Farmworker Justice Immigration Update: 08/22/17

H-2A Farmworker Death in Washington

Farmworker Justice extends its condolences to the family and friends of Honesto Silva Ibarra. Mr. Ibarra was a farmworker employed under the H-2A guestworker program who passed away on August 6, while employed by Sarbanand Farms in Sumas, Washington. The exact cause of Mr. Ibarra’s death has not been officially determined, but some of his colleagues allege that inadequate working conditions may have contributed to the tragic outcome. A group of more than 70 workers were fired and evicted after striking to protest Mr. Ibarra’s treatment and their working conditions.  The workers and their employer have conflicting accounts of the events leading up to and following Mr. Ibarra’s death.   The U.S. Department of Labor is currently investigating the situation. Farmworker Justice has lent support to community-based organizations who are aiding these courageous H-2A workers.     

H-2A Grower in Arizona Sued by Trump Administration for Abusive Conditions

The Wall Street Journal recently reported on the U.S. Department of Labor’s  lawsuit obtaining a preliminary injunction against an H-2A employer in Arizona, G-Farms, which housed workers in school buses and semitrailers, living conditions described as a “horror show” which could have resulted in worker deaths.  FJ’s Bruce Goldstein was quoted in the article, warning that several legislative proposals would weaken H-2A protections and invite further abuse.

Vulnerability of Guestworkers Inherent, in the U.S. and Abroad

As summarized in an op-ed on the proposed expansion of the H-2A program to year-round jobs:  “Sometimes, lacking realistic access to legal protections, the best thing for a worker is to leave an abusive farm and find work where conditions are better. If, however, their jobs were tied to a visa as they would be under the proposed H-2A expansion, workers who left a job - no matter how exploitative - would automatically lose their visas and be subject to deportation. That vulnerability - built into guestworker programs - has resulted in a well-documented, decades-long history of exploitation.”

The vulnerability of agricultural guestworkers is not unique to the United States, however. A recent New York Times article details the reality of foreign guestworkers in Canada, who also fear retaliation and deportation if they speak out against their employer or try to assert their rights.   

Criticism of Proposal to Reduce Legal Immigration

President Trump recently endorsed the RAISE Act, a bill that calls for a significant reduction in immigration to the U.S. and which Farmworker Justice has condemned.   Economists and others are warning about the potential negative impacts of reducing so-called “low-skilled” immigration to the U.S. A recent Bloomberg article argues that “low-skilled” and “high-skilled” labor are actually complementary, and “low-skilled” labor is especially crucial to agriculture. Without enough labor to pull in harvests, U.S. agricultural output would shrink. In an op-ed, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) used the example of his family’s ranch to stress the importance of immigrants in working class jobs to the past and future of this country.  Farmworker Justice strongly opposes the RAISE Act.  

Trump Administration Discontinues Humanitarian Immigration Programs

Termination of Central American Minors (CAM) Parole Program  

On August 16, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a notice ending the Central American Minors (CAM) parole program. The program allowed children from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala to apply for refugee status if they have at least one parent in the U.S. The change will affect thousands of children, putting them at risk of being permanently separated from their families and enduring dangerous conditions in their home countries. The notice not only ends the possibility of future applications under the program, it also revokes existing offers already made to children who had not yet travelled to the U.S.  The decision has been decried by faith groups for turning away immigrant children in need of protection.

Haitian TPS Holders Flee to Canada

Farmworker Justice has reported in previous updates on DHS’ decision to terminate Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Haitians, which is now set to expire in January 2018. Since the announcement of this decision by the U.S. government, Canada has seen a marked increase in border crossings by Haitians seeking asylum. For many years, Haitian immigrants have labored in east coast agricultural jobs.

Update on Farmworker Health and Safety

This week we are kicking off a new section of our update focused on farmworkers’ access to health care and occupational health and safety, which have been key parts of our mission for many years. The issues of immigration policy and health are intertwined, especially for farmworkers, the large majority of whom are immigrants.

Farmworkers Face Challenges to Access Healthcare:

Farmworkers and their families who are lawfully present in the U.S., including H-2A workers, are eligible to buy health insurance coverage through the Affordable Care Act (ACA)’s health insurance exchanges. Still, there is great confusion about eligibility and the enrollment process, as described by our Senior Health Policy Analyst Alexis Guild. Recent legislative efforts to repeal the ACA have exacerbated this uncertainty. It is worth noting that the ACA remains unchanged and is still the law of the land. Farmworker Justice will continue to work to ensure that farmworker communities are informed about the law and that provisions that promote health insurance access remain in place.  

Chemical Previously Set to Be Banned By EPA Involved in Farmworker Drift Incident

Officials in Kern County, California, have fined two companies for a pesticide drift incident that injured 37 farmworkers in May of this year. The workers, who were picking cabbage in a nearby field, had symptoms including fainting and vomiting, and at least five of them had to receive medical attention. Several other pesticide drift incidents have occurred in the state this summer and are being investigated. One of the pesticides involved in the May incident contained chlorpyrifos, a chemical that has been shown to cause severe and permanent neurological harm, particularly in children; including autism, diminished IQ, ADHD and other neurological disorders. Chlorpyrifos was slated to be banned by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in March 2017 after agency scientists found the pesticide to be unsafe for use in any amount, but EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt reversed the EPA’s decision. Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) has introduced a bill in Congress entitled the “Protect Children, Farmers, and Farmworkers from Nerve Agent Pesticides Act of 2017” (S. 1624) to ban the use of the chemical.