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August 23, 2019

Trump Administration Proposes Major Changes to H-2A Agricultural Guestworker Program:  Comments Due September 24

           On July 26, the Department of Labor (DOL) published proposed changes to the H-2A temporary foreign agricultural worker program regulations in the Federal Register. Interested parties may submit comments to the proposal through September 24. The DOL proposes many changes to the H-2A program, including a new calculation for wage rates, shifting some transportation costs to workers, expanding the program to pine straw and reforestation workers, weakening recruitment requirements for U.S. workers and allowing for employer applications with staggered entry dates for guestworkers, among others. The Farmworker Justice summary of the major proposed changes is available on our website. There are many more changes which need careful review.  FJ has drafted model comments that farmworker, immigration, labor, social justice and other organizations can use in drafting their own comments. FJ is also currently working with partner organizations to draft a lengthier set of in-depth comments. For more information, please contact FJ Staff Attorney Iris Figueroa at [email protected].

DOJ and DOL Formalize New Partnership to Protect U.S. Workers in H-2A Visa Program

                On July 31, the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Department of Labor (DOL) entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to better protect U.S. workers from discrimination under the H-2A program. The MOU increases communication and training opportunities between the two agencies to decrease discrimination against U.S. workers. This MOU is part of the Civil Rights Division’s “Protecting U.S. Workers Initiative,” which was launched in 2017 and is aimed at targeting, investigating, and taking enforcement measures against companies that discriminate against U.S. workers in favor of foreign visa workers.

New Jersey Enacts a New Wage Theft Law to Protect Workers

                 On August 6, acting New Jersey Governor Sheila Oliver signed S. 1790 into law. This wage left law provides greater protection for workers, in order to ensure that they receive the pay they are due. The bill enhances enforcement of New Jersey’s wage and hour laws by holding employers accountable for unpaid wages, benefits, or overtime as required by law through increased damages and fines. It makes victims of wage theft eligible to receive both the wages owed and liquidated damages of 200 percent of wages owed.

 680 Workers Arrested in Mississippi Worksite Raids on Poultry Plants

                  On August 7, ICE raided several companies in Mississippi, arresting around 680 workers. Four poultry plants were raided in what is considered one of the largest raids ever in a single state, and the largest since President Trump took office. ICE officials arrested individuals and loaded them into buses before taking them away for processing at a local National Guard base. With no warning on the raid, children of the detained individuals were left at schools and homes with no guardians or caretakers. Since then, some individuals have been released, while around 350 are still incarcerated and awaiting a hearing. However, many of those released are now struggling to make ends meet after losing their jobs.  The businesses which employed the workers have not been charged with violating immigration law as of this update, but several dozen of the workers have been indicted for immigration-related offenses.   

Washington Farmworkers Participate in March for Dignity

                Approximately two hundred marchers gathered on August 4 outside a prison in Ferndale, WA that is being used as an immigration detention center. They then proceeded to march 14 miles, ending at Crystal View Raspberry Farm, where an H-2A worker died after being forced back to work despite feeling ill. The march sought to highlight abuses in the agricultural labor system. As stated by Rosalinda Guillen, Director of Community to Community: “The Trump administration is targeting our local community, deporting people who have been living here for years. Then growers complain there aren’t enough workers and begin using the H-2A program to bring in guest workers. It is a vicious revolving door of exploitation.”

A Farmworker Provides a Firsthand Account of His Experience

                Omar Garcia Garcia was interviewed by The Nation as part of an ongoing oral history project revealing the stories of immigrants. Omar is a guestworker from Michoacán, Mexico, and has worked in the U.S. for five growing seasons. He continues to come back, leaving his family for months at a time, because he can use the earnings to support them and give them a better life. He grew up in a rural community, and he loves to work in the fields. However, he describes his first season as especially difficult because of the adjustment to the new surroundings and culture. However, he could not return home because of the debt he accrued in order to get the job opportunity. He also describes the difficult working conditions and the uncertainty of whether there will be a job next year from an employer. 

Car Drivers Harassing Head Start Buses with Migrant Workers’ Children

                Idaho officials report that car drivers are following and harassing school buses with migrant worker children headed to early education programs. The local organization which operates the programs plans to conceal the bus signage containing the word “migrant”, as well as adding cameras to enhance security. Similar incidents have been reported in other states, including Indiana.

Update on Farmworker Health and Safety

Department of Homeland Security Finalizes Public Charge Rule

                 On August 14, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) finalized its rule on public charge regarding applications for immigration status. The final rule radically changes the definition of public charge to make it far more difficult to gain approval of immigration applications. It expands the list of public benefits defined under public charge to include SNAP (food stamps), Medicaid (with exceptions), and housing assistance. It also defines and adds positive and negative values to the factors under the totality of circumstances test, which is used to determine an applicant's likelihood of becoming a public charge. Under the new test, factors such as low-wages and lack employer-provided health insurance will be negative factors.  Farmworkers in the U.S. and H-2A workers applying to enter the U.S. will be affected by this rule.

                 The rule is set to go into effect on October 15. FJ is a plaintiff in a lawsuit filed by a coalition of organizations shortly after the rule’s publication that seeks to invalidate it. A fact sheet on the final public charge rule and its potential impact on farmworkers can be found on FJ’s website. FJ also issued a statement in response to the rule that can be found here. FJ is working with national, state, and local partners, including the Protecting Immigrant Families campaign, to share information about the public charge rule. Contact Alexis Guild, Senior Health Policy Analyst, at [email protected], with any questions or for more information. 

Farmworker Justice and Allies Sue EPA Over Chlorpyrifos Decision 

                On August 7, Earthjustice, Farmworker Justice, and other environmental and farmworker organizations, filed suit against the EPA for its failure to ban chlorpyrifos. The chemical has been linked to brain damage in children and harm to farmworkers. The agency’s decision to continue to prioritize corporate profit over children’s health and safety is unconscionable in light of the scientific evidence. Another lawsuit was filed in the 9th Circuit on the same day with six states - California, Washington, Massachusetts, Maryland, New York, and Vermont - acting as plaintiffs. Hawaii and Washington, D.C. are also expected to join the state lawsuit.

EPA Will Not Require Cancer Warnings on Products Containing Glyphosate

                On August 8, the U.S. EPA announced that it would not require producers to put a cancer warning on products containing glyphosate. The EPA claims that its research and information show that the substance does not cause cancer in humans, and therefore, the label is unnecessary. The EPA reviewed glyphosate earlier this year after California attempted to put the warning on products sold in the state. California’s Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act requires companies to warn consumers of carcinogens as determined by several agencies and organizations including the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). IARC found that glyphosate likely causes cancer, which triggered California’s requirement. The state has not enforced the labeling requirement yet because a ruling in an ongoing lawsuit placed an injunction on glyphosate labeling for now. Recently, a jury ordered Monsanto to pay $289 million to a school groundskeeper who got terminal cancer after using Roundup, which contains glyphosate.          

 

August 07, 2019

Marcos, Lilia and their three children share an apartment close to town. Marcos works in the strawberry fields and has a schedule that often fluctuates with the changing tasks through the season. Lilia works at a landscaping company that has pretty consistent yet long hours and is a 45 minute drive from her home. Although Marcos works in close proximity to their home his hours, too, are long. Their two youngest children attend the local Migrant Head Start Center and their oldest is at the neighborhood elementary school.

July 26, 2019

Today (July 26) the Trump Department of Labor announced plans to make sweeping revisions to the H-2A agricultural guestworker program to the detriment of farmworkers. The proposed H-2A changes would weaken key protections for farmworkers, reducing the ability of the current farm labor force to obtain employment with H-2A employers and exposing H-2A workers to greater vulnerability and costs. 

The Trump Administration seeks to guarantee agribusiness unlimited access to a captive workforce—guestworkers who are denied the rights and freedoms of immigrants and citizens. The proposal epitomizes the Trump Administration’s hostility to immigrants.  At the same time that the Administration takes steps to transform the farm labor force of roughly 2.4 million people into a workforce of 21st-century indentured servants, it is demonizing hard-working immigrants and ratcheting up cruel and counterproductive arrests and deportations, targeting many of our nation’s current experienced and valued farmworkers. Instead of further expanding and weakening worker protections in the H-2A  guestworker program, the Administration should strengthen labor protections, improve enforcement of farmworkers’ limited labor rights, and support legislation such as the Agricultural Worker Program Act, which would grant undocumented farmworkers and their family members the opportunity for immigration status and a path to citizenship.

You can find a summary of the proposed changes in the "Resources - Guestworker Programs - H-2A" section of our website. We will be sharing model comments that we are working to develop with the UFW, UFWF and other partners.  We encourage you to submit comments to ensure that the voices of farmworkers and allies are heard on the harm these H-2A proposed rules would cause.  The deadline for comments is September 24, 2019.  

Latest News

August 16, 2019

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                            Farmworker Justice, Washington, D.C.

August 16, 2019

CONTACT

Bruce Goldstein, Farmworker Justice 202-800-2521 [email protected]

National Immigration Law Center: Hayley Burgess, 202-384-1279, [email protected]

Western Center on Law & Poverty: Courtney McKinney, 214-395-2755, [email protected]

Asian Americans Advancing Justice - Los Angeles: Alison Vu, [email protected]

Federal Lawsuit Filed to Overturn Trump “Public Charge” Immigration Regulation

Low-Wage Agricultural Workers and Family Members Will Be Among the Victims

SAN FRANCISCO — Organizations serving immigrant communities and advocates for racial equity, health, children, farmworkers, and working families today filed suit to block implementation of the Trump administration’s “public charge” regulation, which threatens millions of immigrant families — disproportionally families of color.

Farmworker Justice of Washington, D.C. is a plaintiff in the lawsuit, which is entitled La Clínica de la Raza et al. v. Trump et al., filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.  The lawsuit asks the court to declare the regulation issued by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) unlawful and unconstitutional. DHS finalized the regulation on August 14, 2019.

“Farmworkers and other low-wage immigrant workers will be disproportionately harmed by this rule. Farmworkers perform honorable, difficult work but their wages are among the lowest of any occupation and their poverty rates are substantially higher than the national average,” said Bruce Goldstein, President of Farmworker Justice.  “This cruel policy change will unfairly deny hard-working farmworkers and their family members the opportunity to become immigrants and citizens,” he said.  He added, “In addition, the rule’s discrimination against people who use public programs for which they are eligible based on their low-wages will cause them to avoid such programs, harming their families’ health and nutrition.” 

In addition to Farmworker Justice, the suit was brought by La Clínica de la Raza, African Communities Together, the California Primary Care Association, the Central American Resource Center, the Council on American Islamic Relations - California, the Korean Resource Center, the Legal Aid Society of San Mateo County, and Maternal and Child Health Access.

The plaintiffs are represented by the National Immigration Law Center, Asian Americans Advancing Justice - Los Angeles, the National Health Law Program and the Western Center on Law and Poverty.

Plaintiffs assert that the regulation violates the Administrative Procedure Act because it is contrary to law and arbitrary and capricious. The complaint also argues that the regulation is invalid because the official who approved its publication, Kenneth T. Cuccinelli, was appointed in violation of the Constitution’s Appointments Clause and the Federal Vacancies Reform Act. 

In addition, the complaint argues that the regulation was motivated by racial bias against nonwhite immigrants and asks the court to strike it down as a violation of Equal Protection under the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.   The large majority of agricultural workers in the United States are Latino and the large majority are immigrants, mostly from Mexico.  As indicators of a motivating racial animus, the complaint cites the administration’s acknowledgement that the policy will have a disparate impact on families of color, President Donald Trump’s own racist statements, and his administration’s other racially-biased policies.

“This rule change is a direct attack on communities of color and their families, and furthers this administration’s desire to make this country work primarily for the wealthy and white. Our immigration system cannot be based on the racial animosities of this administration, or whether or not people are wealthy,” said Antionette Dozier, senior attorney at the Western Center on Law and Poverty.

More than 260,000 public comments were submitted on the draft regulation last fall, the vast majority in opposition. The regulation targets programs that serve whole families — Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, and Section 8 housing assistance — meaning its impact will extend well beyond immigrants directly affected. As a result, experts warn, the regulation will result in increases in hunger, unmet health and housing needs, and poverty. Because affected immigrants are overwhelmingly immigrants of color, the rule is also expected to widen racial disparities. Independent analysts estimate that the regulation threatens millions of people. A significant portion of those threatened by the regulation were born in the U.S., and nearly a third of those are children.

The complaint asserts that the public charge regulation threatens the missions of the plaintiff organizations and the communities they serve.

“The Trump administration has deliberately designed this policy to target families of color, which is part of its overall blueprint to change the face of what we look like as a nation and who is considered worthy of being an American. It threatens immigrants of color with exclusion and Americans of color with deprivation or family separation. And it aims to deny working-class immigrants of color the ability to thrive in the land of opportunity,” said Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center. “We will not stand for it. We’re fighting back against this racist policy, and we’re going to win the fight to protect immigrant families.”

Today’s filing is available at https://www.nilc.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/Clinica-de-la-Raza-v-Trump-complaint-2019-08-16.pdf.

August 12, 2019

August 12, 2019                                                       Contact:  Bruce Goldstein

For immediate release                                            [email protected]

Farmworker Justice Condemns DHS Final “Public Charge” Rule

On Eligibility for Immigration Status 

Today, the Administration released its new regulation on the issue of “public charge” for people applying for immigration status. The final rule will be published formally in the Federal Register later this week. 

The new rule penalizes low-income, limited-English-proficient individuals, denying them access to immigration status.

Farmworkers, essential contributors to our economies, will find it very difficult under the final public charge rule to gain admission as immigrants to the United States and become lawful permanent residents.

Farmworkers’ low wages and lack of employer-provided benefits, such as health insurance, will be counted as negative factors in considering whether to grant them immigration status based on their supposed potential to be a “public charge.” 

The agricultural industry’s low pay and lack of fringe benefits will therefore be used against farmworkers seeking immigration status, even if they have no intention of using public benefits. 

“The new immigration regulation on public charge is contrary to the values of our country as a nation of immigrants who built this country,” said Bruce Goldstein, President of Farmworker Justice. He added, "We rely on farmworkers to provide us with food and keep us healthy. We should enable farmworkers and their families to be full-fledged members of our communities, our economy and our democracy.”

One of the consequences of this harsh rule, today and in the future, will be to keep undocumented farmworkers – the majority of the farm labor force – on the margins, vulnerable to abuse.  Our immigration system must value the contributions of low-wage workers, including farmworkers. Goldstein added, “We will continue to fight for a fair immigration system and reversal of this anti-immigrant, anti-worker policy.”

Farmworker Justice, a national advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C., has played a leading role in immigration and labor policy regarding agricultural workers since its founding in 1981.   

August 09, 2019

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

August 7, 2019

Contact: Bruce Goldstein, Farmworker Justice 202-293-5420 ext. 304 [email protected]

STATEMENT OF FARMWORKER JUSTICE ON THE IMMIGRATION RAIDS AT MISSISSIPPI FOOD PROCESSING COMPANIES

Farmworker Justice condemned the heartless immigration raids at food processing plants in Mississippi, where federal agents reportedly arrested 680 individuals, separating many of them from their children who were at school. 

"It is no secret that this country has taken advantage of the willingness of foreign citizens to come to this country to work, many of them on farms and in food processing companies, while a broken immigration system allowed their employment but denied them a lawful immigration status. If the Trump Administration were to arrest and deport any significant number of undocumented immigrants in the agriculture sector, it would collapse," said Bruce Goldstein, President of Farmworker Justice, a national advocacy organization in Washington, D.C.

The responsible, humane, economically sensible solution is immigration reform that grants undocumented immigrants an opportunity for immigration status and a path to citizenship. 

Americans depend on farmworkers for abundant, safe, healthy, and affordable food. Yet, the status quo for agricultural workers and their employers is untenable.  “With a large portion of agricultural workers in the U.S. lacking immigration status, and families living under the threat of arrest and deportation, Congress must reform our broken immigration system. The opportunity for legal immigration status is crucial to enabling agricultural workers to live and work productively without fear and to seek improvements to their working and living conditions," he added.

The Administration's heartless breaking up of families in the name of immigration enforcement should end. 

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For more information, contact Bruce Goldstein, at 202-293-5420 ext. 304 or [email protected]

www.farmworkerjustice.org    www.facebook.com/farmworkerjustice   Twitter: @farmwrkrjustice