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Farmworker Justice is a nonprofit organization that seeks to empower migrant and seasonal farmworkers to improve their living and working conditions, immigration status, health, occupational safety, and access to justice.

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Latest News

May 28, 2015

Learn how Farmworker Justice helps farmworkers improve their living and working conditions. Highlights include:

Immigration Update: Preparing for Deferred Action Implementation
Keep Up Pressure to Protect Farmworkers from Pesticides
Connecting Farmworker Leaders and Migrant Health Centers
Increasing Farmworker Engagement with the Affordable Care Act

May 27, 2015

Farmworker Justice is deeply disappointed by the 5th Circuit’s decision yesterday to deny the Department of Justice’s request to stay the temporary injunction of DAPA and expanded DACA. This decision means continued delays in the implementation of the expanded DACA and the DAPA programs that could provide relief for 4-5 million hard-working parents and Dreamers of the United States. The decision came exactly one week after the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents program (DAPA) was supposed to begin.

This ruling does not mean that the Obama Administration has lost the case, it simply means that the Court wants to leave the injunction in place until they have time to decide the full appeal. The full appeal is still pending and is tentatively scheduled for oral argument in early July. The decision does not affect the current DACA program announced in 2012, which is still in effect and accepting new applications and applications for renewal.

While disappointed, Farmworker Justice is not deterred. We will continue to defend President Obama’s administrative actions until the fight for administrative relief is successful. Roughly 700,000 farmworkers and their spouses could be eligible to come forward to apply for temporary protection from deportation and work authorization under the deferred action opportunities. The programs are well within the President’s authority and are a limited but important step toward addressing our broken immigration system. By eliminating the constant fear of deportation, farmworkers and other aspiring Americans will be able to contribute more fully to their communities and will be empowered in their workplaces.

Farmworker Justice will continue to work with groups throughout the country to support and plan implementation of the DAPA/DACA programs and to win legislation that creates a path to citizenship for undocumented farmworker families and other aspiring Americans.
 

April 30, 2015

The federal employment laws meant to provide protection for agricultural workers need more enforcement in order to improve the conditions in our fields, according to a new report released today.

The report by Farmworker Justice analyzes the Department of Labor’s (DOL’s) statistics on its enforcement of the minimum wage and other basic labor protections applicable to agricultural workers on farms, ranches, and dairies. Widespread violations of the minimum wage and other wage-hour laws in agriculture harm farmworkers, as well as the many law-abiding businesses suffering competitive disadvantage caused by unscrupulous employers.

In “U.S. Department of Labor Enforcement in Agriculture: More Must Be Done to Protect Farmworkers,” a report based on reviewing 8 years of agency data under two presidents, Farmworker Justice found a mixed record. The number of investigations of agricultural workplaces conducted by the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division remained fairly consistent despite the hiring of additional investigators and a stated commitment to improving compliance on farms. The data revealed increases in the amount of time spent by agency investigators on agricultural workplaces, increases in the number of farmworkers at investigated employers, as well as increases in the amounts of backpay assessed for violations.

“Consumers of fruits and vegetables want to know that farmworkers in the field are treated decently, and law-abiding growers do not want to be undermined by businesses that violate wage-hour laws, but the reality is that there are widespread violations in agriculture. The U.S. Department of Labor plays an important role in deterring and remedying violations of law. The agency has modestly improved the quantity and quality of its enforcement of labor-protective laws, but many employers still view the risk and the financial consequences of getting caught as too small to deter them from violating the law,” said Bruce Goldstein, President of Farmworker Justice, a national advocacy group in Washington, D.C.

The report’s recommendations include:
• Increase the number of investigations per year and ensure that the Department seeks and collects the full measure of back pay, liquidated damages and civil money penalties.
• Continue increasing the Department’s use of important tools in the law, including the authority to ask a federal court to issue a “hot goods injunction” against the sale of goods produced in violation of the minimum wage. It also should continue increasing its use of the “joint employer” concept when farm operators deny that they “employ” any farmworkers on their farm and seek to impose sole responsibility for minimum-wage violations on farm labor contractors.
• Continue to improve collaboration with farmworker groups on the ground. DOL also should improve its education of the public and Congress about the value of its enforcement efforts on farms.

“The bottom line is that because many farmworkers are suffering systematic violations of basic labor standards, Congress should increase funding for enforcement of the wage-hour laws in agriculture. In addition, the Department of Labor should continue to allocate more investigator time to agriculture and continue to increase its use of all the tools that Congress provided to the agency to remedy and deter violations of employment laws,” added Goldstein.

Featured Blog

August 07, 2015

H-2 Guestworker News

BuzzFeed News published a must-read article on abuses of H-2 guestworkers, “The New American Slavery: Invited to the US, Foreign Workers Find a Nightmare.” The article highlights how the structure of the H-2A temporary agricultural guestworker program and the H-2B temporary nonagricultural guestworker program create extremely poor living and working conditions allowing for wage theft, sexual harassment and in the worst cases, allow for modern day slavery. We have heard that Buzzfeed is interested in additional reporting on the H-2A and H-2A programs.

The problems start for H-2 workers when they pay illegal recruitment fees for the opportunity to work in the United States and therefore arrive indebted and desperate to work to repay their debt. As a result, workers will often work to the limits of human endurance to keep their employers happy with their performance. They are tied to an employer for an entire season, and must leave the country when the job ends, factors which make workers extremely vulnerable to abuse. Workers also fear being blacklisted the following year, which makes them unlikely to complain about working conditions or labor violations. H-2A agricultural workers also are excluded from the principal federal employment law for farmworkers, the Agricultural Worker Protection Act. The isolation of H-2A and many H-2B workers, who live in employer-provided housing in rural communities, exacerbate these problems.

When Congress turns back to working on comprehensive immigration reform, it must provide opportunities for foreign agricultural and other lesser-skilled workers who perform jobs vital to our economy to obtain legal permanent residence status and eventually citizenship.

In other H-2 worker news, the Southern Poverty Law Center reached a $20 million settlement on behalf of 200 Indian H-2B workers recruited to work for Signal International on the gulf coast after Hurricane Katrina. The workers paid tens of thousands of dollars in recruitment fees, were subject to wage theft and squalid living conditions, and were illegally detained by company security guards. The settlement came after a New Orleans jury awarded $14 million to five of the workers finding that Signal had engaged in labor trafficking, fraud, racketeering and discrimination. As part of the settlement, Signal also agreed to apologize to the workers. Congratulations to the workers, SPLC and its co-counsel on the case!

Congressional Attacks on Community Trust Policies

Much of the immigration news in recent weeks has focused on immigration enforcement. The murder of a woman in San Francisco by an undocumented immigrant who had recently been released from jail prompted Congress to hold hearings and work on legislation addressing the issue of local law enforcement cooperating with federal immigration enforcement officials. Federal immigration authorities had issued a detainer for the man, but a local ordinance prevents San Francisco authorities from detaining non-violent offenders on immigration detainers when they are otherwise eligible for release. Such policies, referred to as community trust policies, seek to encourage immigrant crime victims and witnesses to come forward without fear of immigration enforcement. Several recent proposals in Congress attack local jurisdictions’ community trust policies through legislation that would strip localities of federal money if they fail to enforce immigration laws. 

Many local law enforcement agencies have community trust policies that include guidelines for police officers’ conduct when interacting with immigrant community members. Such policies vary but they often limit police officers from asking people about their immigration status and the circumstances in which a law enforcement agency will turn immigrants over to federal immigration authorities. These policies make local areas safer. Community members are far less likely to come forward to report crimes and serve as witnesses if they perceive a risk of removal for themselves or their family members. Many local law enforcement agencies also argue that their limited resources should be focused on enforcing criminal laws and keeping communities safe. 

Some courts have found that local law enforcement agencies have violated people’s Fourth Amendment rights by detaining immigrants without probable cause in order to turn them over to federal immigration authorities. This prompted many local law enforcement agencies to create limited detainer policies that limit the circumstances in which they will detain immigrants with convictions in order to turn them over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Community trust policies and limited detainer policies conflicted with the federal government’s Secure Communities program, which was heavily criticized for contributing to racial profiling, eroding trust of local law enforcement by immigrant communities and resulting in Fourth Amendment rights violations. In response to these critiques by law enforcement agencies, community members and immigrants’ rights groups, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) terminated the Secure Communities program at the end of 2014 and announced the Priority Enforcement Program (PEP) to replace it. PEP aims to focus on the detention and deportation of immigrants convicted of felonies and certain other serious crimes, and those who pose a danger to the community or a threat to national security. PEP attempts to remedy the high probability of Fourth Amendment violations by requiring ICE to present probable cause that the person is removable and issue a request for notification rather than an immigration detainer unless there are special circumstances that would make a detainer preferable.

In July, the Migration Policy Institute released a report, “Understanding the Potential Impact of Executive Action on Immigration Enforcement” analyzing the potential effects of DHS’s shift in enforcement priorities and the change from the Secure Communities Program to the Priority Enforcement Program. The report states that under DHS 2014 enforcement priorities, 87% of undocumented immigrants would not fall into one of the deportation priorities outlined by the Department of Homeland Security. The MPI report also addresses DHS’s attempt to promote collaboration between ICE and local jurisdictions in a way that gives local jurisdictions more autonomy in how they manage ICE detainers. However, advocates remain skeptical about how PEP will be implemented.

Despite repeated assertions by ICE Director Sarah Saldaña and Secretary of DHS Jeh Johnson that DHS does not want to use a mandatory approach when dealing with local jurisdictions, the House Appropriations Committee voted to prevent jurisdictions that do not comply with DHS immigration mandates from receiving DHS grants, including FEMA funds. 

On July 23, 2015, the House passed H.R. 3009, the Enforce the Law for Sanctuary Cities Act, which would penalize jurisdictions that have community trust policies. The bill passed by a vote of 241-179 mainly along party lines with only six Democrats voting for the bill and five Republicans voting against it. HR 3009 would make state and local jurisdictions ineligible to receive “State Criminal Alien Assistance Program” funds if the local authorities follow any law, policy, or procedure that prohibits or restricts communication with DHS or other government entities regarding an individual’s citizenship or immigration status. The bill, authored by Representative Duncan Hunter (R-CA) also targets jurisdictions that prohibit state or local authorities from gathering information on an individual’s citizenship or immigration status. The Act would affect over 300 jurisdictions, including many localities that do not have community trust policies, but have policies aimed at protecting the Fourth Amendment rights of their community members. 

There are several similar bills being drafted by Senators. For example, Senator Vitter’s (R-TN) bill, the Stop Sanctuary Cities Act (S.1814), would make it unlawful for state and local jurisdictions to fail to comply with federal immigration detainer requests. Violation of the law would make jurisdictions ineligible to receive State Criminal Alien Assistance Program funds and chronic offenders would be ineligible to receive Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program funds. The Senate Judiciary Committee was scheduled to mark-up his bill on Thursday but has postponed the markup until September. 

Senator Feinstein (D-CA) has also outlined a bill that would make compliance with ICE requests for notification mandatory for state and local jurisdictions. Senator Boxer (D-CA) is considering joining Feinstein on the bill. More than 50 California organizations wrote a letter to the Senators opposing the bill.

The proposed laws are problematic for the same reasons the Secure Communities program was considered controversial. Extended detention based on foreign birth or speculation of immigration status results in violations of the Fourth Amendment rights of individuals. Mandatory compliance erodes trust and goodwill between federal agencies and state and local jurisdictions as well as between community members and local law enforcement agents, eroding the safety of local communities. Farmworker Justice signed a letter by the American Civil Liberties Union signed by 139 organizations opposing the Stop the Sanctuary Cities Act.  

Immigration

November 20, 2014

On November 20th, 2014 President Obama announced his plans for executive action on immigration. We applaud the President’s action, which includes a deferred action program that provides relief from deportation and work authorization for millions of undocumented individuals, including hundreds of thousands of farmworkers and their family members.

February 20, 2015

Immigration is a critically important issue for farmworkers. Learn about current legislation proposals impacting farmworkers.

February 20, 2015

Learn about the history of guestworker programs, H-2A program for temporary agricultural work, and the H-2B visa program.