Farmworker Justice Update - 08/22/19

Trump Administration Proposes Major Changes to H-2A Agricultural Guestworker Program:  Comments Due September 24

           On July 26, the Department of Labor (DOL) published proposed changes to the H-2A temporary foreign agricultural worker program regulations in the Federal Register. Interested parties may submit comments to the proposal through September 24. The DOL proposes many changes to the H-2A program, including a new calculation for wage rates, shifting some transportation costs to workers, expanding the program to pine straw and reforestation workers, weakening recruitment requirements for U.S. workers and allowing for employer applications with staggered entry dates for guestworkers, among others. The Farmworker Justice summary of the major proposed changes is available on our website. There are many more changes which need careful review.  FJ has drafted model comments that farmworker, immigration, labor, social justice and other organizations can use in drafting their own comments. FJ is also currently working with partner organizations to draft a lengthier set of in-depth comments. For more information, please contact FJ Staff Attorney Iris Figueroa at [email protected].

DOJ and DOL Formalize New Partnership to Protect U.S. Workers in H-2A Visa Program

                On July 31, the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Department of Labor (DOL) entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to better protect U.S. workers from discrimination under the H-2A program. The MOU increases communication and training opportunities between the two agencies to decrease discrimination against U.S. workers. This MOU is part of the Civil Rights Division’s “Protecting U.S. Workers Initiative,” which was launched in 2017 and is aimed at targeting, investigating, and taking enforcement measures against companies that discriminate against U.S. workers in favor of foreign visa workers.

New Jersey Enacts a New Wage Theft Law to Protect Workers

                 On August 6, acting New Jersey Governor Sheila Oliver signed S. 1790 into law. This wage left law provides greater protection for workers, in order to ensure that they receive the pay they are due. The bill enhances enforcement of New Jersey’s wage and hour laws by holding employers accountable for unpaid wages, benefits, or overtime as required by law through increased damages and fines. It makes victims of wage theft eligible to receive both the wages owed and liquidated damages of 200 percent of wages owed.

 680 Workers Arrested in Mississippi Worksite Raids on Poultry Plants

                  On August 7, ICE raided several companies in Mississippi, arresting around 680 workers. Four poultry plants were raided in what is considered one of the largest raids ever in a single state, and the largest since President Trump took office. ICE officials arrested individuals and loaded them into buses before taking them away for processing at a local National Guard base. With no warning on the raid, children of the detained individuals were left at schools and homes with no guardians or caretakers. Since then, some individuals have been released, while around 350 are still incarcerated and awaiting a hearing. However, many of those released are now struggling to make ends meet after losing their jobs.  The businesses which employed the workers have not been charged with violating immigration law as of this update, but several dozen of the workers have been indicted for immigration-related offenses.   

Washington Farmworkers Participate in March for Dignity

                Approximately two hundred marchers gathered on August 4 outside a prison in Ferndale, WA that is being used as an immigration detention center. They then proceeded to march 14 miles, ending at Crystal View Raspberry Farm, where an H-2A worker died after being forced back to work despite feeling ill. The march sought to highlight abuses in the agricultural labor system. As stated by Rosalinda Guillen, Director of Community to Community: “The Trump administration is targeting our local community, deporting people who have been living here for years. Then growers complain there aren’t enough workers and begin using the H-2A program to bring in guest workers. It is a vicious revolving door of exploitation.”

A Farmworker Provides a Firsthand Account of His Experience

                Omar Garcia Garcia was interviewed by The Nation as part of an ongoing oral history project revealing the stories of immigrants. Omar is a guestworker from Michoacán, Mexico, and has worked in the U.S. for five growing seasons. He continues to come back, leaving his family for months at a time, because he can use the earnings to support them and give them a better life. He grew up in a rural community, and he loves to work in the fields. However, he describes his first season as especially difficult because of the adjustment to the new surroundings and culture. However, he could not return home because of the debt he accrued in order to get the job opportunity. He also describes the difficult working conditions and the uncertainty of whether there will be a job next year from an employer. 

Car Drivers Harassing Head Start Buses with Migrant Workers’ Children

                Idaho officials report that car drivers are following and harassing school buses with migrant worker children headed to early education programs. The local organization which operates the programs plans to conceal the bus signage containing the word “migrant”, as well as adding cameras to enhance security. Similar incidents have been reported in other states, including Indiana.

Update on Farmworker Health and Safety

Department of Homeland Security Finalizes Public Charge Rule

                 On August 14, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) finalized its rule on public charge regarding applications for immigration status. The final rule radically changes the definition of public charge to make it far more difficult to gain approval of immigration applications. It expands the list of public benefits defined under public charge to include SNAP (food stamps), Medicaid (with exceptions), and housing assistance. It also defines and adds positive and negative values to the factors under the totality of circumstances test, which is used to determine an applicant's likelihood of becoming a public charge. Under the new test, factors such as low-wages and lack employer-provided health insurance will be negative factors.  Farmworkers in the U.S. and H-2A workers applying to enter the U.S. will be affected by this rule.

                 The rule is set to go into effect on October 15. FJ is a plaintiff in a lawsuit filed by a coalition of organizations shortly after the rule’s publication that seeks to invalidate it. A fact sheet on the final public charge rule and its potential impact on farmworkers can be found on FJ’s website. FJ also issued a statement in response to the rule that can be found here. FJ is working with national, state, and local partners, including the Protecting Immigrant Families campaign, to share information about the public charge rule. Contact Alexis Guild, Senior Health Policy Analyst, at [email protected], with any questions or for more information. 

Farmworker Justice and Allies Sue EPA Over Chlorpyrifos Decision 

                On August 7, Earthjustice, Farmworker Justice, and other environmental and farmworker organizations, filed suit against the EPA for its failure to ban chlorpyrifos. The chemical has been linked to brain damage in children and harm to farmworkers. The agency’s decision to continue to prioritize corporate profit over children’s health and safety is unconscionable in light of the scientific evidence. Another lawsuit was filed in the 9th Circuit on the same day with six states - California, Washington, Massachusetts, Maryland, New York, and Vermont - acting as plaintiffs. Hawaii and Washington, D.C. are also expected to join the state lawsuit.

EPA Will Not Require Cancer Warnings on Products Containing Glyphosate

                On August 8, the U.S. EPA announced that it would not require producers to put a cancer warning on products containing glyphosate. The EPA claims that its research and information show that the substance does not cause cancer in humans, and therefore, the label is unnecessary. The EPA reviewed glyphosate earlier this year after California attempted to put the warning on products sold in the state. California’s Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act requires companies to warn consumers of carcinogens as determined by several agencies and organizations including the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). IARC found that glyphosate likely causes cancer, which triggered California’s requirement. The state has not enforced the labeling requirement yet because a ruling in an ongoing lawsuit placed an injunction on glyphosate labeling for now. Recently, a jury ordered Monsanto to pay $289 million to a school groundskeeper who got terminal cancer after using Roundup, which contains glyphosate.