Immigration and Labor Rights

Farmworker Justice Immigration Update - 12/01/17

Farmworker Justice Immigration Update - 12/01/17 

DACA and TPS Recipients Continue to Suffer from Congressional Failure to Act

December will be a key time for activism to ensure that Congress protects the approximately 1 million immigrants who are currently in danger of losing their authorized status as a result of the Administration’s recent decisions on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Temporary Protected Status (TPS) programs.  Current government funding is set to expire on December 8, and lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have expressed that they will not agree to a new funding bill if it does not include a solution for Dreamers. If a solution is not reached before the deadline, Congress’ inaction could lead to a government shutdown.

DACA - According to the Center for American Progress, approximately 122 individuals a day will lose their DACA status before the program’s official expiration date of March 5, 2018, after which the number of DACA recipients losing status daily will increase even more. Once a legislative solution is reached, it will still take months from the date a bill is signed into law to implement any new legislation and confer new status. Immediate action is needed to ensure that Dreamers are protected. A coalition of immigration and labor groups is organizing a National Day of Action in support of Dreamers on December 6, including a march on the Capitol and an online march, or “iMarch,” with events in all 50 states. This will be followed by various other advocacy and action opportunities throughout the month of December.

TPS - On November 20, Acting DHS Secretary Elaine Duke announced the Administration’s decision to terminate TPS for more than 50,000 Haitians, with a delayed effective date of July 22, 2019 in order to “allow for an orderly transition.” The Haiti announcement followed a statement just two weeks earlier terminating the TPS program for Nicaragua (effective January 5, 2019) and extending the TPS designation for Honduras until July 5, 2018, with no final decision made on whether TPS for Honduras will also be terminated. El Salvador has the largest number of TPS recipients (approximately 200,000) and the Administration must make a decision on this designation by January 8, 2018. The Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. (CLINIC) has various documents available online to help current TPS holders understand the implications of these recent decisions.

Legal Victory for Farmworkers in California

In a victory for farmworkers’ labor rights, on November 27 California’s Supreme Court upheld the state’s Mandatory Mediation Law. The law permits state mediators to establish binding contracts for agricultural employers when the parties are unable to reach an agreement due to the employer's violation of the law's requirement to bargain in good faith. The ruling resulted from a lawsuit brought by the United Farm Workers (UFW) against Gerawan Farming Inc., which currently owes workers more than $10 million in back wages. Congratulations to the United Farm Workers for this long fought victory!

Op-Ed Highlights Workers’ Concerns over Agricultural Guestworker Act

A recent op-ed noted many of the troubling features of Rep. Goodlatte’s proposed “Agricultural Guestworker Act,” such as its negative impact on wages and working conditions, extended periods of family separation and potential for further vulnerability for both foreign and domestic workers. The op-ed highlights concerns about the bill’s potential impact on dairy workers, who already face challenges such as wage theft and poor housing conditions. Furthermore, the op-ed notes the bill’s failure to address the need to provide a path to citizenship for the current, experienced undocumented workers doing this difficult but essential work. In contrast, the Agricultural Worker Program Act, introduced in the Senate earlier this year, offers workers a path to legal status, and with it, the possibility of family unification and the freedom to choose their own place of work. As expressed by the authors of the op-ed: “This holiday season, as we celebrate with food likely picked by guestworkers around the country, it’s time we pass the Agricultural Worker Program Act to bring farmworkers out of the shadows and into the communities their hard work supports.”

Update on Farmworker Health and Safety

Farmworker Women Combatting Sexual Harassment

A recent New York Times op-ed highlights some of the many industries where women suffer from sexual harassment but the perpetrators are not public figures, such as farm work. The article details efforts by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW)’s Fair Food Program to incorporate sexual harassment rules and penalties into its labor agreements. This effort has resulted in multiple supervisors being disciplined and in some cases, fired, for their behavior. The Alianza Nacional de Campesinas also penned an open letter to women in Hollywood, in which they share their own experiences fighting harassment and express their support for the women who have denounced harassment. For farmworkers, as well as women in other industries, labor organizing can be a powerful tool for combating sexual harassment, because, as the NY Times op-ed notes, “sexual harassment is more about power than sex; any industry with extreme power differentials will be afflicted by it.” We echo the author’s call for the women who are newly speaking out in the limelight to rally alongside those who have been fighting sexual harassment in the shadows.

Farmworker Justice Immigration Update - 11/09/2017

Farmworker Justice Update: 11/09/17

H-2C Guestworker Proposal Approved by House Judiciary Committee  

            As noted in our previous updates, on October 25 the House Judiciary Committee passed the “Agricultural Guestworker Act” sponsored by Chairman Goodlatte. In order to become law, the bill must also be voted on and approved by the full House and Senate. As we stated in our blog about the markup, it is unclear if and when the bill will move forward in the House, but Farmworker Justice will continue to monitor the legislation. Mother Jones published an article soon after the bill’s passage in the Judiciary Committee outlining some of the ways in which the new guestworker program would prove harmful to all workers, including concerns voiced by Farmworker Justice.

House Passes Anti-Joint Employer Bill Which May Make it Harder to Hold Agricultural Employers Accountable

           On November 7, the anti-joint employer “Save Local Business Act,” HR 3441, passed the House by a vote of 242-181. The bill would revise the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) and the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) to essentially prevent joint employer liability. Although the bill does not amend the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act (AWPA), which is the main statute protecting farmworkers, much of the case law on joint employer liability under AWPA in the farmworker setting relies on the FLSA’s broad definition of the word “employ.” If this definition is narrowed, courts and government agencies could apply the restrictive concept of joint employment in HR 3441 to AWPA as well. This could undermine farmworkers’ ability to ensure that growers and labor contractors are jointly liable for labor violations. Joint employer liability has proven essential for farmworkers to obtain relief because labor contractors often do not have sufficient assets to pay court judgments. During the debate on the bill, Rep. Espaillat of New York emphasized the bill’s potentially harmful impact on farmworkers and entered into the record Farmworker Justice’s statement on the bill. The next step for the bill is for it to move to the Senate.  Farmworker Justice will continue to monitor the bill, along with many other labor rights organizations, such as the National Employment Law Project (NELP), which recently published a New York Times op-ed against the bill.

DHS Terminates TPS Designation for Nicaragua, Undecided on Honduras  

            On November 6, acting Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Elaine Duke announced the Administration’s decision to terminate Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Nicaragua, with an effective termination date of January 5, 2019. In the announcement, the acting Secretary also noted that additional information is needed for a decision on TPS for Honduras and temporarily extended TPS for Hondurans until July 5, 2018. Nicaraguans and Hondurans with TPS will be required to reapply for employment authorization documents in order to continue to work in the U.S. until these respective deadlines. According to the Washington Post, there are currently about 2,500 Nicaraguans and more than 50,000 Hondurans with TPS. The country with the biggest number of TPS recipients is El Salvador, with approximately 200,000 people who might lose their status in early 2018. DHS also has just a few weeks to announce its plans for more than 50,000 Haitian TPS holders (DHS had announced a six-month extension for Haitian TPS earlier this year).

                Faith, labor and immigration rights groups have denounced the Administration’s recent decision and are calling for action in defense of the TPS program, including contacting representatives in Congress. For a detailed breakdown of TPS holders in each state, please see this Fact Sheet by the Center for American Progress (CAP). The final decision on TPS designation for Honduras, as well as for other remaining countries such as El Salvador and Haiti, is likely to be made by Kirstjen Nielsen, who has been nominated to the post of DHS Secretary. Nielsen testified before the Senate Homeland Security Committee on November 8.  If approved by the Committee, her confirmation must then be voted on by the full Senate.

Uncertainty over DACA Continues as End of the Year Nears  

            Last week, President Trump held a closed-door meeting with various GOP senators regarding immigration. It was reported that during the meeting, those present decided against including a solution for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients in an end of the year spending deal. In spite of these reports, Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer stated earlier this week that he is “very optimistic” that DACA legislation will pass before the end of the year with bi-partisan support. He also predicted that President Trump would not veto a spending bill with a DACA solution. Today in Congress, 16 House Republicans will hold a press conference in support of Dreamers. Congressional Democrats are also holding a press conference and have held a number of events in support of Dreamers. DACA advocates are continuing their efforts to showcase the contributions of Dreamers in their communities and urge Congress to act quickly towards a solution. As part of those efforts, United We Dream is supporting a “Walkout for the Dream Act” today. There will also be a national call-in day in support of DACA on November 14.

Amid National Conversation about Sexual Harassment, Farmworker Voice Essential

            National Public Radio (NPR) recently interviewed Rosalinda Guillen, a farmworker rights activist and director of Community to Community. As Rosalinda explained in the interview, farmworker women face harassment, sexual assault and rape, which often goes unreported.  Workers are afraid that if they speak up they will be retaliated against, or that their families, who often work for the same employer, will be retaliated against as well. The lack of privacy in farmworker housing often exacerbates farmworker women’s vulnerability to harassment.

Update on Farmworker Health and Safety

CHIP and Health Center Funding Extended, but With Harmful Offsets

On Nov. 3, the House of Representatives passed HR 3922, the “Championing Healthy Kids Act,” which extends funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) for five years and for community health centers for two years. Both CHIP and community health center funding expired on September 30. The bill, while ensuring funding for these two important programs, also cuts $6.35 billion from the ACA’s Prevention and Public Health Fund and includes other harmful offsets that would reduce health insurance coverage.  The Senate Finance Committee passed a bipartisan bill, S. 1827, the “Keeping Kids’ Insurance Dependable and Secure” (KIDS) Act, on October 4. While it also extends CHIP funding for five years, the Senate bill does not include community health center funding or any offset provisions to pay for the program. It seems unlikely the Senate will vote on the KIDS Act as a standalone bill. The Kaiser Foundation has prepared a helpful summary and comparison of both bills. Some states will begin to run out of CHIP funds as early as January 2018. Without an extension of CHIP and community health center funding, farmworker families will have even less access to health insurance and health care.

Open Enrollment Has Begun!

Open enrollment for 2018 health insurance coverage has officially begun! Enrollment opened November 1 and, in most states, ends December 15 (a few states, like California and New York, extended open enrollment through January 2018). According to the Hill, a record number of people signed up for coverage in the first few days. However, the shortened open enrollment period and the cuts in navigator funding present numerous challenges, especially in farmworker communities. It’s important to remind eligible workers and their families that open enrollment has begun and that financial assistance to lower the cost of health insurance is available. Farmworker Justice has resources for workers and advocates available on our website. You can also learn more about open enrollment and available in-person assistance in your community at healthcare.gov or cuidadodesalud.gov.

Farmworker Justice Update 10/27/17

Agricultural Guestworker Act Passed in House Judiciary Committee  

On Wednesday, after multiple hours of debate over the course of two days, the House Judiciary Committee narrowly passed Chairman Bob Goodlatte's (R-VA) Agricultural Guestworker Act, HR 4092, by a vote of 17-16. Rep. Goodlatte’s bill would create a massive new anti-worker, anti-immigrant guestworker program – the H-2C program – to replace the current H-2A temporary guestworker visa program. The H-2C program would reach far beyond the H-2A program to year-round agricultural work, as well as work in industries such as food processing, forestry and aquaculture.

The markup was contentious, with 19 amendments offered and debated.  Many of the Democratic members present highlighted the negative impact this bill’s limited protections would cause to U.S workers’ jobs, wages and working conditions, as well as concern about the harm it would cause the current undocumented workforce and future guestworkers. While the vote was mainly along party lines with 14 Democratic Representatives voting against the bill, Representatives Steve King (R-IO) and Louie Gohmert (R-TX)—both of whom are immigration restrictionists— also voted against the bill; 5 Republicans did not vote.  The amendments offered are available on the HJC website by clicking on the “+” by the legislation: https://judiciary.house.gov/markup/markup-october-25/

The delay in the beginning of the mark-up and the abrupt and unexpected recess on Tuesday caused some to speculate that there were internal divisions in the Majority party regarding support for the legislation. As you may recall, the initial markup scheduled for the beginning of October was postponed amidst speculation that Rep. Goodlatte did not have the votes to move the bill out of committee.  Rep. Goodlatte subsequently revised the legislation to make it even harsher towards the undocumented and to lower the cap minimally, among other changes. Our summary of the bill is attached.

H-2C Program Strips Away H-2A’s Limited Worker Protections, Including Wage Requirements, Prompting Comparisons to Sharecropping and Indentured Servitude  

Various lawmakers, including Representatives Lofgren (D-CA), Jayapal (D-WA), Raskin (D-MD), Nadler (D-NY) and Johnson (D-GA) stressed throughout the markup that wages under the H-2C program would be abysmally low.  They pointed out that workers would start from a very low wage floor, would have 10% of their wages withheld, and could then see even more deductions from their pay for costs like transportation, recruitment fees, tools, protective clothing, and more, because of the bill’s language waiving FLSA protections for certain costs and deductions. Rep. Lofgren offered several amendments highlighting the lack of a real wage floor in the bill and seeking to reinstate FLSA protections. Unfortunately, her amendments, as well as those offered by the other members to restore the H-2A wage protections, (Rep. Conyers) require payment of an average wage (Rep. Nadler), and eliminate the 10% bond (Rep. Jayapal) were all rejected, largely along party lines.

In an implicit admission that the H-2C program’s substandard wage levels would depress wages in the areas covered by the program, Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-TX) introduced an amendment, which was adopted, establishing that certain meat and poultry processing jobs should be paid the prevailing wage. Rep. Farenthold refused Rep. Raskin’s request that he support similar wage protections for the other sectors covered in the bill, replying that he wanted to keep the amendment narrow. His amendment also narrowed the definition of agricultural labor for those in meat and poultry processing to those in the “killing of animals and the breakdown of their carcasses” and removed the language prohibiting the cap for meat and poultry workers from falling below 40,000.

Rep. Raskin (D-MD) introduced an amendment he entitled the “No Room at the Inn” amendment, seeking to re-establish the current H-2A requirement that employers provide housing to their agricultural workers. Rep. Raskin detailed the challenges that agricultural workers face in finding safe and affordable housing, particularly in remote rural areas. Along with Rep. Lofgren, he highlighted the potential for adverse health effects from a lack of sanitary and reliable housing, as well as the negative impact this could have on food safety. The amendment failed.

Several amendments also addressed the bill’s provisions restricting workers’ access to justice. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) was highly critical of the bill throughout the debate, and offered an amendment to allow federally-funded legal services programs to represent H-2C agricultural guestworkers to protect their rights (as they now are under the current H-2A program).  Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) opposed the amendment, arguing that legal services attorneys use taxpayer money to harass farmers.  Rep. Johnson (D-GA) then introduced an amendment allowing H-2C workers to access the legal system without first having to go through mandatory mediation and forced arbitration, which would be prohibitively costly for most workers. Both amendments seeking to improve H-2C workers’ access to justice were defeated.

Rep. Johnson also spoke eloquently about the oppressive overall structure of the H-2C program, where workers will have to bear so many wage cuts and costs that they might end up earning very little or nothing at all and are in essence “paying for the privilege to come here and be exploited.” He likened the program to a hybrid of the systems of sharecropping and slavery, as well as indentured servitude, although he noted that “at least in indentured servitude you had the opportunity to work your way to freedom.”

Members Highlighted Impact of H-2C Program’s Lack of Protections on U.S. Workers’ Wages and Working Conditions

Beyond the bill’s likely terrible impact on the living and working conditions of foreign guestworkers, much of the debate around the bill also focused on the effect that the H-2C program’s lower wages and labor standards would have on the job security and working conditions of U.S. workers.

Several of the amendment highlighted the expansive scope of the new H-2C program and the fact it would reach many new occupations. Members debated, but did not pass, an amendment from Reps. Lofgren eliminate forestry work from the H-2C program—forestry.  During the debate on Rep. Farenthold’s meat and poultry amendment, Rep. Jayapal discussed, but did not offer, her much broader amendment that proposed to exclude meat and poultry processing and manufacturing jobs from the definition of agriculture under the bill.

Another aspect of the bill that fostered much discussion was the number of workers that could be brought in under the program. The bill text establishes a cap of 450,000 workers, which includes a 40,000 cap for meat and poultry processing workers. Rep. Jayapal introduced an amendment, which was voted down, limiting the total number of workers in the H-2C program at any one time to 450,000. She highlighted that the total number of guestworkers could reach into the millions given the many exceptions to the illusory 450,000 figure and the possible 10% growth each year.

Rep. Issa introduced an amendment seeking to allow the cap to increase by 15% each year instead of by 10%. However, a recess was called during the debate on his amendment and the markup did not reconvene until the following day, which began with Rep. Issa withdrawing the amendment, leading to speculation that it did not have enough support to pass.

Finally, Rep. Cicilline offered an amendment that would have eliminated the financial incentive that temporary, seasonal H-2C employers and some year-round jobs would enjoy by hiring H-2C workers over US workers due to the fact that they do not have to pay the FICA or FUTA taxes on their guestworkers’ wages. The bill requires most employers of year-round workers to pay a roughly equivalent amount—10%-—to a fund for administration of the program.  The amendment, which failed, would have required the same for all H-2C workers.

Bill’s Proposed “Solution” for Undocumented Workers Anything But

Although Chairman Goodlatte touted the bill as a way to address labor shortages in the agricultural sector, the bill does not provide a feasible solution for the more than one million undocumented workers currently doing this valuable work. As noted by both Rep. Gutierrez (D-IL) and Rep. Lofgren (D-CA), these farmworkers have been living and contributing to their communities for years and even decades, and many have families, including spouses, children and even grandchildren. One of the few proposed amendments to the bill that passed was a proposal by Rep. Handel (R-GA), requiring, among other things, that currently undocumented workers return to their home countries before being able to apply for H-2C visas. Rep. Gutierrez decried the bill’s cruel and unworkable plan for undocumented farmworkers to self-deport and come back as H-2C guestworkers who must separate from their families, without having a path to citizenship. Rep. Gutierrez presented the Agricultural Worker Program Act, which he introduced earlier this year, as an amendment to replace Goodlatte’s H-2C bill. His amendment and legislation would provide a workable and humane solution for our agricultural labor system, to the benefit of employers and undocumented farmworkers, while respecting the humanity and contributions of our nation’s farmworkers; however, it was also defeated.

Future of Agricultural Guestworker Bill Uncertain

Along with the Agricultural Guestworker Act, the House Judiciary Committee also approved the “Legal Workforce Act”, HR 3711, on Wednesday. The Legal Workforce Act would make employment verification (“E-Verify”)of work authorization mandatory for all employers. There is broad opposition to mandatory E-Verify legislation for a number of reasons, including flaws in the system and its implementation, as well as the fallacy of enacting mandatory employment verification in the absence of broader comprehensive immigration reform.  Among these opponents are agricultural employers, who have opposed E-verify efforts in the past due to the high proportion of undocumented farmworkers.  The bills were purposely scheduled together because the creation of the extremely one-sided H-2C program was intended to make agricultural employers less likely to push back against E-Verify and other immigration enforcement efforts.

The fate of the Agricultural Guestworker Act and whether it will be brought to the floor for a vote will ultimately be decided by Republican leadership.  The contentious debate in the Committee and the lack of unity among Republicans in their position on the bill may be factors Republican leadership considers. The immigration debate is currently focused (as well it should be) on the fate of DREAMers. Other issues beyond immigration, such as proposed tax reforms and budget negotiations, may also take up a significant portion of the legislative calendar in the near future.

Farmworker Justice will continue to monitor this bill and any attempts to bring it to a full floor vote. We hope you will help us to ensure that we do not take a significant step back for all workers by enacting the Agricultural Guestworker Act.


 

Farmworker Justice Update: 10/18/17

Representative Goodlatte’s Agricultural Guestworker Bill

As summarized in our October 6th blog post, earlier this month Rep. Goodlatte postponed a scheduled meeting of the House Judiciary Committee to mark up his terribly anti-worker, anti-immigrant Agricultural Guestworker bill. Although the bill’s contents were circulated at the time, it was not formally introduced. The exact cause of the delay in the bill’s introduction and markup has not been made public, but there are media reports that there was strong opposition to the bill from both nativist groups and from organizations that support farmworker rights. The Daily Yonder, which reports on rural issues, has summarized criticisms of the draft bill, including Farmworker Justice’s position. Many agribusiness groups lobbied in support of the draft bill. We will continue to monitor the legislation closely and will be prepared to continue our work to oppose this legislation, along with the crucial aid of our national and local partners.  We have several resources available on the draft Goodlatte bill, including our statement; the coalition letter that was sent to Congress; and our fact sheet. Once the date and details of a markup are announced, we will send out a notification and next steps.

Trump Administration Publishes List of Immigration Objectives

Earlier this month, the White House published a list of its “immigration policy priorities,” calling for increased border and interior enforcement as well as a focus on so-called “merit-based” immigration. Farmworker Justice condemns this laundry list of anti-immigrant objectives. Some of the specific objectives listed include construction of a border wall, expansion of available grounds for inadmissibility and removal, limiting asylum and refugee admissions, and reducing family-based immigration. You can find an executive summary of the proposal on the White House website. You can also find the full proposal, with annotations by the National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC), here.

The White House objectives have been denounced by immigrant rights groups, as well as by many Democratic leaders in Congress. The timing of their release is particularly concerning given ongoing negotiations in Congress regarding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.  Farmworker Justice will continue to advocate, along with many other groups, to win passage of a “clean” DREAM Act. You can also advocate for DREAMers by reaching out to your representative and sharing resources on key issues affecting DREAMers, such as workplace rights, education and mental health (resources available in English and Spanish).

Department of Justice and State Department Announce Agreement Focusing on Discrimination against U.S. Workers in Visa Programs

The Department of Justice (DOJ)’s Immigrant and Employee Rights Section (IER) and the State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs recently entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) agreeing to exchange information about employers that may be engaging in unlawful discrimination in their use of employment-based visas, including the H-1B, H-2B and H-2A visa programs. The DOJ’s IER launched a “Protecting U.S. Workers” initiative earlier this year aimed at bringing enforcement actions against companies that discriminate against U.S. workers in favor of foreign visa workers. The DOJ recently filed its first lawsuit under this initiative against a crop production company it claims showed an unlawful hiring preference for temporary foreign workers under the H-2A visa program at the expense of qualified U.S. workers.

Unfortunately, discrimination is all too common in the H-2A program.  Employers often prefer guestworkers over U.S. workers because of the H-2A worker dependence and desperation to please.  In contrast, U.S. workers seek more sustainable productivity expectations.  Other factors encouraging employer preference for H-2A guestworkers are also built into the program, including tax advantages for employers of H-2A workers; exclusion of H-2A workers from the principal federal employment law for farmworkers, the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act; and the ability of employers to handpick their H-2A workers based on demographics—they are virtually all young men—because anti-discrimination laws are not enforced abroad.  Although the H-2A program includes some basic requirements to protect U.S. workers from displacement and negative effects on their wages and working conditions, as well as to protect foreign workers from exploitation, it fails to protect these vulnerable workers.

NAFTA Renegotiation May Affect Agricultural Workers

The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has had major effects on the agricultural sectors in Mexico and the United States.  The demand by the Trump Administration for a renegotiation and possible termination of NAFTA has led to negotiations over the provisions that regulate trade in fruits, vegetables, other crops, meat and other agricultural products. There are differences in positions taken by various grower groups in the U.S. and the potential impacts of these positions are complex, as highlighted in a recent article.  The Trump Administration has said that it wants to protect American workers but it remains to be seen what that would mean in reality.  The “labor side agreement” to NAFTA, called the North American Agreement on Labor Cooperation, has been a very weak instrument for enforcing labor rights.   

Update on Farmworker Health and Safety

Natural Disasters Pose Unique Threats and Challenges for Farmworker Communities

A recent series of natural disasters, including ongoing wildfires in California and hurricanes in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico, have had a lasting and tragic effect on farmworker communities. In California, wine growing areas like Napa and Sonoma have been directly affected by the fires. The wine harvest is still underway in some locations, and farmworker crews are rushing to pick the remaining grapes amid heavy smoke. Farmworkers have suffered destruction to their homes and the businesses where they work, and some are contemplating whether to stay or leave.  

Additionally, as stated by FJ President Bruce Goldstein in an article by NBC News,  although there are some emergency services available to farmworkers irrespective of their immigration status, many undocumented farmworkers are fearful of accessing these direly needed services. Univision recently summarized the plight of these California farmworkers in a Spanish-language article entitled “Without Home, Without Work, and With Fear.” The article highlights how the wildfires have exposed the vulnerability of California’s farmworker communities. As stated by FJ’s Director of Occupational and Environmental Health, Virginia Ruiz, the current situation is part of a larger historical trend of farmworkers suffering in silence for fear of retaliation.

Hurricane Irma similarly left many without housing, jobs or food, including farmworkers throughout South Florida, where the hurricane flattened hundreds of acres of crops, leaving those who normally harvest these crops without a source of income. Many farmworkers are still suffering from food insecurity and struggling to pay their bills. The lack of government nutritional and financial assistance for undocumented workers further exacerbates this scarcity. In Puerto Rico, in turn, Hurricane Maria wiped out about 80% of the island’s crops, dealing a crippling blow to the island’s agricultural sector. It remains to be seen whether this will result in a higher influx of farmworkers to the mainland U.S. in the coming months and years.

Farmworker Justice helped connect community-based groups in Florida, Puerto Rico and California with the American Red Cross, which requested our assistance for its relief efforts outreach. The Red Cross and many other aid organizations provide services regardless of immigration status. Please reach out to local groups in your community to learn about available services. We would also like to remind everyone that Farmworker Justice has materials on disaster-related food, housing, and income assistance available for download from our website. We must all work together to ensure that farmworkers are included in their communities’ emergency preparedness and response plans, both during and after disasters.
 

 

 

 

Farmworker Justice Update 10/6/17

Goodlatte Postpones his Agricultural Guestworker Act for Lack of Votes

We are pleased to report that Rep. Goodlatte postponed the meeting of the House Judiciary Committee that was scheduled for Wednesday to mark up his terribly anti-worker, anti-immigrant Agricultural Guestworker Act due to the apparent lack of votes to pass the bill out of Committee. We thank you for working with Farmworker Justice, the UFW, the AFL-CIO and the UFCW to highlight the anti-worker and anti-immigrant nature of the bill and the devastating impact it would have on our food system.  While numerous members of the Committee would have voted against the bill because it is so anti-worker and anti-immigrant, they do not make up a majority of the Committee.  In addition to this righteous opposition, the Bloomberg BNA reported that “Republican members of the House Judiciary Committee succumbed to pressure from a group that backs immigration restriction.”

Some anti-immigrant nativist groups have objected to expanded guestworker programs because they oppose additional foreign citizens coming to the country (especially those of particular races and ethnicities).  These groups expressed concern that Goodlatte’s bill would bring large numbers of foreign workers into agriculture-related jobs outside of the farms and ranches that traditionally have been the workplaces for guestworkers.  Some apparently were concerned that agricultural employers would not be required to provide housing.  Some nativists also reportedly characterized the bill as giving “amnesty to illegal aliens currently working in agriculture” by allowing them to receive the proposed H-2C guestworker visas.

We would prefer to achieve an overwhelming vote against the Goodlatte bill based on it being an exploitative guestworker program and unfairly depriving undocumented agricultural workers of the opportunity to become citizens, rather than seeing the presence and influence in Congress of people committed to xenophobia, racism and exploitation in workplaces.  However, for now, we are pleased that the Judiciary Committee, which Goodlatte chairs, has not moved forward on this bill. The impacts of the Goodlatte bill, if passed, would be devastating to farmworkers, their families, their communities, and the nation.

Again, thanks for all of your support as we strive for fairness in our food and immigration systems.  The fight is not over and we must continue to oppose anti-immigrant, anti-worker efforts such as Rep. Goodlate’s legislation and the other harmful H-2 bills, the H-2A year-round amendment on the appropriations bill, and efforts to strip fundamental H-2A protections through agency action.

We have several resources available on the Goodlatte bill, including our statement; the coalition letter that was sent to Congress; and our fact sheet. For an overview of immigration reform and agriculture please read this piece and for more information about a positive solution, please read about the Agricultural Worker Program Act of 2017.

 

Farmworker Justice Immigration Update - 09/08/2017

A Note to our Readers:  We are kicking off a new section of our update focused on farmworkers’ access to health care and occupational health and safety, which have been key parts of our mission for many years. The issues of immigration policy and health are intertwined, especially for farmworkers, the large majority of whom are immigrants.

Trump Administration Ends Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Program

           On September 5, the Trump Administration announced that it is ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, a decision that was condemned by politicians on both sides of the aisle, business sector representatives, faith organizations and multiple advocacy groups, including Farmworker Justice. Terminating DACA places the almost 800,000 individuals whom the program allows to work and live in the United States at risk of deportation, and will have a significant negative impact on our nation’s workforce and communities.

What does this mean for current DACA enrollees? The most important thing to keep in mind is that both deferred action and work authorization for current DACA recipients will remain valid until the specific expiration date on individual documents. However, no new DACA applications will be accepted. Those for whom DACA authorization is set to expire between now and March 5, 2018 must apply for renewal by October 5, 2017. For more details on the implications of the Administration’s decision for individual DACA recipients, please see NILC’s “Top 5 Things to Know” and guidance on DACA and employment, as well as the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) FAQs on DACA’s rescission.

What will happen to the program? Congress must take action by passing clean legislation such as the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act of 2017 - without harmful add-ons such as provisions related to interior enforcement or guestworker programs. Various DACA-related bills have been introduced in Congress in addition to the DREAM Act. You can read a summary of current proposals here.  The Senate Judiciary Committee will be holding an immigration-focused hearing on September 13th to discuss DACA, as well as guestworker programs. There is also ongoing litigation regarding the DACA program, including a lawsuit filed earlier this week by the Attorney General of NY, along with the Attorney Generals of 15 other states and D.C., to protect Dreamers.

What can you do to defend DACA? There are many ways to help Dreamers in your community, including by sharing stories, contacting your local representatives and planning or participating in an event in your area.  

House Judiciary Committee Chair Announces Imminent Agricultural Guestworker Bill

           On September 6, in an op-ed, Rep. Bob Goodlatte, Chair of the House Judiciary Committee, announced that he will soon introduce legislation that would replace the H-2A agricultural guestworker program.  The new program would lower wage rates, reduce government oversight and otherwise weaken labor standards, and will likely not allow undocumented farmworkers and their family members to earn permanent immigration status or citizenship. Goodlatte held a hearing on agricultural guestworkers on July 19, when he announced his intention to introduce a new version of a bill he sponsored in 2013.  Farmworker Justice will prepare a summary of the bill when it is introduced.

Please help express your opposition to harmful guestworker proposals for agriculture, including Goodlatte’s guestworker bill and the H-2A amendments to the appropriations process, by joining our sign-on letter. The deadline for sign-on has been extended to September 14 - organizational sign-ons only please. Thank you very much for your support of farmworkers.

Court Blocks Key Provisions of SB-4, Texas Anti-Immigrant Law

            Last week, a Texas District Court temporarily blocked key provisions of Texas’ SB-4 anti-immigrant law, which went into effect on September 1, 2017. The ruling enjoined many provisions in the law, including those which sought to force local law enforcement officers and government officials to engage in immigration enforcement. It is also important to note that officers cannot stop someone solely to ask about immigration status, and though officers may inquire about a person’s immigration status, individuals always have the right to remain silent. For more information about SB-4 and your rights, please see the ACLU of Texas’ summary.

Congress Passes Short-Term Spending Bill to Fund Government through December

           In a surprising turn of events in fiscal negotiations, President Trump has agreed to a short-term plan to fund the government proposed by Congressional Democrats. The short-term plan extends government funding and the debt limit through early December, and also includes disaster funding to address the impacts of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. The Senate and House have both approved the spending package, and President Trump is expected to sign it soon. The spending package for FY2018 will still need to be approved in December. Farmworker Justice has been monitoring efforts by some legislators to add a “rider” to the spending bills to make harmful changes to the H-2A agricultural guestworker program. The rider is not included in the short-term funding bill, but we must continue to educate members of Congress to push back against the proposed changes in preparation for the next round of funding.  

Update on Farmworker Health and Safety

Farmworkers Face Challenges to Access Healthcare

Farmworkers and their families who are lawfully present in the U.S., including H-2A workers, are eligible to buy health insurance coverage through the Affordable Care Act (ACA)’s health insurance exchanges. Still, there is great confusion about eligibility and the enrollment process, as described by our Senior Health Policy Analyst Alexis Guild. Recent legislative efforts to repeal the ACA have exacerbated this uncertainty. It is worth noting that the ACA remains unchanged and is still the law of the land. Farmworker Justice will continue to work to ensure that farmworker communities are informed about the law and that provisions that promote health insurance access remain in place.

Cuts to ACA Outreach and Enrollment Assistance Programs Could Impact Farmworkers

On August 31, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), the federal agency that oversees Affordable Care Act (ACA) implementation, announced drastic cuts in navigator, outreach, and education funding ahead of the 2018 Open Enrollment. In addition to cutting funding for advertising and educational activities by 90% (from $100 million last year to $10 million this year), CMS is also cutting navigator funding, despite requests from numerous advocacy organizations, including Farmworker Justice, to at least maintain past funding levels for outreach and enrollment. Navigators, who provide in-person education and enrollment assistance, are crucial to ensure that farmworkers and other underserved communities receive appropriate information and assistance to understand and enroll in health insurance.

Farmworkers, especially, rely heavily on in-person assistance to navigate the U.S. health care system and the ACA. This reduction in funding will harm current and future efforts to enroll farmworker communities in health insurance and connect them to health care. It's important to note that DACA recipients are not eligible to purchase health insurance in the ACA marketplaces. However, in a few states, DACA recipients are eligible for state-funded Medicaid.

Chemical Previously Set to Be Banned By EPA Involved in Farmworker Drift Incident

Officials in Kern County, California have fined two companies for a pesticide drift incident that injured 37 farmworkers in May of this year. The workers, who were picking cabbage in a nearby field, had symptoms including fainting and vomiting, and at least five of them had to receive medical attention. Several other pesticide drift incidents have occurred in the state this summer and are being investigated.

One of the pesticides involved in the May incident contained chlorpyrifos, a chemical that has been shown to cause severe and permanent neurological harm, particularly in children; including autism, diminished IQ, ADHD and other neurological disorders. Chlorpyrifos was slated to be banned by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in March 2017 after agency scientists found the pesticide to be unsafe for use in any amount, but EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt reversed the EPA’s decision. Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) has introduced a bill in Congress entitled the “Protect Children, Farmers, and Farmworkers from Nerve Agent Pesticides Act of 2017” (S. 1624) to ban the use of the chemical. You can sign on to this Earthjustice petition to support S. 1624.

Farmworker Justice Immigration Update: 08/22/17

H-2A Farmworker Death in Washington

Farmworker Justice extends its condolences to the family and friends of Honesto Silva Ibarra. Mr. Ibarra was a farmworker employed under the H-2A guestworker program who passed away on August 6, while employed by Sarbanand Farms in Sumas, Washington. The exact cause of Mr. Ibarra’s death has not been officially determined, but some of his colleagues allege that inadequate working conditions may have contributed to the tragic outcome. A group of more than 70 workers were fired and evicted after striking to protest Mr. Ibarra’s treatment and their working conditions.  The workers and their employer have conflicting accounts of the events leading up to and following Mr. Ibarra’s death.   The U.S. Department of Labor is currently investigating the situation. Farmworker Justice has lent support to community-based organizations who are aiding these courageous H-2A workers.     

H-2A Grower in Arizona Sued by Trump Administration for Abusive Conditions

The Wall Street Journal recently reported on the U.S. Department of Labor’s  lawsuit obtaining a preliminary injunction against an H-2A employer in Arizona, G-Farms, which housed workers in school buses and semitrailers, living conditions described as a “horror show” which could have resulted in worker deaths.  FJ’s Bruce Goldstein was quoted in the article, warning that several legislative proposals would weaken H-2A protections and invite further abuse.

Vulnerability of Guestworkers Inherent, in the U.S. and Abroad

As summarized in an op-ed on the proposed expansion of the H-2A program to year-round jobs:  “Sometimes, lacking realistic access to legal protections, the best thing for a worker is to leave an abusive farm and find work where conditions are better. If, however, their jobs were tied to a visa as they would be under the proposed H-2A expansion, workers who left a job - no matter how exploitative - would automatically lose their visas and be subject to deportation. That vulnerability - built into guestworker programs - has resulted in a well-documented, decades-long history of exploitation.”

The vulnerability of agricultural guestworkers is not unique to the United States, however. A recent New York Times article details the reality of foreign guestworkers in Canada, who also fear retaliation and deportation if they speak out against their employer or try to assert their rights.   

Criticism of Proposal to Reduce Legal Immigration

President Trump recently endorsed the RAISE Act, a bill that calls for a significant reduction in immigration to the U.S. and which Farmworker Justice has condemned.   Economists and others are warning about the potential negative impacts of reducing so-called “low-skilled” immigration to the U.S. A recent Bloomberg article argues that “low-skilled” and “high-skilled” labor are actually complementary, and “low-skilled” labor is especially crucial to agriculture. Without enough labor to pull in harvests, U.S. agricultural output would shrink. In an op-ed, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) used the example of his family’s ranch to stress the importance of immigrants in working class jobs to the past and future of this country.  Farmworker Justice strongly opposes the RAISE Act.  

Trump Administration Discontinues Humanitarian Immigration Programs

Termination of Central American Minors (CAM) Parole Program  

On August 16, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a notice ending the Central American Minors (CAM) parole program. The program allowed children from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala to apply for refugee status if they have at least one parent in the U.S. The change will affect thousands of children, putting them at risk of being permanently separated from their families and enduring dangerous conditions in their home countries. The notice not only ends the possibility of future applications under the program, it also revokes existing offers already made to children who had not yet travelled to the U.S.  The decision has been decried by faith groups for turning away immigrant children in need of protection.

Haitian TPS Holders Flee to Canada

Farmworker Justice has reported in previous updates on DHS’ decision to terminate Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Haitians, which is now set to expire in January 2018. Since the announcement of this decision by the U.S. government, Canada has seen a marked increase in border crossings by Haitians seeking asylum. For many years, Haitian immigrants have labored in east coast agricultural jobs.

Update on Farmworker Health and Safety

This week we are kicking off a new section of our update focused on farmworkers’ access to health care and occupational health and safety, which have been key parts of our mission for many years. The issues of immigration policy and health are intertwined, especially for farmworkers, the large majority of whom are immigrants.

Farmworkers Face Challenges to Access Healthcare:

Farmworkers and their families who are lawfully present in the U.S., including H-2A workers, are eligible to buy health insurance coverage through the Affordable Care Act (ACA)’s health insurance exchanges. Still, there is great confusion about eligibility and the enrollment process, as described by our Senior Health Policy Analyst Alexis Guild. Recent legislative efforts to repeal the ACA have exacerbated this uncertainty. It is worth noting that the ACA remains unchanged and is still the law of the land. Farmworker Justice will continue to work to ensure that farmworker communities are informed about the law and that provisions that promote health insurance access remain in place.  

Chemical Previously Set to Be Banned By EPA Involved in Farmworker Drift Incident

Officials in Kern County, California, have fined two companies for a pesticide drift incident that injured 37 farmworkers in May of this year. The workers, who were picking cabbage in a nearby field, had symptoms including fainting and vomiting, and at least five of them had to receive medical attention. Several other pesticide drift incidents have occurred in the state this summer and are being investigated. One of the pesticides involved in the May incident contained chlorpyrifos, a chemical that has been shown to cause severe and permanent neurological harm, particularly in children; including autism, diminished IQ, ADHD and other neurological disorders. Chlorpyrifos was slated to be banned by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in March 2017 after agency scientists found the pesticide to be unsafe for use in any amount, but EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt reversed the EPA’s decision. Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) has introduced a bill in Congress entitled the “Protect Children, Farmers, and Farmworkers from Nerve Agent Pesticides Act of 2017” (S. 1624) to ban the use of the chemical.

 

 

 

Farmworker Justice Immigration Update: 08/04/17

Please note that the legislative proposals discussed below have not been passed by Congress. There is still time to contact lawmakers about these proposals. Please ask your Members of Congress to 1) oppose expansion of the H-2A agricultural guestworker program to year-round jobs in the DHS appropriations bill and other efforts to weaken H-2A worker protections and 2) support the Agricultural Worker Program Act, S. 1034 and H.R. 2690.  We need legalization for farmworkers, not unfair H-2A reforms that would replace our nation’s undocumented farmworkers with exploitable temporary workers.

“RAISE” Act - President Trump Endorses Bill Limiting Legal Immigration

On August 2, 2017, President Trump publicly endorsed the “Reforming American Immigration for a Strong Economy” (RAISE) Act, S. 1720. The bill, introduced in the Senate by Sen. Cotton (R-AR) and Sen. Perdue (R-GA), would significantly reduce legal immigration by, among other provisions, sharply limiting family-sponsored immigration and decreasing refugee admissions. The bill also would drastically change eligibility criteria by prioritizing visa applicants who are “high-skilled,” highly educated and English-speaking.  When asked about the need of many businesses for people without such extensive credentials, Trump’s advisor said it would be dealt with in a separate bill on guestworkers (see below).  Several Republicans and most Democrats already oppose the RAISE Act.  Sen. Feinstein (D-CA) noted in her press statement that the bill disregards the contributions of farmworkers and would not allow them the opportunity to apply for legal status. Farmworker Justice released a statement condemning the bill and its potential negative impact on farmworkers. FJ’s President Bruce Goldstein was interviewed on MSNBC by Chris Jansing on August 3 about the bill’s implications for farmworkers.

Guestworker Proposals and Contradictions Multiplying

During a White House press conference on the RAISE Act on August 2, reporters questioned President Trump’s support for slashing immigration allegedly to protect U.S. workers from competition while simultaneously using temporary foreign workers at his businesses, including a Trump-owned vineyard and the Mar-a-Lago resort.   In response, Stephen Miller, a senior advisor to the President who is known for his anti-immigrant views, sought to distinguish between the type of legal immigration addressed in the RAISE Act and the guestworker programs used by President Trump, stating that they are “totally separate categories.”  This discussion underscored the juxtaposition within the Trump Administration of nativist voices calling for deportations and reduced immigration in the name of protecting U.S. workers and   business interests that hire immigrants, use guestworker programs and express the need for more immigration.  

A recent article in The Economist challenges the assumptions of some in the Trump administration who believe the country is overrun by low-skilled immigrants, pointing specifically to agricultural work as an example of a sector that depends on immigrant labor to fill labor shortages. The article also details the rise in the use of the H-2A program.  The exponential growth of the H-2A guestworker visa program, along with the program’s potential for labor abuses, are also analyzed in a recent exposé in the American Prospect. In it, Farmworker Justice President Bruce Goldstein expresses our organization’s concern that “without any reforms, an expansion of the H-2A program will only lead to the abuse of more workers.”

Bill Introduced by Sen. Paul and Sen. Tester Would Expand H-2A Program

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) recently introduced the “Paperwork Reduction for Farmers Act,” S. 1578. While the legislation is framed as a bill that would “streamline” the H-2A application process through procedures such as electronic filing, it also includes provisions that would fundamentally change the H-2A agricultural guestworker program. It would expand the H-2A program to include year-round jobs and lessen important labor protections, including recruitment requirements for U.S. workers. Please see our fact sheet for a summary of the bill.

More Agricultural Guestworker Program Proposals Likely

As we have stated in previous updates, there are  indications of additional legislative efforts underway to expand and/or weaken the protections in the H-2A agricultural guestworker program or replace it with an even more-anti-worker, anti-immigrant program. Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), Chair of the House Judiciary Committee, is expected to introduce such a bill in September. Farmworker Justice will continue monitoring this issue and will provide an analysis of any relevant legislation if and when it is introduced.

Farmworker Justice is also deeply concerned regarding recent reports of discussions between the governments of the United States and Mexico about a possible new bilateral agricultural guestworker program. Farmworker Justice has released a statement cautioning against such an agreement, based on the lessons learned from both the Bracero and H-2A guestworker programs. We believe that the U.S. is a nation of immigrants, not guestworkers.  

Sen. Cornyn Presents Border Security Bill, Says Pres. Trump is an “Immigration Ally”

Yesterday, Sen. Cornyn (R-TX), introduced the “Building America’s Trust Act,” S. 1757, a bill which would authorize $15 billion in funding to go toward border security efforts over the next four years. The bill is cosponsored by Senators John Barrasso (R-WY), Ron Johnson (R-WI), and Thom Tillis (R-NC). The bill includes funding for “smart, multi-layered infrastructure” along the Southern border, allows the federal government to withhold funding from local governments who are considered “sanctuary jurisdictions” and would incorporate “Kate’s Law,” a measure that would increase penalties for immigrants who re-enter the country after deportation. President Trump’s call for a border wall has faced resistance in Congress and it is still unclear how this issue may affect negotiations for the FY 2018 budget, which must be approved by September 30 in order to prevent a government shutdown.  

Protecting Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Program

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which has provided protection and opportunities for approximately 800,000 young immigrants, continues to be under threat by the Trump administration. Currently, there are two legal cases which may determine the fate of the program: United States v. Texas and Arizona Dream Act Coalition (ADAC) v. Brewer. For a summary of these cases and their possible outcomes, please see the National Immigration Law Center’s (NILC) summary of legal threats to DACA.

In light of this looming uncertainty, two recent legislative proposals seek to protect DACA recipients and other young immigrants. On July 20, Sen Durbin (D- IL) and Sen. Graham (R-SC) introduced the bi-partisan DREAM Act of 2017, S. 1615. Congresswomen Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) introduced a companion bill in the House of Representatives a few days later (H.R. 3440). For a guide to the practical implications of the DREAM Act, please see United We Dream’s (UWD) short summary of the bill, including ways you can help defend DACA.

The second legislative proposal, entitled the “American Hope Act of 2017” (H.R. 3591) was introduced by Rep. Gutierrez (D-IL) in the House of Representatives on July 28 and already has over 100 cosponsors. The bill would give those with DACA and others who arrived in the United States as children a path to permanent legal status and eventual citizenship. You can read UWD’s summary of the bill here.

UWD, along with various other immigrant rights organizations, is also organizing a national day of action to protect DACA on August 15th.  For more details on the event and information on how you can participate, please click here.

Agricultural Worker Program Act of 2017

The House version of the Agricultural Worker Program Act, H.R. 2690, introduced by Rep. Gutierrez (D-IL) now has 57 cosponsors.  Sen. Feinstein introduced the bill in the Senate, S. 1034, with 9 cosponsors.  Farmworker Justice strongly supports this bill, which would grant “blue cards” and the opportunity for green cards and citizenship for undocumented farmworkers and their immediate family members.  

A Parting Note on the Statue of Liberty

Trump Advisor Stephen Miller, obsessed with denigrating immigrants and immigration at this week’s press conference, felt the need to state that the Emma Lazarus poem that was placed on the Statue of Liberty in 1903 was not on the statute when it was erected in 1886.  To him the poem does not express this nation’s values despite its decades-long status as the embodiment of the hopes and dreams of the immigrants who arrived at Ellis Island and the nation itself.  In fact, the stirring words of “The New Colossus” were written in 1883 to help raise funds for the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty:  "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore, send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”



 

 

 

7//21/17 Immigration Update: Farmworkers, under Attack in Congress, Must Fight Back

This has been a very busy week on immigration. Although our blog focuses on this week’s Congressional attacks on farmworkers, we also want to note yesterday’s introduction of the DREAM Act in the Senate. More information is available here from United We Dream, including a call to continue speaking out to protect DACA, TPS and the entire immigrant community.  

House Hearing on Agricultural Guestworkers

This week, farmworkers faced attacks on several fronts in the House of Representatives. On Wednesday, July 19th, the House Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security held a hearing entitled: “Agricultural Guestworkers: Meeting the Growing Needs of American Agriculture.” The witnesses included U.S. Rep. David Valadao (R-CA), two agricultural employers – Sarah Frey (CEO of Frey Farms) and Jon Wyss (owner of Gebbers Farms) - and Giev Kashkooli of the United Farm Workers (UFW). For those of you who don’t know, the majority party (currently the Republican Party) can typically invite 3 witnesses, while the minority party (currently the Democratic Party) gets only one witness.

Discussion of Goodlatte Agricultural Guestworker Proposal
During the hearing, Rep. Goodlatte (R-VA), the Chair of the Judiciary Committee, shared details about a bill he is drafting which will be similar to one he introduced and reported out of the Judiciary Committee in 2013. He said he plans some adjustments based on his conversations with agribusiness representatives (note that no farmworker voice was included in this process).  Goodlatte stated that his program would enable “illegal farmworkers to participate legally in American agriculture” as guestworkers, but clarified that there would be no pathway to permanent legal status. Goodlatte’s description indicated that key H-2A program labor protections would be removed, as his program would strip out recruitment protections for US workers, free housing and transportation, and wage protections -- or as he put it “unrealistic wage rates dreamt up by DOL bureaucrats.”  

Goodlatte also seemed to indicate that he would remove government oversight, including by expanding the program to include year-round industries such as dairies and food processors, providing limited at-will employment subject to certain conditions (indicating this might be at-will for employers but not workers), and protecting employers from abusive lawsuits (with no mention of what workers facing abusive conditions might be able to do). Goodlatte’s brief description of his upcoming legislation is deeply troubling and we will be watching its development closely.

Rep. Goodlatte’s characterization of the H-2A program’s operation and rules was misleading. For example, Goodlatte criticized the H-2A wage rate as an artificially inflated wage rate, when in reality the program’s Adverse Effect Wage Rate (AEWR) is simply the average wage paid to nonsupervisory field and livestock workers in a survey of farmers by USDA. DOL then publishes these wage rates as the official H-2A AEWR.  UFW’s Giev Kashkooli pointed this out in his testimony and also took on many of the other complaints and mischaracterizations of the H-2A program. As to the complaints of “frivolous litigation,” Kashkooli pointed out that litigation is important to protect farmworkers from abuses like those that took place at Fernandez Farms, including unlawful kickbacks, failure to provide free housing, multiple wage violations, and threats and coercion. Kashkooli also pushed back on complaints about government oversight and housing requirements by pointing to the recent G Farms investigation where the federal government found H-2A workers being housed in converted school buses in the Arizona summer.

Summary of Witness Testimony
The grower witnesses who testified at the hearing criticized the regulations, monitoring, and enforcement actions carried out by the various government agencies who manage the H-2A program, despite their own very successful use of the program. When questioned about how they would improve the program, the employer witnesses called for lowering wages through the elimination of the AEWR as well as the transfer of the program to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), among other changes aimed at “streamlining” the program.

In contrast, during his testimony, Mr. Kashkooli described the origin and importance of the protections in the program, as well as the need for a path to legal status for the farmworkers who toil in our fields, many of whom have been doing this work for decades and have become established in our communities. Mr. Kashkooli spoke about the importance of honoring those who do this important work.  He praised the Agricultural Worker Program Act, which currently has over 50 House cosponsors. Later in his testimony, Mr. Kashkooli reiterated the importance of immigration reform for farmworkers to be able to choose their employer, leave an abusive employer if needed, and move freely around the country without fear.  

Several other Members of Congress and witnesses spoke to the valuable role farmworkers play in our society. Reps. Buck and Valadao both praised the work of farmworkers, with Rep. Buck noting that “[l]abor is the lifeblood of the agricultural industry” and Valadao sharing his view that “[h]ard-working immigrant farmworkers are not only the back-bone of our agriculture industry, but they and their families are the heart and soul of many rural communities.”  Ms. Frey shared that she views her workforce as farmers and family.  

Given this shared recognition of the value farmworkers bring to our successful agricultural system and our rural communities, one is left to wonder why there is not also a shared recognition of the need to ensure these same workers have the ability to safely remain in their communities and contribute to our economy.  Instead, Rep. Goodlatte and his colleagues, as well as the grower witnesses, propose to convert these aspiring Americans to temporary guestworkers who would be separated from their families and forced to return to what is now a foreign country for many of them. Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), the ranking member on the subcommittee, noted that 93% of farmworkers have been in the United States for at least 5 years, with 55% here over 15 years. A majority have children, many of whom are United States citizens.  

Substantive H-2A Amendment Added to Appropriations Bill

During his questioning, Rep. Conyers (D-MI) mentioned the H-2A related appropriations amendment that was sneakily added by the House Appropriations Committee to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) spending bill the day before (Tuesday, July 18). Kashkooli shared that he was “stunned” to learn of the amendment, criticizing the substantive legislating on the H-2A program in the appropriations process as well the harm this would bring to farmworkers. He pointed to the many dangerous conditions in dairy work, including the two recent deaths of farmworkers in manure pit drownings.

Farmworker Justice also learned of this sneak amendment just shortly before it was offered, and is strongly opposed to both the process and substance of the amendment. This effort to change the scope of the H-2A program through an amendment on the appropriations bill was led by Rep. Newhouse (R-WA), with the support of Representatives Cuellar (D-TX) and Aguilar (D-CA).   Rep. DeLauro (D-CT) spoke out against the amendment, noting the substantive and procedural problems with the amendment and the opposition of Farmworker Justice, the UFW, AFL-CIO and UFWC.  

The amendment would allow agricultural employers to petition for H-2A workers for year-round agricultural work without regard to whether those jobs are temporary or seasonal, as is currently required under the H-2A program. The H-2A program is limited in scope to temporary and seasonal jobs because those jobs may be more challenging to fill given their short-term nature. As Ms. Frey, one of the hearing witnesses, noted in response to a question by Rep. Goodlatte, the H-2A program is important for seasonal and temporary work, not year-round employment because “… if we were able to offer year-round employment, that would be very different and we’d be able to fill those positions, I believe, with American workers.”  Importantly, enlarging the scope of the H-2A program to include year-round jobs does nothing to address the roughly one million current farmworkers who are undocumented and face the threat of detection and deportation.  

We have an experienced workforce willing to do this difficult and dangerous work that just needs to be given the opportunity to earn legal immigration status in order to do so without fear. It makes little sense to allow employers to hire H-2A workers without addressing the need to legalize the current undocumented farmworkers already doing this work.  

Importance of Agricultural Worker Program Act

The solution to the agricultural industry’s reliance on immigrant workers must be to respect the contributions and humanity of those workers. The Agricultural Worker Program Act (H.R. 2690, S. 1034), introduced in the House by Rep. Gutierrez (D-IL) and in the Senate by Sen. Feinstein (D-CA) would do that by providing an opportunity to move forward a positive and workable solution in Congress that will meet the needs of workers, agricultural employers, and our food system.

The bill’s approach is the right one, because we know from decades of experience that a guestworker system is inherently flawed and not an appropriate solution. Yet, there is an unprecedented expansion in the H-2A program; there is no cap on the number of H-2A visas per year and many more employers are applying.  We are deeply concerned about this expansion: both for our domestic labor force which may be losing access to needed farm jobs, and for H-2A workers, who are vulnerable to exploitation due to their dependent status on their employer and other structural program flaws. America is a nation of immigrants, not guestworkers.  We must respect the humanity of farmworkers and treat them as we would treat others who contribute to our nation’s success, offering them the opportunity to be permanent members of our society and the communities they help build.

Press Conference Supporting the Agricultural Worker Program Act

Rep. Gutierrez (D-IL) is a member of the Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on Immigration and was also present at the hearing on agricultural guestworkers, where he lifted up the hard work and contributions of these workers and urged Congress to support his proposal. The day before the hearing (Tuesday, July 18th), Rep. Gutierrez held a press conference with five of the bill’s cosponsors from the state of California – Reps. Zoe Lofgren, Judy Chu, Jimmy Panetta, Salud Carbajal and Jim Costa – UFW Political Director Giev Kashkooli and Greisa Martinez, Advocacy Director of United We Dream, all of whom highlighted the importance of this legislation. The press conference was held outside the Capitol building in almost 100-degree heat, to highlight just how grueling farm work can be. During the press conference, the speakers called for those who harvest the fruits and vegetables in the blazing heat for our dinner tables to be given a seat at the table with a path to legal immigration status.

New H-2A Legislation: Guestworker-Only Approach

Also this week: Three Members of Congress, Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), Senator Jon Tester (D-MT), and Representative Trent Kelly (R-MS), introduced the “Paperwork Reduction for Farmers Act.”  Farmworker Justice is still analyzing the legislation but did see that in addition to addressing application procedures for the H-2A program, the bill enlarges the scope of the program to include year-round livestock workers (including dairy and poultry) and equine workers.  We oppose the bill and will share an analysis of this legislation shortly.    

To view the full hearing on agricultural guestworkers, please click here.

To view the full press conference on the Agricultural Worker Program Act, please click here.

For a brief article summarizing the H-2A appropriations amendment, please click here.

 

Farmworker Justice Immigration Update: 07/14/17

New Agricultural Guestworker Proposals Being Developed by Trump Administration

As previously noted, the Trump Administration is reportedly developing proposals to change or replace the H-2A agricultural guestworker program. More recently, at a meeting during the G20 summit, President Trump and Mexican President Enrique Peña-Nieto agreed to a bilateral discussion on temporary work programs for Mexican migrants in the agriculture sector. The U.S., Canada and Mexico are also renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which may also be an arena in which agricultural work visas are discussed.  Farmworker JusticeJ believes that the concerns of workers regarding guestworker programs would not be adequately addressed during trade negotiations.  In addition, the history and legacy of the abuses under the Bracero Program (1942-1964), which was the product of a U.S.-Mexico agreement, should cause great concern about potential bilateral discussions on an agricultural guestworker program.     

New Agricultural Guestworker Proposals Likely in Congress

House Judiciary Committee Chair Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) is reportedly drafting a new immigration bill addressing agricultural workers.  Although the language of the bill is not yet public, agribusiness media has reported that it will be “less cumbersome” than the H-2A program and will also include the dairy industry.  During a recent House Committee on Agriculture hearing titled “The Next Farm Bill: Technology & Innovation in Specialty Crops,” agribusiness representatives expressed concerns about an agricultural labor shortage amid increased immigration enforcement, critiqued the current H-2A program, and called for reforms to ensure a “workable” guestworker program. In response to these concerns, some Agriculture Committee members referenced the forthcoming Goodlatte bill as a possible solution.

The House Judiciary Committee has also scheduled a hearing next week, specifically on the topic of agricultural guestworkers. However, the exact timing for the introduction of any proposed legislation remains uncertain. While farmworker advocates are unlikely to support a bill introduced by Rep. Goodlatte, who has a long and harmful history on these issues, it is unclear how well-received it would be by agricultural interests, fellow Republicans in Congress and the Trump Administration.  Increasing employers’ access to foreign workers could conflict with potential plans by the Trump Administration to reduce legal immigration and exacerbate tensions between pro-business and anti-immigrant factions within the Administration and Congress.

Fortunately, there is a positive and workable solution in Congress that will meet the needs of workers, agricultural employers, and our food system. As we have shared in the past, the Agricultural Worker Program Act which was introduced in Congress recently, would provide a path to lawful permanent residency for agricultural workers. The list of bill cosponsors in the House and Senate continues to grow.  We appreciate your advocacy efforts in support of this important bill.

Increased Use of H-2A Guestworker Visas and Labor Contractors Continues, Heightening Possibility of Even More Labor Abuses  

In the meantime, the H-2A program is proving to be very workable for employers, with growth of the program almost tripling in size during the last decade: from about 60,000 worker positions certified in FY 2006 to about 165,000 worker positions certified in FY 2016. FY 2017 Department of Labor statistics for the H-2A program show that approximately 97,000 positions have been certified so far this year, an increase of approximately 30% over the same period last year, with a timely approval rate of around 98%.  The H-2A program does not have a cap, which allows for an unlimited supply of foreign workers. FJ continues to be concerned about treatment of both US and domestic workers under the H-2A program.

As stated by Farmworker Justice President Bruce Goldstein in an article regarding H-2A workers in the California wine industry, “the history of the program shows these guest workers are very vulnerable to abuse and many employers take advantage of those vulnerabilities.”  This worker vulnerability is often worsened by the use of labor contractors. As highlighted in another recent article, some employers, including agribusiness giant Monsanto, continue to use labor contractors even after allegations of labor abuse. This is especially concerning in light of the fact that, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, from 2001 to 2015, the number of farm labor contractors and crew leaders nationwide increased by nearly 20%. As pointed out by FJ President Bruce Goldstein in the article, labor contracting situations can lead to rampant violations of farmworkers’ labor rights.

FY 2018 House Appropriations Bills

This week, various House Appropriations Subcommittees published their proposed FY 2018 funding bills. (There are 12 Appropriations Subcommittees and each one submits a funding bill for their area of focus.) It is important to note that the appropriations process is just beginning, and the bills must be reviewed by the Senate and approved by both chambers of Congress. Still, the House Subcommittee proposals will frame the debate going forward, so we will continue to monitor their possible impact on immigrants and farmworkers.

Farmworker Housing – During the mark-up of the Agriculture Appropriations Bill, Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-WA) introduced an amendment that would allow Section 514 housing to be used to house H-2A workers, as a way of addressing the increased need for worker housing resulting from the H-2A program’s continued growth. Section 514 loans are provided to build or improve housing for farm laborers, and H-2A workers are currently not eligible for this type of housing.   Farmworker Justice has opposed using these subsidies for the benefit of H-2A employers because there is a severe shortage of housing for farmworkers in the U.S. and inadequate housing programs for farmworkers.

Immigration Enforcement - The House Appropriations Subcommittee for Homeland Security (DHS) recently presented its proposed FY 2018 appropriations bill, which immigration advocates have described as a “rubber stamp” and “blank check” for President Trump’s deportation policies. Among other provisions, the bill includes $4.4 billion in funding for detention and removal programs and hundreds of millions of dollars to hire 1,000 additional ICE officers and 500 additional CBP officers. The bill also includes $1.6 billion for the construction of a “physical barrier” on the U.S.-Mexico border. The issue of immigration, particularly the funding for the wall, is likely to have an impact on the negotiation of the broader FY 2018 budget, and the battle over this funding could lead to a government shutdown in the fall.   

Sen. Tillis Puts Hold on USCIS Director Nomination Over H-2B Guestworker Visas

In an attempt to get approvals for more visas under the H-2B non-agricultural guestworker program, Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC), has put a “hold” on the nomination of Lee Francis Cissna for Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). A “hold” allows a single lawmaker to delay action on bringing a nominee to the Senate floor for a vote. Democrats already have a hold on Cissna and other Judiciary Committee nominees as part of a broader strategy to protest Republican efforts to repeal Obamacare.

The H-2B seasonal non-agricultural guestworker program has an annual cap of 66,000, but this cap has been increased through Congressional action in the past. This year, Congress gave DHS Secretary John Kelly the authority to issue up to 70,000 additional visas on a last-minute appropriations rider, but he still has not made a decision regarding their allocation. Both the FY2017 budget resolution and FY2018 budget proposal include riders limiting the protections available for H-2B workers. North Carolina is one of the top ten recipients of H-2B workers, and Sen. Tillis has stated that there are not enough U.S. workers to fill summer job vacancies. North Carolina is also a top ten recipient of agricultural workers under the H-2A program and, as with the H-2B non-agricultural visas, agricultural employers in the state similarly assert that there are not enough U.S. workers to fill temporary jobs in agriculture.  

Anti-Union Farm Bill Signed by Governor of North Carolina

On July 13, North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper signed a wide-ranging farm bill which included a last minute, anti-union amendment. The amendment takes away farmworkers’ freedom to use payroll deductions for voluntary union dues or fees and makes it illegal for farmworkers and growers to sign an agreement as part of settlements of lawsuit. The amendments are aimed at the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, AFL-CIO (FLOC), the only agricultural workers’ union in the state, which has collective bargaining agreements with several hundred growers on behalf of thousands of farmworkers in the state. FLOC and the NC State AFL-CIO had previously denounced the amendment, characterizing it as an attack on farmworkers’ rights and retaliation for a series of lawsuits brought by farmworkers against several farms in the state, one of which is owned by a NC state Senator who sponsored the bill.  Despite a campaign by FLOC and allies, Gov. Cooper refused to veto the bill. 

DHS Sec. Kelly Says Administration Will Not Commit to Protecting DACA or TPS

In a closed door meeting with members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) on July 12, DHS Sec. John Kelly stated that although he personally supports the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, he cannot guarantee that the Administration will defend it in court.  At the meeting, Sec. Kelly urged Congress to find a legislative solution. When asked about the fate of Temporary Protected Status (TPS), particularly for the countries of Nicaragua, Honduras and El Salvador, whose designations are due to expire next year, Sec. Kelly did not commit to their renewal. Shortly after the meeting, Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), who was present at the meeting and is the Chair of the Immigration Task Force of the CHC, issued a call to action to protect DACA and TPS and fight mass deportations,  describing immigration as “an integral part of who we are as a country.”  

Farmworker Justice “Unidos” Initiative Seeks to Empower Farmworker Communities

Rebecca Young, Senior Project Director at Farmworker Justice, recently spoke about the importance of empowering existing and emerging leadership among the immigrant farmworker community. While discussing Farmworker Justice’s “Unidos” initiative (in collaboration with the Vista Community Clinic), Young emphasized the importance of addressing concerns about increased immigration enforcement as part of the initiative’s efforts to improve access to cancer screening and treatment for immigrant farmworkers and their families.  Please click here for the full article.



 

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