Farmworker Justice Update - 04/06/18

Farmworker Justice Update: 04/06/18

California Agricultural Employers Decry Labor Shortage

A recent article discussed California agricultural employers’ concerns about labor shortages. Some growers claim that labor shortages caused crops not to be picked (but the article did not note that there can be financial reasons for a farmer limiting a harvest). Increased fears of immigration enforcement and deportations have had a chilling effect on the movement among farms by some undocumented workers. The lack of affordable housing near job sites is also cited by employers throughout the article as a challenging factor in retaining employees. The article mentions Swanton Berry Farm, the first certified organic farm in the U.S. to sign a labor contract with the United Farm Workers (UFW) as an example that could be emulated by other employers. Swanton’s labor contract includes health insurance, vacation leave, pensions and other benefits, including on-site housing. The article also mentions the growth of the cannabis industry as a higher-paying alternative for some agricultural workers. Although the article notes the potential for new harvesting technologies, employers recognize that many crops, including berries, will still rely on human labor.

President Trump Plans to Deploy National Guard to U.S.-Mexico Border

On April 4, President Trump signed a proclamation directing the National Guard to deploy to the southern U.S. border with Mexico. President Trump had previously stated that he wanted to deploy military personnel to the border until he is able to complete construction of a border wall. On April 5, President Trump stated that between 2,000 and 4,000 National Guard troops could be sent to the border. The decision comes at a time when unauthorized migration to the U.S. is at an all-time low, as are border apprehensions, and many apprehensions are actually asylum seekers who present themselves willingly to border agents seeking assistance. As noted by the Southern Border Communities Coalition (SBCC), this decision is of great concern to the local communities who will suffer from increased militarization of the border.

DOJ Sets Performance Quotas for Immigration Judges

The Department of Justice (DOJ), led by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, recently announced that it is setting quotas for immigration judges as part of a broader attempt to speed up deportations. The new quotas will require immigration judges to clear at least 700 cases a year, regardless of the merits or complexities of the cases involved. Immigration lawyers and judges have voiced their opposition to the quotas, stating that they will undermine judicial independence and erode due process rights for immigrants.

Trump Administration Seeks to Add Citizenship Question to 2020 Census

On March 26, the Trump administration announced that it plans to include a citizenship question in the 2020 census. The census, which is constitutionally mandated, is used to apportion Congressional representation and federal funds to states. Experts fear that the inclusion of an immigration question will lead to lower response rates and/or inaccurate census data, with significant political and economic impacts for both immigrant and non-immigrant communities. Furthermore, the immigration question is unnecessarily intrusive and may raise concerns about the confidentiality of the census’ personal information and how government authorities may use that information. There are already many challenges in ensuring an accurate count of farmworkers in the census and questions regarding citizenship status will only worsen this problem. On April 3, seventeen state attorney generals filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration challenging the decision to add a citizenship question to the census. The lawsuit notes that both the Census Bureau and all its living former directors have warned that questioning residents about their immigration status would jeopardize the accuracy of the census. As noted by Mother Jones, an unfair and inaccurate census could have negative impacts for decades to come.

Update on Farmworker Health and Safety

New Draft of “Public Charge” Proposal Would Harm Low-Wage Immigrant Workers

The Washington Post recently obtained a new draft of a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) “public charge” proposal which would penalize immigrants for using public benefits. The draft proposal, which has been mentioned in prior Farmworker Justice updates, would apply to those seeking immigration visas or legal permanent residency in the U.S. Applicants could be denied the immigration status they seek if they have used welfare or public benefits in the past, even if said benefits were for their U.S.-citizen dependents. The latest draft proposal would even penalize people in families that used popular tax deductions such as the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). The EITC benefits families with low-income workers, among whom are most farmworkers because of the low wages most farmworker receive. DHS officials have said the proposal is not finalized, but the agency has also said that it is preparing to publish the proposed rule changes soon.  Farmworker Justice will continue to monitor the proposal and will send an update if and when the proposal is finalized and published.

PPDC Member Letter Notes EPA’s Mischaracterization of Policy Discussion

A recent Think Progress article focuses on a letter sent by several members of the Pesticide Program Dialogue Committee (PPDC), including Farmworker Justice, to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The PPDC is a federal advisory committee that holds public meetings to discuss the EPA’s policies regarding pesticides. The letter, which was sent to EPA leadership last month, denounces the agency’s mischaracterization of a November 2017 PPDC meeting that focused on two key worker protection rules: the Worker Protection Standard (WPS) and the Certification of Pesticide Applicators Rule (CPA). The EPA mischaracterized the policy discussion in a way that suggested more support for EPA Administrator Pruitt’s plans to weaken these rules.

As noted in previous Farmworker Justice updates, under Administrator Pruitt, and in response to demands from agribusiness groups, the EPA recently announced that it will begin a new rule-making process to roll back important parts of these rules. The key WPS provisions under threat include a minimum age of 18 for handling pesticides, the right to a representative who can access pesticide exposure information, and safety measures to prevent exposure to bystanders during pesticide applications. The EPA has also announced plans to reconsider the minimum age provisions in the CPA rule. Farmworker Justice, along with a broad coalition of farmworker and environmental organizations, opposes weakening worker protections and urges the EPA to move forward with full implementation and enforcement of the existing WPS and CPA rule. On March 31, Farmworker Justice sent a letter to EPA Administrator Pruitt on behalf of more than 125 organizations representing children, faith, agriculture, health, labor, human rights and environmental organizations, opposing the EPA’s efforts to weaken the protections for workers and their families provided by the WPS and CPA rule.