FJ Blog

Friday, 30 June 2017

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.

 

 

 

by Iris Figueroa
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Friday, 16 June 2017

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

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

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

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

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

Secretary Perdue Announces Possible Changes to Agricultural Labor Policy

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

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

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

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

Lee Francis Cissna Nominated for USCIS Director Position

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

Current Litigation Challenging President Trump’s Immigration Executive Orders

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

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

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

 

 

 

by Iris Figueroa
(0 total comments)
Friday, 02 June 2017

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

On May 25, 2017, Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), joined by 26 original cosponsors, introduced H.R. 2690, the “Agricultural Worker Program Act of 2017,” a companion to the Senate bill of the same name introduced by Sen. Feinstein earlier this month, S.1034. Farmworker Justice strongly supports the Agricultural Worker Program Act because it would provide a needed, meaningful opportunity for farmworkers and family members to earn lawful permanent residency with a path to citizenship. For more information on the Agricultural Worker Program Act, please see our Fact Sheet. A full list of cosponsors of H.R. 2690 is available online.

Farmworker Justice Fact Sheet on Sen. Johnson State Guestworker Bill

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

House Judiciary Committee Passes Draconian Anti-Immigrant Bill

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

Uncertainty about Future of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) Designation

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

Trump Administration’s 2018 Budget Proposal

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

Increased Funding for Immigration Enforcement and Detention

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

Decrease in Funding for Key Agencies

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

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

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

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

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

CNN Story on Coalition of Immokalee Workers

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

New Report on Immigrant Dairy Workers in New York State

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

by Iris Figueroa
(0 total comments)