Immigration and Labor Rights

Farmworker Justice Update: 10/18/17

Representative Goodlatte’s Agricultural Guestworker Bill

As summarized in our October 6th blog post, earlier this month Rep. Goodlatte postponed a scheduled meeting of the House Judiciary Committee to mark up his terribly anti-worker, anti-immigrant Agricultural Guestworker bill. Although the bill’s contents were circulated at the time, it was not formally introduced. The exact cause of the delay in the bill’s introduction and markup has not been made public, but there are media reports that there was strong opposition to the bill from both nativist groups and from organizations that support farmworker rights. The Daily Yonder, which reports on rural issues, has summarized criticisms of the draft bill, including Farmworker Justice’s position. Many agribusiness groups lobbied in support of the draft bill. We will continue to monitor the legislation closely and will be prepared to continue our work to oppose this legislation, along with the crucial aid of our national and local partners.  We have several resources available on the draft Goodlatte bill, including our statement; the coalition letter that was sent to Congress; and our fact sheet. Once the date and details of a markup are announced, we will send out a notification and next steps.

Trump Administration Publishes List of Immigration Objectives

Earlier this month, the White House published a list of its “immigration policy priorities,” calling for increased border and interior enforcement as well as a focus on so-called “merit-based” immigration. Farmworker Justice condemns this laundry list of anti-immigrant objectives. Some of the specific objectives listed include construction of a border wall, expansion of available grounds for inadmissibility and removal, limiting asylum and refugee admissions, and reducing family-based immigration. You can find an executive summary of the proposal on the White House website. You can also find the full proposal, with annotations by the National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC), here.

The White House objectives have been denounced by immigrant rights groups, as well as by many Democratic leaders in Congress. The timing of their release is particularly concerning given ongoing negotiations in Congress regarding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.  Farmworker Justice will continue to advocate, along with many other groups, to win passage of a “clean” DREAM Act. You can also advocate for DREAMers by reaching out to your representative and sharing resources on key issues affecting DREAMers, such as workplace rights, education and mental health (resources available in English and Spanish).

Department of Justice and State Department Announce Agreement Focusing on Discrimination against U.S. Workers in Visa Programs

The Department of Justice (DOJ)’s Immigrant and Employee Rights Section (IER) and the State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs recently entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) agreeing to exchange information about employers that may be engaging in unlawful discrimination in their use of employment-based visas, including the H-1B, H-2B and H-2A visa programs. The DOJ’s IER launched a “Protecting U.S. Workers” initiative earlier this year aimed at bringing enforcement actions against companies that discriminate against U.S. workers in favor of foreign visa workers. The DOJ recently filed its first lawsuit under this initiative against a crop production company it claims showed an unlawful hiring preference for temporary foreign workers under the H-2A visa program at the expense of qualified U.S. workers.

Unfortunately, discrimination is all too common in the H-2A program.  Employers often prefer guestworkers over U.S. workers because of the H-2A worker dependence and desperation to please.  In contrast, U.S. workers seek more sustainable productivity expectations.  Other factors encouraging employer preference for H-2A guestworkers are also built into the program, including tax advantages for employers of H-2A workers; exclusion of H-2A workers from the principal federal employment law for farmworkers, the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act; and the ability of employers to handpick their H-2A workers based on demographics—they are virtually all young men—because anti-discrimination laws are not enforced abroad.  Although the H-2A program includes some basic requirements to protect U.S. workers from displacement and negative effects on their wages and working conditions, as well as to protect foreign workers from exploitation, it fails to protect these vulnerable workers.

NAFTA Renegotiation May Affect Agricultural Workers

The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has had major effects on the agricultural sectors in Mexico and the United States.  The demand by the Trump Administration for a renegotiation and possible termination of NAFTA has led to negotiations over the provisions that regulate trade in fruits, vegetables, other crops, meat and other agricultural products. There are differences in positions taken by various grower groups in the U.S. and the potential impacts of these positions are complex, as highlighted in a recent article.  The Trump Administration has said that it wants to protect American workers but it remains to be seen what that would mean in reality.  The “labor side agreement” to NAFTA, called the North American Agreement on Labor Cooperation, has been a very weak instrument for enforcing labor rights.   

Update on Farmworker Health and Safety

Natural Disasters Pose Unique Threats and Challenges for Farmworker Communities

A recent series of natural disasters, including ongoing wildfires in California and hurricanes in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico, have had a lasting and tragic effect on farmworker communities. In California, wine growing areas like Napa and Sonoma have been directly affected by the fires. The wine harvest is still underway in some locations, and farmworker crews are rushing to pick the remaining grapes amid heavy smoke. Farmworkers have suffered destruction to their homes and the businesses where they work, and some are contemplating whether to stay or leave.  

Additionally, as stated by FJ President Bruce Goldstein in an article by NBC News,  although there are some emergency services available to farmworkers irrespective of their immigration status, many undocumented farmworkers are fearful of accessing these direly needed services. Univision recently summarized the plight of these California farmworkers in a Spanish-language article entitled “Without Home, Without Work, and With Fear.” The article highlights how the wildfires have exposed the vulnerability of California’s farmworker communities. As stated by FJ’s Director of Occupational and Environmental Health, Virginia Ruiz, the current situation is part of a larger historical trend of farmworkers suffering in silence for fear of retaliation.

Hurricane Irma similarly left many without housing, jobs or food, including farmworkers throughout South Florida, where the hurricane flattened hundreds of acres of crops, leaving those who normally harvest these crops without a source of income. Many farmworkers are still suffering from food insecurity and struggling to pay their bills. The lack of government nutritional and financial assistance for undocumented workers further exacerbates this scarcity. In Puerto Rico, in turn, Hurricane Maria wiped out about 80% of the island’s crops, dealing a crippling blow to the island’s agricultural sector. It remains to be seen whether this will result in a higher influx of farmworkers to the mainland U.S. in the coming months and years.

Farmworker Justice helped connect community-based groups in Florida, Puerto Rico and California with the American Red Cross, which requested our assistance for its relief efforts outreach. The Red Cross and many other aid organizations provide services regardless of immigration status. Please reach out to local groups in your community to learn about available services. We would also like to remind everyone that Farmworker Justice has materials on disaster-related food, housing, and income assistance available for download from our website. We must all work together to ensure that farmworkers are included in their communities’ emergency preparedness and response plans, both during and after disasters.
 

 

 

 

Farmworker Justice Update 10/6/17

Goodlatte Postpones his Agricultural Guestworker Act for Lack of Votes

We are pleased to report that Rep. Goodlatte postponed the meeting of the House Judiciary Committee that was scheduled for Wednesday to mark up his terribly anti-worker, anti-immigrant Agricultural Guestworker Act due to the apparent lack of votes to pass the bill out of Committee. We thank you for working with Farmworker Justice, the UFW, the AFL-CIO and the UFCW to highlight the anti-worker and anti-immigrant nature of the bill and the devastating impact it would have on our food system.  While numerous members of the Committee would have voted against the bill because it is so anti-worker and anti-immigrant, they do not make up a majority of the Committee.  In addition to this righteous opposition, the Bloomberg BNA reported that “Republican members of the House Judiciary Committee succumbed to pressure from a group that backs immigration restriction.”

Some anti-immigrant nativist groups have objected to expanded guestworker programs because they oppose additional foreign citizens coming to the country (especially those of particular races and ethnicities).  These groups expressed concern that Goodlatte’s bill would bring large numbers of foreign workers into agriculture-related jobs outside of the farms and ranches that traditionally have been the workplaces for guestworkers.  Some apparently were concerned that agricultural employers would not be required to provide housing.  Some nativists also reportedly characterized the bill as giving “amnesty to illegal aliens currently working in agriculture” by allowing them to receive the proposed H-2C guestworker visas.

We would prefer to achieve an overwhelming vote against the Goodlatte bill based on it being an exploitative guestworker program and unfairly depriving undocumented agricultural workers of the opportunity to become citizens, rather than seeing the presence and influence in Congress of people committed to xenophobia, racism and exploitation in workplaces.  However, for now, we are pleased that the Judiciary Committee, which Goodlatte chairs, has not moved forward on this bill. The impacts of the Goodlatte bill, if passed, would be devastating to farmworkers, their families, their communities, and the nation.

Again, thanks for all of your support as we strive for fairness in our food and immigration systems.  The fight is not over and we must continue to oppose anti-immigrant, anti-worker efforts such as Rep. Goodlate’s legislation and the other harmful H-2 bills, the H-2A year-round amendment on the appropriations bill, and efforts to strip fundamental H-2A protections through agency action.

We have several resources available on the Goodlatte bill, including our statement; the coalition letter that was sent to Congress; and our fact sheet. For an overview of immigration reform and agriculture please read this piece and for more information about a positive solution, please read about the Agricultural Worker Program Act of 2017.

 

Farmworker Justice Immigration Update - 09/08/2017

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.

Farmworker Justice Immigration Update: 08/22/17

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.

 

 

 

Farmworker Justice Immigration Update: 08/04/17

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!”



 

 

 

7//21/17 Immigration Update: Farmworkers, under Attack in Congress, Must Fight Back

This has been a very busy week on immigration. Although our blog focuses on this week’s Congressional attacks on farmworkers, we also want to note yesterday’s introduction of the DREAM Act in the Senate. More information is available here from United We Dream, including a call to continue speaking out to protect DACA, TPS and the entire immigrant community.  

House Hearing on Agricultural Guestworkers

This week, farmworkers faced attacks on several fronts in the House of Representatives. On Wednesday, July 19th, the House Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security held a hearing entitled: “Agricultural Guestworkers: Meeting the Growing Needs of American Agriculture.” The witnesses included U.S. Rep. David Valadao (R-CA), two agricultural employers – Sarah Frey (CEO of Frey Farms) and Jon Wyss (owner of Gebbers Farms) - and Giev Kashkooli of the United Farm Workers (UFW). For those of you who don’t know, the majority party (currently the Republican Party) can typically invite 3 witnesses, while the minority party (currently the Democratic Party) gets only one witness.

Discussion of Goodlatte Agricultural Guestworker Proposal
During the hearing, Rep. Goodlatte (R-VA), the Chair of the Judiciary Committee, shared details about a bill he is drafting which will be similar to one he introduced and reported out of the Judiciary Committee in 2013. He said he plans some adjustments based on his conversations with agribusiness representatives (note that no farmworker voice was included in this process).  Goodlatte stated that his program would enable “illegal farmworkers to participate legally in American agriculture” as guestworkers, but clarified that there would be no pathway to permanent legal status. Goodlatte’s description indicated that key H-2A program labor protections would be removed, as his program would strip out recruitment protections for US workers, free housing and transportation, and wage protections -- or as he put it “unrealistic wage rates dreamt up by DOL bureaucrats.”  

Goodlatte also seemed to indicate that he would remove government oversight, including by expanding the program to include year-round industries such as dairies and food processors, providing limited at-will employment subject to certain conditions (indicating this might be at-will for employers but not workers), and protecting employers from abusive lawsuits (with no mention of what workers facing abusive conditions might be able to do). Goodlatte’s brief description of his upcoming legislation is deeply troubling and we will be watching its development closely.

Rep. Goodlatte’s characterization of the H-2A program’s operation and rules was misleading. For example, Goodlatte criticized the H-2A wage rate as an artificially inflated wage rate, when in reality the program’s Adverse Effect Wage Rate (AEWR) is simply the average wage paid to nonsupervisory field and livestock workers in a survey of farmers by USDA. DOL then publishes these wage rates as the official H-2A AEWR.  UFW’s Giev Kashkooli pointed this out in his testimony and also took on many of the other complaints and mischaracterizations of the H-2A program. As to the complaints of “frivolous litigation,” Kashkooli pointed out that litigation is important to protect farmworkers from abuses like those that took place at Fernandez Farms, including unlawful kickbacks, failure to provide free housing, multiple wage violations, and threats and coercion. Kashkooli also pushed back on complaints about government oversight and housing requirements by pointing to the recent G Farms investigation where the federal government found H-2A workers being housed in converted school buses in the Arizona summer.

Summary of Witness Testimony
The grower witnesses who testified at the hearing criticized the regulations, monitoring, and enforcement actions carried out by the various government agencies who manage the H-2A program, despite their own very successful use of the program. When questioned about how they would improve the program, the employer witnesses called for lowering wages through the elimination of the AEWR as well as the transfer of the program to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), among other changes aimed at “streamlining” the program.

In contrast, during his testimony, Mr. Kashkooli described the origin and importance of the protections in the program, as well as the need for a path to legal status for the farmworkers who toil in our fields, many of whom have been doing this work for decades and have become established in our communities. Mr. Kashkooli spoke about the importance of honoring those who do this important work.  He praised the Agricultural Worker Program Act, which currently has over 50 House cosponsors. Later in his testimony, Mr. Kashkooli reiterated the importance of immigration reform for farmworkers to be able to choose their employer, leave an abusive employer if needed, and move freely around the country without fear.  

Several other Members of Congress and witnesses spoke to the valuable role farmworkers play in our society. Reps. Buck and Valadao both praised the work of farmworkers, with Rep. Buck noting that “[l]abor is the lifeblood of the agricultural industry” and Valadao sharing his view that “[h]ard-working immigrant farmworkers are not only the back-bone of our agriculture industry, but they and their families are the heart and soul of many rural communities.”  Ms. Frey shared that she views her workforce as farmers and family.  

Given this shared recognition of the value farmworkers bring to our successful agricultural system and our rural communities, one is left to wonder why there is not also a shared recognition of the need to ensure these same workers have the ability to safely remain in their communities and contribute to our economy.  Instead, Rep. Goodlatte and his colleagues, as well as the grower witnesses, propose to convert these aspiring Americans to temporary guestworkers who would be separated from their families and forced to return to what is now a foreign country for many of them. Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), the ranking member on the subcommittee, noted that 93% of farmworkers have been in the United States for at least 5 years, with 55% here over 15 years. A majority have children, many of whom are United States citizens.  

Substantive H-2A Amendment Added to Appropriations Bill

During his questioning, Rep. Conyers (D-MI) mentioned the H-2A related appropriations amendment that was sneakily added by the House Appropriations Committee to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) spending bill the day before (Tuesday, July 18). Kashkooli shared that he was “stunned” to learn of the amendment, criticizing the substantive legislating on the H-2A program in the appropriations process as well the harm this would bring to farmworkers. He pointed to the many dangerous conditions in dairy work, including the two recent deaths of farmworkers in manure pit drownings.

Farmworker Justice also learned of this sneak amendment just shortly before it was offered, and is strongly opposed to both the process and substance of the amendment. This effort to change the scope of the H-2A program through an amendment on the appropriations bill was led by Rep. Newhouse (R-WA), with the support of Representatives Cuellar (D-TX) and Aguilar (D-CA).   Rep. DeLauro (D-CT) spoke out against the amendment, noting the substantive and procedural problems with the amendment and the opposition of Farmworker Justice, the UFW, AFL-CIO and UFWC.  

The amendment would allow agricultural employers to petition for H-2A workers for year-round agricultural work without regard to whether those jobs are temporary or seasonal, as is currently required under the H-2A program. The H-2A program is limited in scope to temporary and seasonal jobs because those jobs may be more challenging to fill given their short-term nature. As Ms. Frey, one of the hearing witnesses, noted in response to a question by Rep. Goodlatte, the H-2A program is important for seasonal and temporary work, not year-round employment because “… if we were able to offer year-round employment, that would be very different and we’d be able to fill those positions, I believe, with American workers.”  Importantly, enlarging the scope of the H-2A program to include year-round jobs does nothing to address the roughly one million current farmworkers who are undocumented and face the threat of detection and deportation.  

We have an experienced workforce willing to do this difficult and dangerous work that just needs to be given the opportunity to earn legal immigration status in order to do so without fear. It makes little sense to allow employers to hire H-2A workers without addressing the need to legalize the current undocumented farmworkers already doing this work.  

Importance of Agricultural Worker Program Act

The solution to the agricultural industry’s reliance on immigrant workers must be to respect the contributions and humanity of those workers. The Agricultural Worker Program Act (H.R. 2690, S. 1034), introduced in the House by Rep. Gutierrez (D-IL) and in the Senate by Sen. Feinstein (D-CA) would do that by providing an opportunity to move forward a positive and workable solution in Congress that will meet the needs of workers, agricultural employers, and our food system.

The bill’s approach is the right one, because we know from decades of experience that a guestworker system is inherently flawed and not an appropriate solution. Yet, there is an unprecedented expansion in the H-2A program; there is no cap on the number of H-2A visas per year and many more employers are applying.  We are deeply concerned about this expansion: both for our domestic labor force which may be losing access to needed farm jobs, and for H-2A workers, who are vulnerable to exploitation due to their dependent status on their employer and other structural program flaws. America is a nation of immigrants, not guestworkers.  We must respect the humanity of farmworkers and treat them as we would treat others who contribute to our nation’s success, offering them the opportunity to be permanent members of our society and the communities they help build.

Press Conference Supporting the Agricultural Worker Program Act

Rep. Gutierrez (D-IL) is a member of the Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on Immigration and was also present at the hearing on agricultural guestworkers, where he lifted up the hard work and contributions of these workers and urged Congress to support his proposal. The day before the hearing (Tuesday, July 18th), Rep. Gutierrez held a press conference with five of the bill’s cosponsors from the state of California – Reps. Zoe Lofgren, Judy Chu, Jimmy Panetta, Salud Carbajal and Jim Costa – UFW Political Director Giev Kashkooli and Greisa Martinez, Advocacy Director of United We Dream, all of whom highlighted the importance of this legislation. The press conference was held outside the Capitol building in almost 100-degree heat, to highlight just how grueling farm work can be. During the press conference, the speakers called for those who harvest the fruits and vegetables in the blazing heat for our dinner tables to be given a seat at the table with a path to legal immigration status.

New H-2A Legislation: Guestworker-Only Approach

Also this week: Three Members of Congress, Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), Senator Jon Tester (D-MT), and Representative Trent Kelly (R-MS), introduced the “Paperwork Reduction for Farmers Act.”  Farmworker Justice is still analyzing the legislation but did see that in addition to addressing application procedures for the H-2A program, the bill enlarges the scope of the program to include year-round livestock workers (including dairy and poultry) and equine workers.  We oppose the bill and will share an analysis of this legislation shortly.    

To view the full hearing on agricultural guestworkers, please click here.

To view the full press conference on the Agricultural Worker Program Act, please click here.

For a brief article summarizing the H-2A appropriations amendment, please click here.

 

Farmworker Justice Immigration Update: 07/14/17

New Agricultural Guestworker Proposals Being Developed by Trump Administration

As previously noted, the Trump Administration is reportedly developing proposals to change or replace the H-2A agricultural guestworker program. More recently, at a meeting during the G20 summit, President Trump and Mexican President Enrique Peña-Nieto agreed to a bilateral discussion on temporary work programs for Mexican migrants in the agriculture sector. The U.S., Canada and Mexico are also renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which may also be an arena in which agricultural work visas are discussed.  Farmworker JusticeJ believes that the concerns of workers regarding guestworker programs would not be adequately addressed during trade negotiations.  In addition, the history and legacy of the abuses under the Bracero Program (1942-1964), which was the product of a U.S.-Mexico agreement, should cause great concern about potential bilateral discussions on an agricultural guestworker program.     

New Agricultural Guestworker Proposals Likely in Congress

House Judiciary Committee Chair Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) is reportedly drafting a new immigration bill addressing agricultural workers.  Although the language of the bill is not yet public, agribusiness media has reported that it will be “less cumbersome” than the H-2A program and will also include the dairy industry.  During a recent House Committee on Agriculture hearing titled “The Next Farm Bill: Technology & Innovation in Specialty Crops,” agribusiness representatives expressed concerns about an agricultural labor shortage amid increased immigration enforcement, critiqued the current H-2A program, and called for reforms to ensure a “workable” guestworker program. In response to these concerns, some Agriculture Committee members referenced the forthcoming Goodlatte bill as a possible solution.

The House Judiciary Committee has also scheduled a hearing next week, specifically on the topic of agricultural guestworkers. However, the exact timing for the introduction of any proposed legislation remains uncertain. While farmworker advocates are unlikely to support a bill introduced by Rep. Goodlatte, who has a long and harmful history on these issues, it is unclear how well-received it would be by agricultural interests, fellow Republicans in Congress and the Trump Administration.  Increasing employers’ access to foreign workers could conflict with potential plans by the Trump Administration to reduce legal immigration and exacerbate tensions between pro-business and anti-immigrant factions within the Administration and Congress.

Fortunately, there is a positive and workable solution in Congress that will meet the needs of workers, agricultural employers, and our food system. As we have shared in the past, the Agricultural Worker Program Act which was introduced in Congress recently, would provide a path to lawful permanent residency for agricultural workers. The list of bill cosponsors in the House and Senate continues to grow.  We appreciate your advocacy efforts in support of this important bill.

Increased Use of H-2A Guestworker Visas and Labor Contractors Continues, Heightening Possibility of Even More Labor Abuses  

In the meantime, the H-2A program is proving to be very workable for employers, with growth of the program almost tripling in size during the last decade: from about 60,000 worker positions certified in FY 2006 to about 165,000 worker positions certified in FY 2016. FY 2017 Department of Labor statistics for the H-2A program show that approximately 97,000 positions have been certified so far this year, an increase of approximately 30% over the same period last year, with a timely approval rate of around 98%.  The H-2A program does not have a cap, which allows for an unlimited supply of foreign workers. FJ continues to be concerned about treatment of both US and domestic workers under the H-2A program.

As stated by Farmworker Justice President Bruce Goldstein in an article regarding H-2A workers in the California wine industry, “the history of the program shows these guest workers are very vulnerable to abuse and many employers take advantage of those vulnerabilities.”  This worker vulnerability is often worsened by the use of labor contractors. As highlighted in another recent article, some employers, including agribusiness giant Monsanto, continue to use labor contractors even after allegations of labor abuse. This is especially concerning in light of the fact that, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, from 2001 to 2015, the number of farm labor contractors and crew leaders nationwide increased by nearly 20%. As pointed out by FJ President Bruce Goldstein in the article, labor contracting situations can lead to rampant violations of farmworkers’ labor rights.

FY 2018 House Appropriations Bills

This week, various House Appropriations Subcommittees published their proposed FY 2018 funding bills. (There are 12 Appropriations Subcommittees and each one submits a funding bill for their area of focus.) It is important to note that the appropriations process is just beginning, and the bills must be reviewed by the Senate and approved by both chambers of Congress. Still, the House Subcommittee proposals will frame the debate going forward, so we will continue to monitor their possible impact on immigrants and farmworkers.

Farmworker Housing – During the mark-up of the Agriculture Appropriations Bill, Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-WA) introduced an amendment that would allow Section 514 housing to be used to house H-2A workers, as a way of addressing the increased need for worker housing resulting from the H-2A program’s continued growth. Section 514 loans are provided to build or improve housing for farm laborers, and H-2A workers are currently not eligible for this type of housing.   Farmworker Justice has opposed using these subsidies for the benefit of H-2A employers because there is a severe shortage of housing for farmworkers in the U.S. and inadequate housing programs for farmworkers.

Immigration Enforcement - The House Appropriations Subcommittee for Homeland Security (DHS) recently presented its proposed FY 2018 appropriations bill, which immigration advocates have described as a “rubber stamp” and “blank check” for President Trump’s deportation policies. Among other provisions, the bill includes $4.4 billion in funding for detention and removal programs and hundreds of millions of dollars to hire 1,000 additional ICE officers and 500 additional CBP officers. The bill also includes $1.6 billion for the construction of a “physical barrier” on the U.S.-Mexico border. The issue of immigration, particularly the funding for the wall, is likely to have an impact on the negotiation of the broader FY 2018 budget, and the battle over this funding could lead to a government shutdown in the fall.   

Sen. Tillis Puts Hold on USCIS Director Nomination Over H-2B Guestworker Visas

In an attempt to get approvals for more visas under the H-2B non-agricultural guestworker program, Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC), has put a “hold” on the nomination of Lee Francis Cissna for Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). A “hold” allows a single lawmaker to delay action on bringing a nominee to the Senate floor for a vote. Democrats already have a hold on Cissna and other Judiciary Committee nominees as part of a broader strategy to protest Republican efforts to repeal Obamacare.

The H-2B seasonal non-agricultural guestworker program has an annual cap of 66,000, but this cap has been increased through Congressional action in the past. This year, Congress gave DHS Secretary John Kelly the authority to issue up to 70,000 additional visas on a last-minute appropriations rider, but he still has not made a decision regarding their allocation. Both the FY2017 budget resolution and FY2018 budget proposal include riders limiting the protections available for H-2B workers. North Carolina is one of the top ten recipients of H-2B workers, and Sen. Tillis has stated that there are not enough U.S. workers to fill summer job vacancies. North Carolina is also a top ten recipient of agricultural workers under the H-2A program and, as with the H-2B non-agricultural visas, agricultural employers in the state similarly assert that there are not enough U.S. workers to fill temporary jobs in agriculture.  

Anti-Union Farm Bill Signed by Governor of North Carolina

On July 13, North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper signed a wide-ranging farm bill which included a last minute, anti-union amendment. The amendment takes away farmworkers’ freedom to use payroll deductions for voluntary union dues or fees and makes it illegal for farmworkers and growers to sign an agreement as part of settlements of lawsuit. The amendments are aimed at the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, AFL-CIO (FLOC), the only agricultural workers’ union in the state, which has collective bargaining agreements with several hundred growers on behalf of thousands of farmworkers in the state. FLOC and the NC State AFL-CIO had previously denounced the amendment, characterizing it as an attack on farmworkers’ rights and retaliation for a series of lawsuits brought by farmworkers against several farms in the state, one of which is owned by a NC state Senator who sponsored the bill.  Despite a campaign by FLOC and allies, Gov. Cooper refused to veto the bill. 

DHS Sec. Kelly Says Administration Will Not Commit to Protecting DACA or TPS

In a closed door meeting with members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) on July 12, DHS Sec. John Kelly stated that although he personally supports the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, he cannot guarantee that the Administration will defend it in court.  At the meeting, Sec. Kelly urged Congress to find a legislative solution. When asked about the fate of Temporary Protected Status (TPS), particularly for the countries of Nicaragua, Honduras and El Salvador, whose designations are due to expire next year, Sec. Kelly did not commit to their renewal. Shortly after the meeting, Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), who was present at the meeting and is the Chair of the Immigration Task Force of the CHC, issued a call to action to protect DACA and TPS and fight mass deportations,  describing immigration as “an integral part of who we are as a country.”  

Farmworker Justice “Unidos” Initiative Seeks to Empower Farmworker Communities

Rebecca Young, Senior Project Director at Farmworker Justice, recently spoke about the importance of empowering existing and emerging leadership among the immigrant farmworker community. While discussing Farmworker Justice’s “Unidos” initiative (in collaboration with the Vista Community Clinic), Young emphasized the importance of addressing concerns about increased immigration enforcement as part of the initiative’s efforts to improve access to cancer screening and treatment for immigrant farmworkers and their families.  Please click here for the full article.



 

Farmworker Justice Immigration Update: 06/30/17

Two Anti-Immigrant Bills Passed in House of Representatives Yesterday

Representative Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, introduced two anti-immigrant bills that were approved by the House yesterday (June 29). The two bills are entitled the “No Sanctuary for Criminals Act” (H.R. 3003) and “Kate's Law” (H.R. 3004). The “No Sanctuary for Criminals Act” targets sanctuary cities and seeks to coerce state and local jurisdictions into enforcing immigration law, while also requiring mandatory detention for broader categories of undocumented persons, among other provisions. “Kate’s Law,” in turn, enhances the government’s ability to prosecute illegal reentry cases and increases the sentences that may be imposed. This is significant because more than half of all federal criminal prosecutions are for illegal reentry and the prison system is already overburdened.

Farmworker Justice joined over 400 non-governmental organizations urging members of Congress to oppose these bills, which will further the criminalization and incarceration of immigrants and ultimately make communities less safe. These bills demonize immigrants, who actually are less likely to commit crimes than the native-born. Though the bills passed in the House, they have a lower likelihood of passing in the Senate. However, it is important that we continue to advocate against increasing the Trump Administration’s capacity for mass detentions and deportations. The White House has stated that it “strongly supports” both bills and that they will likely be signed into law if they are presented to the President.

House Immigration Agenda: Guestworker Changes May Follow Enforcement Bills

On Tuesday (June 27), Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID) was appointed to head the Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security of the House Judiciary Committee. Rep. Labrador, a former immigration lawyer who was elected in 2010 with the Tea Party wave, supported the two anti-immigrant bills that passed in the House yesterday and has also introduced another enforcement-focused bill, the Davis-Oliver Act.  In a recent press call, Labrador stated that he believes the Davis-Oliver Act will get a vote in the House and that after passage of these enforcement-centered bills, he plans to focus on the issue of guestworkers. He also specifically referenced the H-2A visa program and a possible expansion of the program to include year-round jobs on dairy farms. Idaho is the fourth-largest dairy production state. Additionally, Labrador noted that there are draft plans underway for a guestworker proposal involving 3-year visas which would require undocumented workers to first leave the U.S. in order to be eligible.  

Landmark Ruling Affirms Immigrant Workers’ Protections against Retaliation

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals recently issued a favorable opinion affirming key federal protections for immigrant workers asserting their rights. The case, Arias v. Raimondo (which Farmworker Justice joined as amicus curiae) involved Jose Arias, an immigrant dairy worker who sued his employer for various wage violations. His employer’s attorney reported Mr. Arias to immigration authorities in an attempt to have him removed from the U.S. before trial and Mr. Arias subsequently sued the attorney. The Ninth Circuit Court ruled that the attorney could be held liable under the Fair Labor Standards Act’s (FLSA) anti-retaliation provision, which protects workers regardless of their immigration status. This decision is a victory for workers, and is the result of years of litigation by California Rural Legal Assistance (CRLA) and Legal Aid at Work.

Immigrants’ Health Compromised by Increased Immigration Enforcement

The current context of increased immigration enforcement is having a real impact on the health of immigrant communities. Health providers across the country have noted a decrease in the number of immigrants seeking medical care, even for chronic and possibly life-threatening conditions. In addition, the anxiety of possible deportation and/or family separation is having an adverse impact on the mental health of immigrants, including young children, resulting in physical symptoms such as stomach pain, dizziness, shortness of breath, and insomnia, among many others.

Past studies have demonstrated a correlation between increased immigration enforcement and a decrease in immigrants’ use of preventive health services, as well as tangible negative impacts on health outcomes. Reluctance to seek medical care among farmworkers may also exacerbate physical conditions resulting from the arduous tasks associated with agricultural work.  As noted by a farmworker in a recent article in The Atlantic: “we put our lives out there in the fields for a job that will never give our health back.”

Recent Supreme Court Developments Affecting Immigrants

Muslim Ban – On June 26, the Supreme Court made a long awaited announcement regarding President Trump’s “Muslim Ban” Executive Order. The Court agreed to take on the issue and said it will begin hearing oral arguments in October. The Court also allowed parts of President Trump’s EO to go into effect, allowing a temporary travel ban for refugees and citizens of six predominantly Muslim countries, unless they have a “bona fide relationship” with a person or entity in the U.S. On June 28, the State Department issued guidelines regarding what types of personal and professional relationships qualify for this exception, which it then partially modified the next day in order to clarify that fiancé relationships are included. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) also published a set of FAQs on the ban yesterday (June 29), just before it officially went into effect at 8:00 p.m. Litigation on the new ban is already underway, as the state of Hawaii has submitted a motion asking for clarification on the scope of the ban. It remains to be seen whether the implementation of the ban will once again lead to confusion at ports of entry, as well as further litigation.  

DACA – Also on Monday, the Supreme Court asked the Trump Administration for its views on whether those in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program are legally present in the country. The request was directed to Jeffrey Wall, the acting U.S. Solicitor General, and is related to the case of Brewer v. Arizona Dream Act Coalition (ADAC). The Brewer case concerns a 2012 directive by then-Arizona governor Jan Brewer ordering the state not to provide driver’s licenses to DACA recipients. In 2014, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) supported DACA enrollees in their challenge to the directive, and an appellate court ordered the state of Arizona to issue licenses to DACA recipients. An estimated 21,000 Arizona DACA recipients have since been issued driver’s licenses. However, it is unclear whether the government’s position will change under the new Administration and the Supreme Court is currently weighing whether it will take the case. In the meantime, the licenses currently held by DACA recipients remain valid and operational, as does the DACA program itself, although it continues to be under attack.

Ten States, Led by Texas Attorney General, Call on U.S. Government to End DACA

The Attorney General of Texas, Ken Paxton, along with the Attorneys General of nine other states and the governor of Idaho, have sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions asking that the U.S. government rescind the 2012 memorandum establishing DACA and cease to accept or renew applications for the program. The state of Texas, along with 25 other states, had previously sued the U.S. government over the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) program, a proposed extension of DACA. As a result of that litigation, the DAPA program was blocked before it could be implemented. The recent Texas Attorney General letter threatens to expand the scope of litigation to include DACA unless the U.S. government agrees to rescind the program. It establishes September 5, 2017 as the deadline for the government to act.

 

 

 

Farmworker Justice Immigration Update: 06/16/17

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.

 

 

 

Farmworker Justice Immigration Update: 06/02/17

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.

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