- from the broadcast of Edward R. Murrow's "Harvest of Shame" in 1960 through the campaigns of Cesar Chavez's United Farmworkers in the 1970s, the supply chain agreements of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee in the 1980s, the organizing of tomato workers in Immokalee and the more recent success of Oregon farmworkers on documentation and minimum wage -- most consumers just don't pay enough attention to the challenges facing those who harvest our fruits and vegetables.

Across those same decades, the produce industry itself has too often taken workers for granted. Thanks to an abundant labor supply, workers were seen as interchangeable, rather than as skilled and valuable assets. But that perception may well be changing. Enhanced immigration enforcement has significantly tightened the agricultural labor market, raising concerns among growers who can't find the workers they need to harvest their crops.

Meanwhile, as US growers increasingly source from Mexico to provide year-round supply, labor unrest and press accounts of harsh working conditions south of the border have convinced the produce industry that there are major vulnerabilities in its sprawling global supply chains. Many insiders acknowledge that "social compliance" is now as urgent a priority as food safety, an issue that always grabs consumers' attention.

As an unusual collaboration among retail, grower, labor and consumer organizations, the Equitable Food Initiative sees a tremendous opportunity for transformation in the produce industry. We believe that well-trained and fairly compensated workers can be a huge part of the solution to the industry's food safety and labor challenges. Our work with Costco Wholesale, Whole Foods and eight of their produce suppliers is already demonstrating that engaged and motivated workers can verify ongoing compliance with our rigorous standards. This spring, our first certified strawberries will be on Costco shelves with the "Responsibly Grown. Farmworker Assured." ™ label. More product will be available as the season advances, and we hope other retailers will join in supporting their suppliers to achieve EFI certification.

But beyond the assurance of compliance, EFI's experience with growers so far shows that new forms of labor-management collaboration can also create other forms of value. As with any industry, experienced farmworkers know a great deal about the produce they harvest, and can use the problem-solving skills they learn through EFI to explore ways to improve the production process, reduce waste and retain labor in a tight market. As more suppliers get involved, there are also opportunities for sharing best practices: rather than dictating how things should be done, EFI aims to build on the inherent knowledge that workers and their supervisors already bring to their profession. As EFI evolves, we learn and grow through the insight of our stakeholders.

Among our early-adopters is NatureSweet Tomatoes, a San Antonio-based company with multiple facilities in Mexico and Arizona. NatureSweet is "dedicated to increasing the sustainability of the land and the lives of all those surrounding our product." But by investing in the capacity of its workforce, the company also sees a significant competitive opportunity, and talks about a produce industry "ripe for disruption." All the growers we talk to seek to tap the potential of their workforce and promote a change of culture in the industry. EFI is excited to be part of what we see as a positive transformation. And it all starts with an awareness that farmworkers bring tremendous skill and knowledge to their trade. This week should be about helping to spread that awareness.

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Wednesday, 30 March 2016

"When we began our first interview, Demetrio seemed a little detached. He answered yes or no to most of our questions; however, when we began asking more about his family, we saw his eyes tell a different story. Demetrio told us that his wife was expecting his third child. The baby was due in two weeks so he wouldn’t be able to be there for his son’s birth and in fact wouldn’t be able to meet his son until November when his son would already be 5 months old. 

During our second interview, Demetrio showed us pictures of his newborn son who still doesn’t have a name. He seemed proud and sad at the same time. We asked about what he wondered and at first, he said he didn’t ask himself or wonder anything, but after we explained the prompt again and gave a few examples, he said he wondered everyday if the rest of his life would be like this, separated and away from his family. The room felt dense, almost like you could feel the weight that he carries. It’s not just that he has to miss big and important family moments like the birth of a child, but it’s knowing everyday his children are growing up, trying new things and learning about themselves and the people that they want to become, while he’s not there to see or influence it."

Excerpt from Student Action with Farmworkers’ (SAF) blog on the theme separation of families by Catherine Crowe, 2015 SAF Fellow.

When we talk about separation of families in the immigration context we often mean the harsh immigration enforcement machine that deports one parent and leave the rest of the family behind. Or the fact that millions of undocumented immigrants in the US are unable to return to their country of origin to visit their loved ones. This fear is a daily reality for the majority of farmworkers who are undocumented. But Demetrio’s story illustrates another type of family separation. Demetrio has an H-2A visa for temporary agricultural workers. Many H-2A workers spend up to 10 months in the US every year away from their families. Sheepherders on H-2A visas stay for 3 years before returning home for a short duration.

H-2A workers typically come to the United States without their families. Although technically H-2A workers may bring their spouse and/or minor children with them, in reality it doesn’t happen. H-2A workers live in employer-provided housing that is usually dormitory style and not appropriate for families, and it is unlikely that employers would allow workers to bring their families. Plus, for an H-2A worker to bring their spouse, he (it’s usually a he) would have to show that he can financially support her while they are in the US. Farmworkers wages aren’t high enough to meet this standard. Under the H-2A program, employers can and do discriminate based on a person’s age and gender and the result is that is a workforce composed almost exclusively of young men. (In the rare instances where there are crews of women, they are exclusively women as well.) As a result, even if a male and female couple wanted to work together on H-2A visas, it would be extremely challenging; and it is highly unlikely their children would be able to join them.

The H-2A program exploits economically desperate individuals. People should not have to choose between living with their family or feeding their family. In public discourse on policy proposals for the future flow for immigration reform, some people believe that many Mexican farmworkers just want to come here and work and then go home. But no one wants to be separated from his or her family. Proposals for harsh guestworker programs that treat workers as commodities should be rejected as inconsistent with America’s economic and democratic freedoms. Any needed future workers from abroad must be afforded the same legal rights as U.S. workers and should be given the opportunity to earn citizenship. Whether they chose to settle here or return to their country of origin at some point should be their choice. Immigration reform should be a stepping stone toward modernizing agricultural labor practices and treating farmworkers with the respect they deserve.

by Megan Horn
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