Immigration and Labor Rights

Farmworker Justice Immigration Reform Update 6/11/13

Senate Update

The Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act, S.744, has moved to the Senate floor. Senate Majority Leader Reid plans to offer robust opportunity for debate on the bill and proposed amendments. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Leahy (D-VT), who supports the bill, will manage the floor for the Democrats, but will have less control over the debate than he had in the committee. He encouraged Senators to file amendments early to maintain a transparent process. Senate rules allow the Senators to offer amendments on any part of the bill at any time. We expect that hundreds of amendments will be filed. Republican floor time will be divided between proponents and opponents of the bill. Senator Reid expects that debate on S.744 will continue for three weeks with a final vote before the July 4 recess.

Senator Reid filed motions to initiate debate S.744 last Thursday. The vote on the motion for cloture (to end debate) on the motion to proceed will be at 2:15 today (Tuesday). On Friday, Senators began making opening statements on the comprehensive immigration reform bill. Of note, Senator Boxer (D-CA) in her opening remarks discussed the need to protect the careful compromise reflected in the agricultural worker provisions. Senator Lee (R.-UT) repeatedly called the bill, “an immigration version of Obamacare.”

House Update

Last week, Rep. Labrador made news when he withdrew from the House “gang of eight” working on a comprehensive immigration reform bill due to irreconcilable differences over access to health care benefits. The gang reportedly still plans to file it in June. However, there is no guarantee that the House Judiciary Committee will take up the bill, as Judiciary Committee Chair Goodlatte (R-VA) prefers a piecemeal approach to immigration reform. Speaker Boehner has promised that immigration reform bills will go through full House process (meaning they will have to go through the committee process first), so the House gang of (now) seven’s bill may never receive a vote.

However, the House does not need to pass a comprehensive bill in order for an immigration reform bill to go to a House-Senate conference committee. The House could pass one or several piecemeal bills, which would then go to a conference committee with S.744 (assuming it passes the Senate), which would be charged with creating one final bill that would return to both houses for a final vote. If each body approves the conference committee’s compromise bill, then it would be delivered to the President’s desk for his veto or signature.

Farmworker Justice Immigration Update 5/22/2013

On May 21st, the Senate Judiciary Committee (SJC) concluded its mark-up of S. 744, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act. It passed the bill out of committee by a bipartisan vote of 13-5, with the support of all Democratic Senators and three Republican Senators (Senators Hatch, Flake and Graham). The Committee action marks an important step toward enactment of comprehensive immigration reform. The next step is a debate and vote on the Senate floor, which is expected to take place in June. Farmworker Justice’s statement on the passage of the S. 744 out of the SJC is here.

The mark-up in the SJC included two amendments directly impacting the blue card program, which allows undocumented farmworkers and their immediate family members to earn immigration status and permanent residency.

Read full update on our blog: 

Farmworker Justice Immigration Update: The Senate Judiciary Committee Continues to Mark-up S. 744

The Senate Judiciary Committee (SJC) continues to mark-up S. 744, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act. The Committee is likely to consider the agricultural sections later today. Yesterday, Monday, the SJC completed its work debating and amending Title III (interior enforcement) and began work on Title II, addressing legalization and future immigration. Title II contains the farmworker immigration compromise, including both the earned legalization blue card program and the new nonimmigrant agricultural worker W3 and W4 visa programs.

Farmworker Justice is very pleased that yesterday’s mark-up included the adoption of Sen. Blumenthal’s amendments 3, 4, and 5 which add needed provisions to ensure the effectiveness of Subtitle F, entitled Prevention of Trafficking in Persons and Abuses Involving Workers Recruited Abroad. Subtitle F aims to curb trafficking and labor abuses during the recruitment of foreign citizens for employment in the U.S. under visa programs such as the H-2A agricultural guestworker program and the new W3 and W4 visas. Abuse in the international recruitment of workers across visa programs is rampant and in its worst form results in forced labor and human trafficking.

Read the full posting for a breakdown of additional amendments.

Farmworker Immigration Update: House Immigration Subcommittee Hearing & Senate Mark-up of S.744

House Judiciary Subcommittee Hearing on the Agricultural Guestworker Act

Yesterday, the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security held a hearing on the “Agricultural Guestworker Act,” H.R.1773, a bill introduced by Judiciary Committee Chair, Robert Goodlatte (R-VA). The witnesses at the hearing were Arturo S. Rodriguez, President, United Farm Workers; Lee Wicker, Deputy Director, North Carolina Growers Association and Treasurer of USA Farmers; Christopher Gaddis, Senior Vice President for Human Resources, JBS USA, a member of the Food Manufacturers Immigration Coalition; John B. Graham, III, President, Graham and Rollins, Inc.

In his introduction, Subcommittee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-SC) stated that because the H-2A program is so onerous, employers use undocumented workers. He believes that H.R.1773 would meet the needs of growers. Rep. Goodlatte described H.R.1773 as providing streamlined access to labor. He said that the bill is, at its core, a guestworker program with no special pathway to citizenship for workers.

Ranking Subcommittee Member Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) spoke about the importance of the compromise agreement reached between growers and the United Farm Workers that is encompassed in the Senate’s comprehensive immigration reform bill, S.744. She questioned the need to create another proposal. She entered into the record a letter from the Agriculture Workforce Coalition, a group of 71 growers’ associations, which stated their support for the agricultural compromise provisions in the Senate bill. Lofgren stated that Goodlatte’s bill lacks an earned legalization program for the estimated 1.1 million undocumented farmworkers and that his bill’s plan for workers to come out of the shadows and register as temporary guestworkers will not work. She argued that people will not come forward, especially since there is not plan for their family members.

Lofgren also asserted that the bill would lower wages and provide fewer worker protections than the compromise encompassed in the Senate bill. Later, she pointed out that the bill’s limit of 500,000 guestworker visas won’t cover the current undocumented farm labor force and certainly won’t be enough visas for his proposal to expand to other industries such as meat and seafood processing. Rep. Holding (R-NC) also said that the cap is not high enough to serve all of the agricultural and food processing labor force. The compromise provisions under the future nonimmigrant worker program in S.744 contain a lower cap (112,333 visas per year to a maximum of 337,000 visas during the first 5 years) because the current undocumented workforce will have earned legal immigration status through the blue card program.

The three employer representatives expressed support for the Goodlatte bill, with Wicker and Graham noting their approval that the H-2C program has fewer rules protecting workers than the current guestworker programs. When asked about litigation reform in the bill, Wicker said that North Carolina Growers Association’s collective bargaining agreement with the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, AFL-CIO contains a grievance procedure that works quite well.

Arturo Rodriguez said that he appreciates the Chairman’s desire to fix the system but noted the bill’s resemblance to the horrific Bracero Program, stating that it would deprive U.S. farmworkers of jobs by minimizing the recruitment obligations of employers, slashing wages and withholding 10 percent of a worker’s wages. He said that agriculture should not rely on undocumented workers or guestworkers. He asked that the Committee support the Senate compromise and honor the men and women who harvest our food.

Representatives Garcia (D-FL), Gutierrez (D-IL) and Jackson Lee (D-TX) spoke about the difficult work of farmworkers and the importance of their contributions to our nation. Rep. Gutierrez said that when the high tech industries come to speak to Congress, they ask for tens of thousands of greencards for their workers. Gutierrez told the agricultural employers to “fight for your own people.”

Rep. Garcia asked Mr. Wicker, whose organization signed onto the Senate agreement between farmworkers and growers, whether he thought that the agreement was made just for the Senate or for the House as well. He followed up by asking whether Wicker supports the agricultural provisions in the Senate bill. Wicker responded that he does but he doesn’t think that it will pass the House. Garcia told him to leave the politics to the Members of Congress.

Rep. Jackson Lee concluded the questioning of the witnesses by asking the employers whether they would mind adding worker protections suggested by Mr. Rodriguez to the bill. Graham said that he would be fine with that. Gaddis said that meat processing isn’t the same as the other industries, because they offer higher wages, and therefore more upward mobility for workers. He added that he would like the workers to be able to stay longer and bring their families with them. Wicker responded, “Let’s get together and talk about it.”

Farmworker Justice opposes the Agricultural Guestworker Act. Our fact sheet on H.R.1773 is available here. We support a comprehensive immigration solution that includes a roadmap to citizenship for our nation’s 11 million undocumented immigrants that includes farmworkers and their families.

The Senate Judiciary Committee Mark-up of S.744

Yesterday, the Senate Judiciary Committee continued to debate and vote on amendments to the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act, S.744. The Committee finished consideration of Title IV, which contains the non-agricultural temporary nonimmigrant visa programs, including the new W-1/2 visas negotiated by the AFL-CIO and the Chamber of Commerce. Then the Committee considered amendments to E-verify in Title III of the bill. While some amendments have been approved, generally the supporters of the compromise reached by the “Gang of Eight” have defeated amendments that would substantially change the compromise.

The agricultural provisions of the bill are in Title II, which has yet to be considered. The committee will resume the mark-up on Monday. Chairman Leahy has promised to finish marking up the bill by the end of next week before the Senate’s week-long recess.

The bill is expected to reach the Senate floor for debate, amendments and a vote sometime in June. Up-to-date information on amendments is available on the Senate Judiciary Committee’s website.
 

Protecting immigrant farm workers: Miami Herald Op Ed by Prof. Hahamovitch

Prof. Hahamovitch's op-ed in the Miami Herald is a valuable lesson for the Congressional debate on immigration and agricultural guestworker programs. Labor protections exist under these programs for good reason, and should not be reduced, but a path to citizenship is also necessary to protect US workers' jobs and stop exploitation of foreign workers.

Read the full OpEd on our blog:

Momentum for Immigration Reform Grows: House Hearing Explores Current and Future Immigration Solutions for Farmworkers

Yesterday, the House immigration subcommittee held a hearing, “Agricultural Labor: From H-2A to a Workable Agricultural Guestworker Program,” amid the increasing momentum for immigration reform. While the hearing revealed broad areas of agreement in ongoing negotiations between farmworkers and growers, the discussion exposed several critical issues that would require resolution for a compromise on immigration policy for agricultural workers.  

Immigration Update: News on the Future Flow of Immigrant Workers

On Saturday, the Washington Post printed a Letter to the Editor by Bruce Goldstein, President of Farmworker Justice, responding to former Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff’s OpEd on immigration reform. Chertoff argued that immigration reform legislation should not allow undocumented workers to get ahead of others waiting in line for greencards, which would place workers in limbo status for many years. Goldstein points out that the contention is based on a double standard: many agricultural employers have not followed the law to request guestworkers and have suffered no consequences for hiring undocumented workers.

Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing on Immigration Reform Was Generally Positive Except for Senators’ Push for Guestworker Program for Dairy Workers

Wednesday's judiciary committee hearing appeared to be a good step forward for comprehensive immigration reform. Unlike last week’s house judiciary panel,which largely pitted high-skilled visa reform against other pieces of immigration reform, yesterday’s hearing clearly focused on comprehensive reform. The members of the gang of eight on the judiciary committee, Senators Graham, Schumer and Flake, presented a unified message that was quite positive and optimistic about the potential for enacting a comprehensive immigration reform bill. Of note, Senator Graham said that working out the plans for citizenship and border security is not going to be a problem; the sticking point will be creating a temporary worker program. He then added that a goal of any program should be not to displace US workers. Secretary Napolitano responded by saying that “the devil is in the details,” and then added that there needs to be protections for both US workers and guestworkers in any guestworker program. Currently, the US Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO are negotiating behind closed doors to figure out a proposal for the future flow of immigrant workers that is mutually agreeable to both business and labor. Senator Graham concluded by saying that there has never been a better time to enact comprehensive immigration reform. Senator Feinstein stated that she is working with farmworker and grower representatives on an AgJOBS compromise bill to be included in the comprehensive legislation. Farmworker Justice applauds the efforts of these Senators to reach a workable agreement that will provide a roadmap to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants that includes farmworkers and their families.

Judiciary Committee Hearing on Immigration Revealed Misconceptions About Farmworkers

Yesterday’s House Judiciary Committee hearing titled “America's Immigration System: Opportunities for Legal Immigration and Enforcement of Laws against Illegal Immigration,” addressed the current immigration system and the need for reform.

The first panel of witnesses focused on the current legal immigration system and the second panel discussed past and current immigration enforcement. Agricultural labor was a central talking point in the hearing and the first panel’s discussion unfortunately included various misconceptions about the farm labor market. We’ve highlighted our top 5. 

Farmworkers and Immigration: Priorities for Reform

The public debate on immigration policy vitally affects the agricultural workers who cultivate and harvest our food. More than 80% of farmworkers are immigrants. Of the approximately 2 million seasonal workers on U.S. farms and ranches, over one-half lack authorized immigration status. Farmworkers work extremely hard, often in hazardous conditions, for very low wages, and perform an essential role in bringing food to our table. Congress should enact legislation that reforms our broken immigration system and creates a road map to citizenship for undocumented farmworkers and their family members and for any immigrants who may be needed on our farms in the future. Proposals for anachronistic guestworker programs should be rejected as inconsistent with America's economic and democratic freedoms. Immigration reform should be a stepping stone toward modernizing agricultural labor practices and treating farmworkers with the respect they deserve.

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