Farmworker Justice Update: 10/21/19

H-2A International Recruitment Fraud Puts Workers into Debt

Under the H-2A temporary agricultural worker visa program, it is unlawful for recruiters to charge recruitment fees to workers. Nevertheless, it is all too common for recruiters in the H-2A program to charge workers high fees in exchange for connecting them with potential employment in the United States. Moreover, fraud and misrepresentation are also common problems, with workers facing scams and costs associated with employment opportunities that never materialize. Last January, more than a hundred people in Guatemala fell victim to one such scam, paying thousands of dollars over a year, only to arrive at the U.S. Embassy and find out they had been scammed. The fraud and other abuses in the H-2A program are particularly significant as the U.S. government has sought to promote the H-2A program in response to the migration crisis in Guatemala. Essentially, the U.S. government is taking steps to funnel potential migrants into the exploitative worker-2A program, rather than addressing the humanitarian crisis causing individuals to flee their home countries and ensuring our asylum and refugee systems work as they are intended to. The H-2A program is not an immigration program- it is a temporary visa program with no path to immigration status or citizenship. The H-2A program is a flawed and abusive program and will not help migrants seeking to build a stable life in a safe country away from persecution. 

California Law Creates Opportunities for More Farmworker Housing

On October 7, California Governor Newsom signed AB 1783 into law. The new law sets forth standards and resources to build new farmworker housing in rural communities. The law has two parts. First, it subsidizes farmers who build housing on their land. The housing will be run by a third party and must remain affordable for 35 years. The second part of the law prohibits the funds from being used to build dormitory housing, which is the type of housing often favored by employers to house H-2A workers. H-2A workers can use the new housing units, but the style of housing must not emulate that of a bunkhouse. Agricultural producers oppose the new law. Meanwhile, worker advocates believe that more housing could help ease the housing shortage currently plaguing rural America.

November Appropriations Deadline Approaching as Funding Deal Remains Elusive

November 21 marks the deadline for when the continuing resolution passed at the end of September, which extends funding for FY 2019, is set to end. Congress must either pass another continuing resolution or a budget for FY 2020 by that date. Farmworker Justice continues to monitor the appropriations process given our concern about a harmful rider on the House FY 2020 DHS appropriations bill, which would expand the H-2A program to year round agricultural employment.  As of today, no funding agreements have been made public.  

DACA Recipients Encouraged to Renew Status before Supreme Court Hearing

On November 12, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear whether DACA will continue protecting individuals who came to the U.S. as children. Advocates strongly encourage  individuals to renew their status as soon as possible to make sure they are better protected from a potentially adverse Supreme Court decision. Farmworker Justice joined other advocates in an amicus brief submitted to the Supreme Court supporting DACA recipients.

Former Acting DHS Head McAleenan Departs Agency

On October 11, Acting Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Kevin McAleenan announced his resignation. McAleenan never received Senate confirmation after he assumed the position following former DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen’s departure in April 2019.  During his tenure as Acting Secretary, McAleenan implemented some of President Trump’s most hardline policies including reducing the number of migrants allowed in the country through the remain in Mexico policy, allowing a historically low number of refugees into the country, rolling out the public charge rule, and ending the policy of releasing immigrant families from detention into the U.S. McAleenan tried to distance himself from President Trump’s policies even as the agency he oversaw implemented them. Acting U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Director Ken Cuccinelli is the leading candidate to take over the position. Cuccinelli recently made national news by suggesting that the famous poem found on the Statute of Liberty was intended to mean that only immigrants who can “stand on your own two feet” are welcome into the United States.

Update on Farmworker Health and Safety

Several Courts Issue Injunctions Stopping Implementation of Public Charge Rule  

The Trump administration’s final public charge rule is currently prohibited from implementation as a result of litigation. The rule was slated to go into effect on October 15, but on October 11, three injunctions went into effect across the country, followed by two more the following week.

The first nationwide injunction came from the Southern District of New York on October 11. The plaintiffs in that case are five organizations that work to aid immigrants, as well as the governments of New York, New York City, Connecticut, and Vermont. The same day, a U.S. District Court in Washington also granted a nationwide injunction. The plaintiffs in that case are Washington and 13 other states: Virginia, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, and Rhode Island.

Also on October 11, a judge in California issued a more limited injunction applicable to San Francisco city and county, Santa Clara county, California, Oregon, the District of Columbia, Maine, and Pennsylvania, or to anyone who is part of a household that includes a person from those areas. Farmworker Justice was one of the plaintiffs in this action. Overall, the case included three different actions including several advocacy organizations and government entities.

Soon after, on October 15, an Illinois federal judge issued a similarly limited preliminary injunction, applicable only in Illinois, while a judge in Maryland issued another nationwide injunction on the rule.

Given that several of the injunctions issued have nationwide applicability, the public charge rule cannot currently be implemented anywhere in the country, unless and until the nationwide injunction is lifted. For a summary of the final public charge rule and its potential impact on farmworkers, please visit our website.

State Department Issues Related Public Charge Rule

Meanwhile, also on October 11, the State Department issued a proposed rule on public charge, meant to provide guidance to consular offices around the world about how to implement the DHS public charge rule discussed above. The State Department public charge rule will impose the same factors on immigrants applying to enter the U.S., aligning the State Department’s definition of public charge with the DHS public charge rule. Comments on this proposed rule are due November 12.

President Trump Issues a Proclamation Requiring Health Insurance to Enter the Country

On October 4, President Trump issued a presidential proclamation stating that starting November 4, 2019 individuals seeking to immigrate to the U.S., who do not have health insurance or the ability to pay their medical bills, will be denied entry. Farmworker Justice does not believe that it will affect H-2A workers or other nonimmigrant visa applicants.    

California Reaches Agreement Banning the Sale and Use of Chlorpyrifos

Starting on February 6, 2020 chlorpyrifos will no longer be available for sale in California. Corteva Agriscience (Dow Dupont’s agricultural division), which is the maker of chlorpyrifos, recently reached an agreement with the state of California, in which the company agreed that they will no longer sell the pesticide in the state. Growers will no longer be able to possess or use the chemical as of December 31, 2020. Chlorpyrifos has been linked to brain damage in children while also raising environmental justice concerns as it mainly effects disadvantaged communities. After the California agreement became public, New York advocates reiterated their call for Governor Cuomo to finally sign a bill passed in the New York legislature this past session that would ban chlorpyrifos in the state. As of today, Gov. Cuomo still has not signed the bill. In 2018, Hawaii became the first state to pass legislation banning chlorpyrifos  at the state level.  FJ is currently involved in litigation against the EPA seeking a federal chlorpyrifos ban, in accordance with the agency’s own science regarding the chemical’s toxicity.

EPA Issues Draft Risk Assessments for Paraquat

On October 15, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced its draft risk assessments regarding Paraquat, an herbicide. In the past, scientific and health organizations have raised concerns that use of Paraquat may be linked to Parkinson’s Disease. However, in its draft risk assessment, the EPA claims that if the applicator follows the label instructions, such a risk does not exist. The risk assessment is currently open for comments, with a deadline of December 16. Earlier this year, Rep. Velazquez (D-NY) introduced “The Protect Against Paraquat Act of 2019,” H.R. 3817, which would ban the sale and use of Paraquat. FJ supports this bill.

EPA Creates Guide to Aid Translation of Pesticide Labels

On October 17, EPA announced a new guide to help manufacturers and individuals translate pesticide labels into Spanish. EPA regulations only require English labeling, but many of the individuals applying or working around pesticides are Spanish speakers. Farmworker Justice and other advocates have petitioned the EPA for years to require Spanish-language labels. While manufacturers are still not required to put Spanish labeling on their products, this guide provides a helpful tool for improving worker safety.  

Texas Has the Highest Rate of Heat Related Workplace Deaths in the Country, but the State Continues to Have No Heat Stress Protections for Workers

A recently published article in GateHouse Texas recounts a tragic incident that occurred in July 2017, when a man in his mid-twenties collapsed and later died while working on an excessively hot day. Earlier, his supervisor had denied him permission to go home even after the worker made clear that he felt ill. Texas has more heat related deaths in the workplace than any other state, but, like most states across the country, does not have adequate protections for workers against heat stress. At the federal level, OSHA has also failed to implement heat stress standards to protect workers despite calls from advocates. Meanwhile, people are dying as they work without breaks, water, and shade on hot days that will only get worse as the planet gets hotter. Representative Judy Chu’s (D-CA) bill, “The Asuncion Valdivia Heat Illness and Fatality Prevention Act of 2019” H.R. 3668, which directs OSHA to institute protections for workers from heat stress was introduced a few months ago in the House. FJ supports this bill.