Farmworker Justice Immigration Update, January 18, 2017

Dear friends,

 

With just two days until the inauguration of President-elect Trump, Washington, DC  is preparing for the change in government.  The Senate has been busy holding hearings on many of Trump’s nominees, although the hearing on the nominee for the Secretary of Labor, Andrew Puzder, has been postponed until February 2 and there is not yet a nominee for the Secretary of Agriculture. Farmworker Justice has joined several coalition letters and statements opposing Attorney General nominee Jeff Sessions, EPA Administrator nominee Scott Pruitt, and Secretary of Labor nominee Puzder. Links to the statements and letters can be found below.

As we have noted in previous updates, the anti-immigrant rhetoric and backgrounds of Trump and some of his key advisors and nominees combined with the threats of harsh immigration enforcement and potential termination of the DACA program have generated a great deal of anxiety and fear in immigrant communities.

Some farmers are also concerned about the threatened immigration enforcement and the impact it may have on their ability to find workers.  The article reports that some farmers are investing in more machinery and others are wondering if they will need to pay more to attract workers. Tom Nassif, President of the Western Growers Association and advisor to Trump, stated that Trump is not interested in deporting their workers.

 

DACA and the BRIDGE Act

FJ has joined a letter from over 850 organizations requesting President-elect Trump to continue DACA.  Also, on January 12, 2017, Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Dick Durbin (D-IL) reintroduced the BRIDGE Act, with companion bipartisan legislation introduced in the House.  The BRIDGE Act would extend protection from deportation as well as continued access to work permits for Dreamers in the event the Trump administration revokes DACA.  While we are disappointed the legislation doesn’t go further to ensure a path to citizenship for Dreamers and provide broader relief for our broken immigration system, we believe the legislation is important to ensure protection for those Dreamers who came forward to participate in the DACA program.

Farmworker Justice is watching and will report on developments in the new Congress and upcoming Administration.  In addition to the fears immigrant farmworker families are experiencing, we are very concerned by likely efforts by agribusiness to limit government oversight and protections in the H-2A guestworker program.

 

Trump’s Competing Views on Guestworkers

Trump himself has an interest in the H-2A program that could lead to self-interested changes removing key worker protections.  As reported by The Washington Post, he is the president of a Charlottesville, VA vineyard that has applied for H-2A workers for multiple years, including for 2017.  On the other hand, Trump has repeatedly stressed his interest in protecting American workers and, as we reported in an earlier blog, released a YouTube video stating that he intends to “direct the Department of Labor to investigate all abuses of visa programs that undercut the American worker.” Protecting American workers is  intermeshed with protecting workers with H-2A visas, as the exploitation and vulnerability of H-2A workers harms not only those workers on visas, but all other farmworkers.   The conflict between the pro-exploited-labor lobby and anti-immigrant voices in the incoming Administration is worth observing closely for its  impact the H-2A program protections.

 

First H-2A Legislation of the Session Introduced

The first H-2A legislation of this Congress was introduced on January 4— the so-called“Family Farm Relief Act of 2017,” HR 281.  The bill proposes to revise H-2A agricultural guestworker program in ways that would deprive U.S. citizens and permanent resident immigrants of job opportunities and allow exploitation of vulnerable foreign citizens who are hired on temporary work visas.  The bill also would permit employers of year-round livestock workers to hire foreign workers under the H-2A program rather than keep its focus on addressing the alleged difficulty of filling jobs that are seasonal or temporary.  Lacking in this bill are any meaningful steps to stop rampant labor abuses under the H-2A program.  Nor does the bill provide a path to immigration status and citizenship for current undocumented agricultural workers or the future year-round dairy workers.  .  Versions of this bill were introduced in earlier Congresses but have never advanced.  The legislation was likely introduced in response to interests of dairy farmer constituents in New York.   An analysis of the legislation can be found on our webpage.  

 

Several recent media pieces of interest include the following:

An article addressing the issue of safety in farmworker transportation, which continues to be a serious concern, as highlighted by the multiple farmworker fatalities that have occurred.

A piece in the Huffington Post noted that providing decent affordable housing may help attract  U.S. farmworkers to fill open jobs. The company, which had built the housing to bring in H-2A guestworkers, also found that worker productivity increased with the new housing.  As we have been arguing for years, instead of keeping farmworker wages low and working conditions poor, growers should be improving conditions and labor standards to attract and retain workers.  We are pleased to see some of these basic principles of supply and demand are beginning to get recognition in agriculture.

And finally, a LA Times article discussing a plan released by the produce industry regarding abusive Mexican labor conditions.  While this is an important issue that needs to be addressed, the produce industry unfortunately elected not to engage with farm labor unions to design its plan and is instead an effort  by some of the big players to avoid the real efforts at meaningful corporate social responsibility in agriculture, such as the Equitable Food Initiative, of which FJ is a founding board member, and the Coalition of Immokalee’s Fair Food program.

 

Reminder: Please join our webinar on Tuesday, Jan 24, 2017 at 2:00 PM EST with the Mexican Consulate to learn more about their potential services and how to work with the Consulate to help farmworkers in your community in the face of potential immigration enforcement.

Register now!

A Conversation with the Mexican consulate: Discussing services and protections for Mexican nationals

Please join Farmworker Justice for a conversation with Alejandro Celorio Alcantara, the Head of Section / Hispanic and Migration Affairs for the Embassy of Mexico. Mr. Celorio will share with us the work in which the Mexican consulates are engaging to help their nationals in the face of increased immigration enforcement under the Trump Administration. Mr. Celorio will also discuss potential collaboration to help Mexican workers facing violations of their workplace rights. The call will enable participants to gain a better understanding of how they can collaborate with the Mexican consulate in their communities to better improve services and protections for Mexican nationals.

 

Nominations

Attorney General nominee Sessions

Letter from the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a coalition of more than 200 national organizations committed to promote and protect the civil and human rights of all persons in the United States, and  144 organizations writing to express strong opposition to the confirmation of Senator Jefferson B. Sessions (R-AL) to be the 84th Attorney General of the United States.

Statement from the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda (NHLA), a coalition of 40 of the nation’s most preeminent Latino advocacy organizations, which adopted a resolution, presented by MALDEF, opposing the nomination of U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions to be U.S. Attorney General, citing his long record in opposition to immigration reform and his work to undermine the protections of voting and civil rights laws.  Farmworker Justice is on the Board of the NHLA

 

Labor Secretary nominee Puzder

Statement from the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda, which sent a letter to the U.S. Senate opposing the confirmation of Andrew F. Puzder as U.S. Secretary of Labor citing Puzder’s practices and policy positions that are at odds with the needs and aspirations of American workers. Puzder has expressed opposition to raising the minimum wage, has criticized paid sick leave policies like those mandated for federal contractors, and has said that expanding eligibility for overtime pay is bad for workers.  FJ’s Bruce Goldstein is a cosigner of the NHLA letter as he is a co-chair of its economic empowerment and labor committee.

 

EPA Administrator nominee Pruitt

Statement from the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda, a coalition of 40 of the nation’s preeminent Latino advocacy organizations, which adopted a motion opposing the nomination of Oklahoma Attorney General E. Scott Pruitt as Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), citing his long record working to undermine the environmental protections and enforcement entrusted to this vital agency.  FJ’s Virginia Ruiz is co-chair of the NHLA Energy and Environment committee.

 

Department of Agriculture nominee

As of January 18th, the only Cabinet level position that remains unfilled is that of Agriculture secretary; possibly due to disagreement between different factions of Trump’s transition team.