Farmworker Justice Update - 02/07/2018

Farmworker Justice Update: 02/07/18

H-2A Farmworkers File Lawsuit on Abusive Labor Practices on Blueberry Farm

On January 25, 2018, Columbia Legal Services, in conjunction with law firm Schroeter Goldmark & Bender, filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of H-2A farmworkers against Sarbanand Farms, its parent company Munger Bros., and labor contractor CSI Visa Processing. Munger is the largest producer of fresh blueberries in the world, with more than 3,000 acres in Washington, Oregon, California, British Columbia and Mexico. The lawsuit alleges that the H-2A farmworkers, who worked on Sarbanand Farms in Sumas, Washington, were subject to intimidation, threats and labor violations, and were retaliated against after they went on strike. As described in a recent Mother Jones article, the workers were told to keep picking unless they were on their death bed. Tragically, one of the farmworkers, Honesto Silva, died in August 2017 after complications from diabetes, which some workers believed may have been exacerbated by the working conditions. Sarbanand Farms currently faces nearly $150,000 in fines from the Washington State Department of Labor related to late or missed employee breaks and meal periods. Over 600 farmworkers could potentially be members of the class action.

Congress Reportedly Considering Budget Agreement without Solution for DACA

Congress is facing yet another self-imposed deadline as the current short-term budget resolution is set to expire on February 8. The Senate has reportedly reached a compromise on a two-year budget agreement which would increase budget caps, military spending and disaster aid. It would also extend funding for community health centers for two years and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) for an additional four years. However, the deal does not provide a solution for immigrant youth, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has stated that she will not vote for the agreement unless she is guaranteed a vote on immigration legislation in the House.

Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) had earlier mentioned the possibility of provisionally extending DREAMers’ status for a one-year period.  Although the official end date for the DACA program is March 5, 2018, many DACA recipients have already lost their status. The White House stated on February 6 that it will not extend the March 5 deadline. Pursuant to a court decision earlier this year, DACA recipients are currently able to apply to renew their status; however litigation in the case is ongoing. Earlier this week, Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Chris Coons (D-DE) introduced the “Uniting and Securing America (USA) Act” a bi-partisan immigration proposal that is the companion to a bill previously introduced by Representatives Hurd (R-TX) and Aguilar (D-CA) in the House. The bill is relatively narrow in scope and provides a pathway to citizenship for DREAMers while at the same time increasing border security.

Congress should focus now on a bill that provides a real solution for DREAMers.  It should reject the nativist policy wish list that President Trump insists should be combined with any DACA bill.

Human Cost of Deporting Undocumented Farmworkers Affects a Federal Judge

Macario Gilberto Reyes-Herrera is a farmworker with three children who has worked New York’s farms for almost 27 years.  Like many farmworkers, he is undocumented.  He has been detained and charged with violating our immigration laws, to which he plead guilty.  The federal district court judge in Rochester, Charles Siragusa, reportedly “praised Reyes-Herrera for living the ‘American Dream’ and then added, ‘I hope, by some miracle, you can be allowed to stay.’”  This is just one of thousands of stories that demonstrate the need for immigration reform that recognizes the contributions of farmworkers, the legitimate needs of farmers, and the benefits of immigrants to the nation.

ICE Issues Directive Regarding Immigration Enforcement in Courthouses

On January 31, 2018, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) published a directive formalizing its policies for enforcement activities in courthouses. The directive lays out ICE’s internal guidelines for this type of enforcement, which many immigration activists have noted to be on the rise in the past year. The directive was announced amidst complaints from legal practitioners and advocates that increased immigration enforcement has led some immigrants to forgo pursuing civil and criminal cases, including serving as witnesses. It states that immigration agents should try to avoid enforcement actions in public areas of the courthouse, as well as in non-criminal courtrooms. It also establishes that family members and friends accompanying a targeted individual and those serving as witnesses should not be targeted absent special circumstances. In related FAQs, ICE reiterated its policy of avoiding enforcement actions at sensitive locations, which does not include courthouses but does include schools, hospitals and places of worship, while at the same time noting that there are exceptions to this policy for border areas. For more information on ICE’s courthouse policy, please see the full document and/or “Frequently Asked Questions.”

Update on Farmworker Health and Safety

Young Children Suffer Severe Injuries from Farm Work   

A recent New York Times article highlights the dangerous and sometimes fatal working conditions faced by children on small family farms. Thousands of children and teenagers are injured and approximately 100 are killed each year while doing farm work. However, the number of injuries and fatalities is likely higher, as there are few standards on how to report such incidents. Some small farm owners say that financial pressures lead them to utilize young family members in lieu of hiring paid employees, while many say that growing up working on a farm is a part of rural life and teaches children valuable lessons. There are questions about the appropriateness of certain tasks for children, however, as some of these deaths resulted from very young children operating heavy motorized equipment.  The agricultural sector has few child labor protections, particularly when it comes to children employed on their own family’s farm.

Sexual Harassment on Farms Is an Epidemic

A recent Atlantic article weaves together diverse stories and studies regarding sexual harassment against farmworker women. As detailed in the article, workers on temporary visas controlled by their employers and those without immigration documents are extremely vulnerable to exploitation. Low-wage workers, who are disproportionally women of color, are extremely susceptible to harassment, but this harassment often receives less attention. In many cases, the harassment is followed by retaliation if the worker rejects the sexual advances or tries to report the abuse.

Farmworker Justice to Honor Leading Advocates for Women

The Farmworker Justice Los Angeles Award Reception on March 20 will include honors for Suguet Lopez and Olga Talamante.  Ms. Lopez is Executive Director of Lideres Campesinas de California (Farmworker Women Leaders of California) and is Secretary of the Board of Alianza Nacional de Campesinas (National Alliance of Farmworker Women).  She will receive our Dolores Huerta award.  Ms. Talamante served for many years as the Executive Director of the Chicana/Latina Foundation in California and was a farmworker as a child who worked the fields in Gilroy, California with her parents who brought her from Mexico.  Information about the event and opportunities to cosponsor and purchase tickets is available on our website special events page.