Farmworker Justice Update: 03/23/18

Farmworker Justice Update: 03/23/18

Congress Passes FY 2018 Appropriations Bill, Presidential Approval Still Pending

Last night, Congress approved an omnibus appropriations package covering the rest of FY 2018. FY 2018 began on October 1, 2017 and runs through September 30, 2018.  Due to Congress’ inability to pass an appropriations bill for the full year; however, it instead issued a series of short-term continuing resolutions, with the latest one set to expire today (March 23). The spending package that was just passed by Congress must still be approved by the White House by midnight tonight in order to avoid a government shutdown. However, this morning, President Trump threatened to veto the legislation because he disagrees with some of its immigration provisions. Issues related to immigration were a significant part of the heated negotiations leading to the final omnibus package.

The omnibus does not provide any solution for Dreamers. Although President Trump ended the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program months ago, Congress still has not fixed the problem he created for these young people, who are left without lasting protections. DACA recipients are currently able to apply to renew their status as a result of recent court decisions compelling the government to receive such applications. However, this option is only available to current DACA recipients, leaving out many young people who may have otherwise been protected under the program. President Trump and his Congressional allies had sought significant increased funding for his deportation agenda—including funding for additional immigration agents and detention capacity, as well as massive funding for construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.  The final provisions of the omnibus did not include the full increases in funding sought, thanks to the efforts of advocates and some Congressional members. However, the final agreement still includes increased funding for border buildup and immigration enforcement.

Additionally, during the budget negotiations leading up to the current proposal, there were over 100 potential legislative riders discussed, including riders seeking to expand both the H-2A and H-2B temporary guestworker visa programs. Thankfully, these riders were ultimately not included in the final appropriations package, although previous provisions impacting the H-2B program remained in the FY18 omnibus.

H-2A Program Continues to Grow

Statistics from the Department of Labor’s Office of Foreign Labor Certification (OFLC) show that the H-2A agricultural guestworker program continues to grow exponentially. According to the OFLC, there were a total of 32,084 H-2A positions certified during the first quarter of FY18, an increase of approximately 15% over the same period in FY17. Almost 97% of the applications received were processed in a timely manner. These statistics show that despite employers’ allegations that the H-2A program is unworkable, they continue to use it at increasing rates and recognize that the H-2A program has provided them with sufficient  labor to grow their businesses. The ongoing drumbeat of employer complaints about the H-2A program represents their campaign to reduce the modest but fundamental protections in the program. Farmworker serving organizations in the states where the program has significantly increased are concerned about the H-2A program’s impact on the existing migrant and seasonal farmworker community. The lack of adequate housing available for guestworkers is another issue that must be addressed.

Immigration Enforcement Has Tragic Consequences for Farmworker Families

On March 13, a farmworker couple in Kern County, California was driving in search of work when they were stopped by immigration agents. Fearing deportation and separation from their six children, ages 8 through 18, they attempted to flee. Tragically, they crashed into a pole, dying on impact. ICE later clarified that they were not the individuals the agency had been looking for. Earlier this month, at least 26 farmworkers in the same county were detained in a massive immigration enforcement action. Many of them were stopped on their way to work by unmarked vehicles. A recent Time magazine article highlights the terrible impact of family separation on farmworker families. The father featured in the story was recently deported and the mother is struggling to make ends meet and afraid to be separated from her young daughters. Unfortunately, this story is all too common in farmworker and immigrant communities across the nation.

Farmworker Women Protest Wendy’s Failure to Act on Sexual Harassment

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) has been calling on Wendy’s to join its Fair Food Program, a corporate social responsibility program that addresses sexual harassment and other abuses in the food labor chain. Wendy’s has refused to join and has also shifted the purchase of its tomatoes to tomatoes produced in Mexico, where farmworkers often endure child labor, forced labor, sexual harassment, horrific living conditions and other abuses. On March 15, farmworker women held a protest in New York City focused specifically on the sexual abuse faced by female farmworkers. The march followed a five-day hunger strike.

Update on Farmworker Health and Safety

8th Anniversary of the Affordable Care Act (ACA)

This week marks the 8th anniversary of the signing of the Affordable Care Act. A lot has happened in the last 8 years. Farmworkers experienced numerous challenges to enrollment. Yet thanks to the ACA, many farmworkers and their families became newly eligible for and enrolled in affordable, comprehensive health insurance. Some H-2A workers, for example, gained health insurance for the first time, allowing them to access primary, preventative health care. In California, the San Joaquin Valley and other rural communities had some of the greatest gains in coverage thanks to Medi-Cal expansion to childless adults and undocumented children. Unfortunately, these gains are now under threat. These threats include: the repeal of the individual mandate penalty in 2019, cuts to navigator/assister programs, the implementation of work requirements on Medicaid recipients, and the promulgation of regulations that weaken ACA protections, to name a few. Farmworker Justice continues to work with our national and local partners to protect farmworkers’ access to health insurance and health care.

Immigrants Fearfully Abandoning Public Nutrition Services

According to a recent New York Times article, state and local statistics confirm what immigration and public health advocates already suspected: immigrants are withdrawing from essential nutrition services due to fears over the potential immigration consequences of accessing these services. Some of this fear stems from a leaked draft of regulations by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) which would allow officials to factor in the use of benefits in immigration decisions, including eligibility for legal permanent status. A proposed regulation has not yet been published and it is unclear whether the regulations will ever be published or whether they will have the same language as the leaked draft.

The leaked draft encompasses a broad range of services, including the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), Head Start programs, Medicaid, ACA tax subsidies, and even housing and transit subsidies. As a result, many immigrant families, including those with U.S. citizen children who are eligible for these services, have canceled appointments, requested disenrollment and asked for their information to be purged from providers’ databases. This trend is likely to have significant negative effects on public health, particularly on the health of immigrant children. Farmworker Justice is monitoring this issue and will provide additional information upon publication of a proposed rule.

Senators Ask EPA Not to Weaken Rules Protecting Farmworkers from Pesticides

On March 13, twenty-eight U.S. Senators, led by Senators Udall, Harris, Booker, Blumenthal and Feinstein, sent a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) urging that existing worker protection rules be preserved. As noted in previous Farmworker Justice updates, the EPA is attempting to roll back crucial provisions of the Worker Protection Standard (WPS) and Certification of Pesticide Applicators Rule (CPA), including minimum age requirements, workers’ rights to access pesticide information, and application guidelines for avoiding exposure for workers and bystanders. The Senators’ letter clarifies the scope of these requirements and their importance for protecting farmworkers, children and the communities in which they live and work.

Senator Udall has placed a hold on the reauthorization of the Pesticide Registration Improvement Act (PRIA) due to his concerns about the EPA’s efforts to weaken existing worker protections. As noted by the Huffington Post, the Trump administration has repealed or stalled a host of workplace protections at the behest of employers, and the EPA has been one of the most aggressive agencies in wiping away Obama-era regulations. Farmworker Justice and Earthjustice filed a lawsuit on behalf of farmworker and environmental groups against the EPA last year for unlawfully delaying the CPA rule without proper notice of its actions. (The rule was supposed to be implemented in March 2017 and had been delayed until May 2018.) On March 21, 2018, a U.S. District Court granted summary judgment in this case. As a result, the EPA’s delay was vacated and the CPA rule is deemed to be in effect.

March 24-31 is National Farmworker Awareness Week, in Honor of Cesar Chavez’s Birthday

For more information on digital and in-person events during the week, as well as ideas on how to get involved, please visit Student Action with Farmworkers (SAF)’s website. Farmworker Justice will be publishing blogs on different aspects of farmworkers’ lives throughout the week.