Farmworker Justice Immigration Update 10/28/16

Obama Administration’s Petition for Rehearing to the Supreme Court for the DAPA/DACA+ case Denied
Earlier this month, the U.S. Supreme Court announced that it will not re-hear the DAPA/expanded DACA case in the current term. The Department of Justice had filed a motion in July asking the Court to re-hear the case once a ninth justice was seated.

While we are disappointed by this decision, we remain committed to working with the next Administration and Congress to ensure immigration relief for undocumented farmworkers, their communities, and the many other aspiring Americans in our country. Depending on election results, there may be opportunities for immigration reform legislation that provides a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented individuals living and working in our country. We will also be exploring additional options for administrative relief for undocumented farmworkers and family members.

Migration Policy Institute Farm Labor Panel includes Farmworker Justice’s Bruce Goldstein
The Migration Policy Institute on October 20 convened a panel of experts reporting on developments in the farm labor force and agriculture and their impact on immigration issues. Farmworker Justice President Bruce Goldstein spoke as a commenter on the presentations.

Philip Martin, an agricultural labor economist at UC-Davis, discussed recent trends in employment and demographics of farmworkers using data from the USDA and the Department of Labor’s National Agricultural Workers Survey (NAWS). One of the highlights he noted is that the likelihood of a farmworker being a single, mobile, young man is much lower than in the past. According to the 2014 NAWS data, 84% of farmworkers are settled in one community compared to 45% in 2000. Additionally, more farmworkers are married with children, many of whom were born in the U.S. The share of farmworkers accompanied by at least one family member went from 37% in 2000 to 61% in 2014. Average age of farmworkers also increased from an average age of 33 in 1991 to 38 in 2014. Prof. Martin also cited California showing that more farmworkers are brought to farms by farm labor contractors than those who are hired directly.

Prof. Martin discussed how growers react to perceived labor shortages, referring to four strategies growers may employ that could indicate a tightening of the labor market. These include increasing worker satisfaction; stretching the current workforce to increase productivity by adjusting the way crops are grown or using mechanical aids; substituting workers entirely with machines; and supplementing the work force, primarily by hiring H-2A guestworkers. Of note, Prof. Martin reported that growers generally (there are exceptions) have not been increasing wages substantially because they do not believe it attracts new workers or retains existing workers. Since 2005, there has been a sharp uptick in the use of the H-2A guestworker program nationally. California, led by the vegetable industry, has become a top-5 user of the H-2A program but it is still filling only a small percentage of that state’s farm jobs.
Daniel Carroll, who oversees the NAWS, also discussed demographic trends. Nationally, 67% of farmworkers in 2014 were born in Mexico compared to 54% in 1991. In California, 89% were born in Mexico. The unauthorized share of the farm labor force has jumped from 14% in 1991 to roughly 46% in 2014 (note that workers are self-reporting their immigrations status during the interview so this number may underrepresent the actual number of undocumented farmworkers). In 1991, a large share of farmworkers were either citizens or received legalization through the 1986 IRCA bill, while today more farmworkers have access to legal status through family visas. With fewer farmworkers migrating and immigration across the U.S. – Mexico border subsiding, the share of farmworkers who are foreign-born and arrived very recently dropped from 22% in 2000 to 2% in 2014.

Tom Hertz, an economist at the USDA, focused his remarks on farmworker wages and whether we are experiencing a farm labor shortage. He noted that the estimated number of Mexican-born farmworkers in the U.S. has stayed roughly the same since 2007, while the unemployment rate for all farmworkers in 2014 was not below pre-recession levels. However, he noted that real wages in agriculture are rising faster than in other industries while the H-2A program is seeing steady growth – both pointing to a tightening of the labor market.

Bruce Goldstein responded to the presenters by laying out the factors that don’t always show up in the data. While wages for farmworkers may be rising faster than for workers in other industries, he noted that the increase is modest in real terms and started from a very low point. He said that regardless of possible local labor shortages, the wages and benefits would have been expected to have increased substantially if there really were major labor shortages. Farmworkers make only about 56% of the average U.S. wage, and generally receive no fringe benefits such as health insurance or paid time off. The fact that at least half the workforce is undocumented drags down the bargaining position of all farmworkers with their employers.

Addressing solutions, Goldstein stressed the importance of engaging retailers and consumers in an effort to improve wages and working conditions in the fields. Prof. Martin has shown that a 40% increase in wages for farmworkers would only translate to an extra $21 annually in grocery costs for a family (if the extra cost were passed on to farmworkers). Corporate responsibility projects in the food supply chain hold potential for increasing productivity and sharing the benefits with farmworkers.

Regarding the increased use of farm labor contractors by farm operators, Goldstein noted that it is absolutely necessary that the grower and contractor be treated as joint employers. Growers should not be able to insulate themselves from potential liability under labor and immigration law by outsourcing the risk to labor contractors. There must be shared responsibility to prevent wage theft, peonage, child labor and other abuses.

Goldstein stressed that immigration reform is critical to improving the lives and working conditions of current undocumented farmworkers and their family members. On the issue of worker visa programs, Farmworker Justice believes that if there are legitimate future labor shortages, new arrivals should be granted immigration status and the accompanying economic and democratic freedoms on which this country is based. If compromise on immigration policy necessitates a worker visa program, such a program should be based on true and demonstrable labor shortages and should offer workers job portability, strong and equal labor protections, the ability to live with their families, and a path to citizenship.

White House Latino Policy Summit Addresses Farmworkers and Immigration
On October 12, the White House Latino Policy Summit featured presentations by several speakers from the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda (NHLA), including Farmworker Justice’s Bruce Goldstein, who co-chairs the NHLA Economic Empowerment and Labor committee. Immigration and labor issues were among the issues discussed before an audience that included White House and federal agency officials.

Department of Labor Hosts Hispanic Heritage Month Conversation
In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, U.S. Secretary of Labor Tom Perez moderated a conversation with United Farm Workers President Arturo Rodriguez and Julie Chavez Rodriguez, Special Assistant to the President of the United States, who is also the daughter of Mr. Rodriguez and the granddaughter of Cesar Chavez.

At the October 13 event, Secretary Perez discussed how for far too long, comprehensive immigration reform has been merely a conversation while millions of peoples’ lives are being affected. Mr. Rodriguez mentioned the numerous encounters he has had with people who were unable to go home to attend a loved one’s funeral. Ms. Rodriguez explained the unique window of opportunity that will open with the next Administration, as an unusual coalition of allies ranging from law enforcement to churches and veterans are all pushing for comprehensive immigration reform.

Secretary Perez asked about the challenges facing farmworkers and what people can do to help them. Mr. Rodriguez said that elections really matter, and having the right people in place who make decisions that affect farmworkers is very consequential. This is especially true in light of the landmark legislation passed in California that will gradually bring equity in overtime pay to the state’s farmworkers. Ms. Rodriguez said that we need to be looking at lessons from the organic food movement, and how consumers are willing to support practices that align with their values. Secretary Perez added that corporate social responsibility projects such as the Equitable Food Initiative, of which Farmworker Justice is a founding board member, are part of a growing movement towards conscious consumerism.

Farmworker Justice
October 28