Immigration and Labor Rights

Farmworker Justice Immigration Update 5/16/17

Call to Save Haitian TPS!

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is currently considering whether or not to extend Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for more than 50,000 Haitians in the United States. This decision is expected to be made very soon. Church World Service (CWS) is coordinating a call-in campaign to ask DHS Secretary Kelly to extend TPS. To participate, please call the DHS Comment Line at (202) 282-8495 and leave a message urging Secretary Kelly to extend TPS for Haitians for at least another 18 months.

Senator Feinstein Introduces Agricultural Worker Program Act of 2017

On May 3, 2017, Sen. Feinstein (D-CA) introduced the “Agricultural Worker Program Act of 2017,” S.1034. The bill would allow many undocumented farmworkers and their family members the opportunity to earn legal immigration status and citizenship. It was originally co-sponsored by Senators Harris (D-CA), Leahy (D-VT), Bennet (D-CO) and Hirono (D-HI), and has garnered the additional support of Senators Gillibrand (D-NY), Udall (D-NM) and Franken (D-MN). Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) expressed strong support for the bill and plans to introduce a companion bill in the House of Representatives soon.

Farmworker Justice supports the Agricultural Worker Program Act because it would provide a needed, meaningful opportunity for farmworkers and family members to earn lawful permanent residency with a path to citizenship. The farmworkers and family members who obtain immigration status under this legislation would no longer have to live and work in fear of arrest and deportation.  The Agricultural Worker Program Act stands in stark contrast to bills in the House that would create harsh agricultural guestworker programs with no solution for the current undocumented workers or their employers who depend on their skills, experience and knowledge.  Sen. Feinstein’s bill is already supported by many labor and immigrant rights organizations, including UFW, FLOC, and PCUN, as well as organizations that serve the Latino community.  For more information on the bill, please see our Fact Sheet.

Bill Introduced by Sen. Johnson Would Authorize State-Operated Guestworker Programs

Sen. Johnson (R-WI) has introduced the “State Sponsored Visa Pilot Program Act of 2017,” S. 1040. The bill would allow individual states to create and run their own guestworker programs. Under our Constitution, immigration policy is a federal issue and for good reason. It does not make sense to allow states to enact 50 different laws regulating admission to the U.S. of foreign citizens. In addition, Sen. Johnson’s bill lacks protections against the abuses that are endemic to guestworker programs.  Farmworker Justice will soon be posting a Fact Sheet summarizing Sen. Johnson’s proposed bill.    

Trump Administration and Agricultural Workers: Harmful Impact and Troubling Indications

As farmworker communities continue to live in fear of increased and broader immigration enforcement, the Trump Administration is sending conflicting messages about its conduct and plans regarding undocumented agricultural workers. Reportedly, the Administration has indicated that it is not targeting agricultural workers for enforcement, yet ICE agents have been present and active in farmworker communities around the country. ICE recently raided a Pennsylvania mushroom operation, resulting in the detention of a dozen workers.

There are also indications that the Administration is considering revising the H-2A agricultural guestworker program, both to expand its scope to year-round industries such as dairy and to strip away important government oversight and labor protections. In an interview with The Economist last week, President Trump noted that he “wants farm workers to come in” because “they are great people, and they work on the farms and then they go back home,” stating that the Administration is going to have “work visas for the farmworkers.”  Secretary Perdue also stated in recent remarks about NAFTA re-negotiation that he is working on a proposal to help foreign-born workers staff U.S. dairies, even though these operations are year-round.

These comments follow Trump’s executive order on rural prosperity and the meeting Trump and Secretary Perdue held on April 25 with over a dozen agribusiness representatives, including H-2A users. Farmworker Justice is troubled that the Administration’s recent actions regarding agriculture and rural communities have been marked by an absence of farmworker voices. The lack of inclusion of key stakeholder groups in the Administration’s discussions regarding agriculture and rural communities is highlighted in a recent Civil Eats article. As stated by Farmworker Justice’s Bruce Goldstein, the Administration’s policies so far “fail to address in any meaningful way the challenges addressed by agricultural workers and their families who are so important to rural communities and the economy.” These challenges are being exacerbated by the fear and anxiety caused by the Administration’s indiscriminate immigration enforcement actions.

Monitoring the H-2A Program

Farmworker Justice continues to monitor Congress and the Administration for potential changes to the H-2A program through legislation or regulation.  In addition to demands by agricultural employers for changes in wages, benefits, housing and processes under the H-2A program, dairy farm representatives have been pressing hard to expand the H-2A program to include their year-round jobs.

This piece in the Fresno Bee explores different viewpoints about the growing H-2A program. DOL’s second-quarter statistics on the H-2A program for FY 2017 show an increase of 30% in use of the program thus far.  During FY 2016, DOL approved 165,000 H-2A jobs, an increase of about 20% from the year before.

A recently-filed lawsuit in Arizona highlights some of the abuses that are all too common in the H-2A program. The suit, brought by the U.S. Department of Labor, accuses an Arizona farm employer of housing its H-2A workers in dangerous and unsanitary conditions, including inside school buses and window-less trailers, as well as paying them illegally low wages.

Texas Passes Anti-Immigrant Law

On May 7, 2017, Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed into law SB-4, a harsh anti-immigrant law that would penalize cities, universities and other government entities if their police and other officials do not detain and turn over to federal authorities individuals who appear to be undocumented immigrants. The law combines a prohibition against so-called “sanctuary” jurisdictions and a “show me your papers” component. The law, which is set to go into effect on September 1, 2017, is likely to  result in racial profiling and other violations of the constitutional rights of immigrants and government officials.  The ACLU has issued a travel alert in response to the law, and it has been widely condemned by civil rights groups, immigrant rights groups, immigration lawyersand religious leaders.  Texas is a significant agricultural state and the Rio Grande Valley remains the home base for thousands of farmworkers who migrate throughout the U.S. for agricultural work.

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For more updates about key issues affecting farmworkers and the work of Farmworker Justice, including how to support our organization, please visit our website or follow us on social media.

Your support makes our work possible as we help farmworkers fight for justice.  Farmworker Justice is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization; donations are tax-deductible to the full extent of the law.  Thank you for your support.

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Farmworker Justice Immigration Update 5/1/17

Executive Order on Rural Communities

On April 25, 2017, President Trump issued an Executive Order on “Promoting Agricultural and Rural Prosperity in America,” establishing an inter-agency task force to develop policies in this area, including changes that “ensure access to a reliable workforce” in agriculture. This language, as well as the composition of the task force, seems aimed at benefitting agri-business at the expense of farmworkers’ health and well-being, as noted by FJ President Bruce Goldstein in a recent op-ed. The order does not address farmworker concerns and was announced during a meeting of Trump and the new Secretary of Agriculture, Sonny Perdue, with over a dozen agricultural employers, and no farmworkers or farmworker organizations present.

 

ICE Raids Pennsylvania Mushroom Farm

In an alarming sign that immigration agents may start conducting agricultural worksite raids, ICE agents raided a Chester County, PA mushroom farm last week, detaining at least nine workers. ICE was allegedly looking for four individuals; however none of these individuals was among the workers detained. According to the farm owner, ICE agents apparently did not have a warrant for entering the private property, raising questions about the raid’s lawfulness. The raid seems to contradict the Trump administration’s recent assurances to agricultural employers that it would be sensitive to the agriculture industry in its immigration enforcement actions.

 

Judge Enjoins “Sanctuary City” Provision of Trump Executive Order

Last week, a federal judge in California blocked the Trump administration’s threat to withhold federal funds from so-called “sanctuary jurisdictions”. As part of a lawsuit filed by the cities of Santa Clara and San Francisco, the judge issued a nationwide injunction of Section 9 of President Trump’s January 2017 Executive Order on immigration enforcement, which states that “sanctuary jurisdictions” will not be eligible to receive federal grants.  For more information on what constitutes a sanctuary jurisdiction, as well as the status of current litigation on this issue, please see ILRC’s FAQ on Sanctuary Cities.  

 

Deal on 2017 Budget Reached, Possibly Averting Government Shutdown

After extending the budget approval deadline for an additional week (from April 28 to May 5), Congress announced yesterday that it had reached a deal on a more than $1 trillion spending bill for the rest of the 2017 fiscal year, which goes through September 30.  Although the bill does not include funding for construction of a border wall, it does include an additional $1.5 billion in funds for border security, with the limitation that the funds be used solely for technology investments and repairs to existing fencing and infrastructure. The Senate and House Minority leaders (Charles Schumer and Nancy Pelosi) stated that as part of the negotiations they were able to force Republicans to withdraw more than 160 unrelated policy measures, known as riders, from the bill. Unfortunately, policy riders on the H-2B guest worker program remain in the agreement, and an exemption from the H-2B cap for returning workers was added. Congress must pass the bill before Friday evening in order to avert a shutdown, and is expected to vote on it early this week.  The battle over the budget for fiscal year 2018, which starts on October 1st, has already begun, with President Trump demanding huge funding cuts.

 

Perdue and Acosta Confirmed to Key Cabinet Posts

Sonny Perdue was confirmed as Agriculture Secretary on April 24th with little opposition, although the vote did mark the first time since the Reagan administration that a USDA chief has not been unanimously approved.  Perdue has widespread support from agri-business groups. As Georgia’s governor, he signed anti-immigrant legislation that discouraged migrant farmworkers from traveling to the state, leading the next Governor to a failed experiment with prison labor.

The vote to confirm Alexander Acosta as Secretary of Labor on April 27th was more contested and mostly split along party lines.  Acosta had a controversial history in the Justice Department Civil Rights Division under George W. Bush.  However, many groups had expressed relief that at least one Cabinet member would come from the Latino community (Acosta is the son of Cuban immigrants).  During remarks at his swearing-in ceremony, Acosta stated that “too many Americans have seen jobs filled by foreign workers,” heightening uncertainty about how he will handle immigration-related issues during his tenure. His conservative views also raise questions about how he will address policy issues and wage-hour enforcement affecting farmworkers and their employers.  

Farmworker Justice intends to help farmworkers have an impactful voice with these two new members of the President’s Cabinet.

 

Happy International Workers Day!

On this day of action and commemoration, we urge you to continue to stand up for workers’ rights and immigrants’ rights and thank you for all that you do in your respective communities.

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For more updates about key issues affecting farmworkers and the work of Farmworker Justice, including how to support our organization, please visit our website or follow us on social media.

Your support makes our work possible as we help farmworkers fight for justice.  Farmworker Justice is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization; donations are tax-deductible to the full extent of the law.  Thank you for your support.

www.farmworkerjustice.org

www.facebook.com/farmworkerjustice  

www.twitter.com/farmwrkrjustice

Farmworker Justice Immigration Update: 04/18/17

Rep. Duffy Bill Would Expand H-2A to Year-Round Dairy Jobs

Farmworker Justice Special Immigration Policy Update April 6, 2017

Agricultural Employers Weigh In with Trump on Immigration

A national coalition of 70 agricultural employer associations last week sent President Trump a letter stating its interest in immigration reform.  The letter is posted on the website of the Agricultural Workforce Coalition.  

The three-page letter’s conclusion calls for two key legislative changes to the immigration system: “work eligibility for our existing workforce” and “farmer-friendly programs to provide future legal guest workers.”

The request for “work eligibility for the existing workforce” relates to the letter’s stated need for “maintaining access to our current workforce.”  Acknowledging that many farmworkers are undocumented immigrants and cannot easily be replaced, the letter informs the President that “an enforcement-only approach to immigration” would be devastating to farmers and the agricultural economy.

The growers’ letter does not request that undocumented farmworkers be granted an opportunity to earn legal immigration status and citizenship.  Nor does the letter address the status of the spouses and children of undocumented family members.

Rather, the letter vaguely tells the President that the growers want legislation to “allow for work authorization for experienced agricultural workers.”  Thus, the growers support legislation that would grant undocumented farmworkers a mere temporary work permit.

Immigration reform is urgently needed, but it must be fair, humane and respectful of farmworkers and their family members.  Temporary work permits – or guestworker status – would deprive them of economic bargaining power and political power.  This is a nation of immigrants.  Farmworkers and their family members deserve an opportunity for immigration status.

A large part of the growers’ letter focuses on the demands for short-term changes to the H-2A agricultural guestworker program and its eventual replacement by a new agricultural guestworker program.  Our views on this longstanding demand are available elsewhere.  Here, we briefly restate that (1) the H-2A agricultural guestworker program is already abusive toward both U.S. farmworkers and foreign guestworkers and its modest protections and their enforcement should be strengthened, not be weakened, and (2) if this country needs additional farmworkers in the future, they and their family members should be given the opportunity to come to this country and work as not merely as guestworkers but as immigrants who are eligible for citizenship.

Undocumented farmworkers and their family members very much need immigration reform.  They are vulnerable in many ways.  Now, increased immigration enforcement is deporting farmworkers, breaking up families, subjecting farmworkers and their children to fear and disrupting agricultural production.  We must continue to fight against harsh immigration enforcement that punishes farmworkers and their family members.  We must also continue to fight for a compromise on immigration reform that respects the humanity of farmworkers and their families.  

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Farmworker Justice Immigration Update: 3/29/17

New Farmworker Justice “Know Your Rights” Materials Available Online

Farmworkers need to understand and know how to protect their Constitutional rights under any circumstances, but the threat of immigration enforcement in farmworker communities has made this need urgent. The large majority of farmworkers are immigrants and whether they are documented or undocumented, they do have rights. To this end, Farmworker Justice has compiled a list of available “Know Your Rights” materials in English and Spanish to help farmworkers and their communities better prepare for and respond to immigration enforcement.  The compilation includes materials prepared by Farmworker Justice as well as partner organizations.  Also available is a recording of our recent webinar addressing immigration policy developments presented with the United Farm Workers Foundation and the Southern Poverty Law Center. All these materials are available in the immigration section of our webpage, under “2017 Immigration Resources.”

Commemorating Cesar Chavez’ Birthday and Farmworkers Nationwide

March 31 is the birthday of Cesar Chavez, the late co-founder of the United Farm Workers. In honor of his legacy of activism, farmworkers are holding marches in over a dozen rural communities to repudiate the current administration’s anti-immigrant agenda. For more information about the marches and how you can participate, please visit the United Farm Workers’ Foundation website.

Farmworker Awareness Week

This week also marks the 18th annual Student Action with Farmworkers’ National Farmworker Awareness Week (March 24-31), with each day highlighting a different farmworker issue. Farmworker Justice has published a series of statements in coordination with this national awareness effort, which you can view on our blog.

Immigration Enforcement Continues to Affect Farmworkers

The Trump Administration’s threats of increased immigration enforcement have turned into action that is not only instilling fear but is affecting the country’s farmworkers and agricultural employers. Isolated rural areas, where farmworkers are essential to the rural economy, increasingly seem to be targeted.  Recently, two Vermont migrant workers and activists with no criminal records were detained in what appears to be  retaliation for their activism  defending the rights of immigrant workers on dairy farms. They were released on March 28 after a groundswell of support, including petitions and protests. You can learn more about their case here.  In Western New York, five apple pickers were detained by ICE last week, even though they also did not have any criminal records.

Immigration Enforcement’s Threat to the Farm Sector Highlighted  

Several media reports have highlighted the fears of farmers and farmworkers about the impact of immigration enforcement on businesses and workers.  As many as 70% of all fieldworkers are undocumented immigrants.  As stated by Farmworker Justice’s Bruce Goldstein, “if we were to engage in massive deportations, our agricultural system would collapse.” The Farm Bureau has shared its concerns that farms will not survive if many undocumented immigrants are deported.  

Some grower groups, including in California, are claiming that they already face labor shortages and that even increased wages and better working conditions will not solve the problem, while  Washington state farmers say they need more foreign seasonal workers, and dairies in Wisconsin say that they are struggling to keep the foreign workers they already have. While we certainly need Congress to grant legal immigration status to undocumented farmworkers and their family members, there is evidence that improvements in wages and decent housing can enable agricultural employers to find the farmworkers they need.  For example, a California garlic grower recently raised wages and now has a wait-list 150 people long.

In any event, the H-2A agricultural guestworker program offers employers an unlimited number of visas each year and more employers are using the program than ever before.  A recent NPR report confirms that fearful farmers are rushing to demand guestworkers.  At the same time, agribusiness groups have renewed their efforts to lower H-2A wage rates, remove labor protections, reduce government oversight and expand the program from seasonal to year-round jobs.  Farmworker Justice will continue to provide key information regarding the H-2A program and monitor any efforts to decrease protections or enforcement of the program, whether through executive or legislative means.

“Wall” Construction Plans Face Financial Obstacles

The Administration’s border security plans include a request for proposals for the building of the border “wall,” which specifies the characteristics of the barrier. President Trump has also requested approximately $2 billion for wall construction as part of his budget priorities, in addition to approximately $1 billion for increased detentions and deportations.  The Senate put aside a request for immediate funding for the wall but is likely to consider it later this year for inclusion in the FY 2018 budget. The construction of the wall faces a series of economic, logistical and legal challenges, including the fact that Democrats have threatened a government shutdown over its funding, leading to concerns from Republicans.

Attacks on “Sanctuary Jurisdictions” Continue

Another contentious immigration issue is the ongoing debate about “sanctuary jurisdictions.” Over the past several decades, approximately 600 jurisdictions around the country have adopted a variety of policies intended to serve residents regardless of their immigration status. One of President Trump’s January 2017 executive orders on immigration called for the Attorney General to take enforcement action against such jurisdictions, a move that various legal scholars have deemed unconstitutional.

On March 27, Attorney General Jeff Sessions delivered remarks announcing that he would withdraw Justice Department funds from cities that do not share information about undocumented immigrants with the federal government. The remarks focus on a narrative linking immigrants to crime and stating that these policies harm public safety. This position is not surprising given Jeff Sessions’ well known anti-immigrant views. However, studies have shown that sanctuary jurisdictions actually have lower crime rates, and the Fraternal Order of Police, the largest police union in the U.S., has warned that cutting grants to sanctuary jurisdictions could endanger public safety. The House of Representatives recently held a hearing which focused heavily on the sanctuary jurisdictions issue, which you can view in its entirety here.

Cabinet Confirmation Updates

On March 22, the Senate held a hearing on Labor Secretary nominee Alexander Acosta, during which he was asked about the fate of various Obama-era regulations governing overtime pay, health and safety, and retirement. You can view the full hearing here. His vague testimony did not inspire confidence about his commitment to vigorously enforce wage-hour and occupational safety laws. Following the hearing, the National Employment Law Project (NELP) released a statement detailing some of the issues on which Acosta’s position remains unclear. The vote on Acosta’s confirmation has been scheduled for March 30.  

The Senate also held a hearing on the nomination of George “Sonny” Perdue to serve as Agriculture Secretary.  The March 23 hearing was fairly short and cordial. There were no questions regarding past allegations of unethical behavior during Perdue’s time as governor of Georgia or about Georgia’s anti-immigration law. You can view the full testimony here. During the hearing, Perdue responded affirmatively when asked by two Democratic Senators -Sens. Leahy (VT) and Gillibrand (NY) - whether he supports the expansion of the H-2A program to year-round jobs on dairy farms. Farmworker Justice is particularly troubled that both Senators advocated for the inclusion of dairy in the H-2A program. The Senators recognized that dairy is currently excluded from H-2A because it is year-round work and H-2A only covers seasonal work (with an exception for sheep and goat herders), but asked the nominee to work with them to ensure dairy would be included in H-2A. We are disappointed that the Senators did not use this opportunity to push for Perdue’s support for legalization of undocumented immigrants in the current dairy workforce, many of whom would be displaced from their jobs if their employers were successful in joining the H-2A program.


 

 



 

Farmworker Justice Immigration Update 3/9/17

Implementation of Immigration Orders Likely to Impact Farmworker Communities

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) recently released a series of memos, fact sheets and FAQs detailing its plans for implementing the new immigration orders signed by President Trump on January 25th, which focused on immigration enforcement both at the border and in the interior of the country. Perhaps the most significant feature of the orders is a change in immigration enforcement priorities. In its guidance materials, DHS confirms the broad scope of the new enforcement priorities, stating that it will not exempt any classes or categories of people from potential enforcement and that all of those in violation of immigration laws may be subject to immigration arrest, detention and removal. The guidance also states that DHS will not target DACA recipients or deviate from its established procedure for avoiding “sensitive locations” such as schools and hospitals, but it is still unclear whether these policies are being adhered to.

The effect of these orders and their implementation is the criminalization of immigration and increased uncertainty even for those who have been in this country for years, have U.S. citizen children who have grown up here, and have no criminal records. In Oregon, ICE has detained multiple workers, many of whom do not have criminal records, including one nursery worker who has several U.S. citizen children and has lived in the United States for about 15 years.  As stated by Farmworker Justice’s Bruce Goldstein in a recent Modern Farmer article: “These people work really hard at low-wage jobs to feed the country. To be vilified this way is causing them great harm.”

Trump’s immigration policies could also have a chilling effect on workplace complaints. As stated by Farmworker Justice’s Adrienne DerVartanian in a recent Bloomberg BNA article, agriculture, where a large portion of the workforce is undocumented, is an industry in which “violations of rights are rampant” and “the current environment, with a real focus on immigration enforcement and raids, has created an increase in the level of fear and concerns.”

Farmworkers are not the only ones concerned about the prospect of increased enforcement. Growers and other agricultural employers are worried about the possible impacts of increased immigration enforcement on the availability of workers. This concern has been voiced by employers across different geographical regions and agricultural industries around the country, including blueberries in New Jersey (as an aside, as mentioned in this article, White House adviser KellyAnne Conway grew up in southern New Jersey, worked as a blueberry picker during summer breaks from school and was crowned New Jersey Blueberry Princess in 1982 - but the blueberry industry, along with others in agriculture, is facing a crisis due to Trump's immigration policies and deportations), tomatoes in Michigan, apples in Maine, and dairy in New York, just to cite some examples. Unfortunately, even as many farmers express concern for their current workforce and want a way for those workers to adjust status, many are also calling for limiting protections and government oversight in the H-2A program. Some growers are emphasizing their political connections and hoping these will work to their benefit.

In this difficult political context, Farmworker Justice will keep fighting to ensure that farmworkers’ labor and human rights are respected while highlighting the need for progressive, sensible immigration reform that respects farmworkers.  Some of you may have heard or read Trump’s recent comments that he is open to immigration reform.  It is not clear what such proposed reform would entail, nor how it would move forward given the deep damage and lack of trust among immigrants and their supporters.  Nonetheless, it is obviously an issue we will be following closely.

Confirmation Process for Key Cabinet Positions in Trump Administration Continues   

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee has re-scheduled Alexander Acosta’s confirmation hearing for Secretary of Labor for March 22nd (it had originally been scheduled for March 15th). Acosta was the Trump Administration’s second choice for the post, after Andrew Puzder withdrew from consideration amidst controversy about his company’s labor practices, unpaid taxes for an undocumented domestic employee and past allegations of domestic violence.

Acosta is currently the Dean of Florida International University’s law school and has previously been through confirmation hearings for various government posts; having served on the National Labor Relations Board, the civil-rights division of the Justice Department and as a U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida during the George W. Bush administration.

Farmworker Justice has signed on to a letter with many other national organizations calling for a thorough review of Mr. Acosta’s record. We hope that the upcoming confirmation hearing will serve to provide further information about Acosta’s views on both labor and immigration, particularly on issues that affect farmworkers such as enforcing the minimum wage and other wage-hour laws, administering the H-2A agricultural guestworker program, and setting occupational safety standards. 

Now that Acosta’s confirmation hearing has been set, only one Cabinet-level hearing remains to be scheduled – that of Agriculture Secretary nominee Sonny Perdue. Perdue’s views on immigration are concerning--as Georgia governor, Perdue signed into law the state’s harsh anti-immigrant bill in 2006.  The delay in Perdue’s confirmation has frustrated some farm-state lawmakers who view it as a sign that the Trump Administration is not prioritizing rural America. The Senate Agriculture Committee had been waiting for weeks for the necessary paperwork to move forward with the nomination, including ethics forms and an FBI background check. The Committee finally received some documents this past Friday, March 10th. Perdue owns several agriculture-related businesses which may give rise to conflicts of interest and was fined for various ethics violations during his time as governor of Georgia.

 

Department of Homeland Security’s guidance for Executive Order could impact farmworkers

The Department of Homeland Security’s guidance implementing President Trump’s executive orders on immigration enforcement sets the stage for increasing the number of deportations, which already had reached record levels, and for expanding the people targeted for deportation.  A majority of the nation’s 2.5 million farmworkers employed on farms and ranches are undocumented immigrants. This guidance will cause more of them to be swept up in immigration raids.  “For more than 20 years, with a wink and a nod, we have allowed agricultural employers to hire unauthorized immigrants to harvest our crops and work in our dairies.  Farmworkers did not create the broken immigration system.  Mass deportations of farmworkers would be cruel and economically harmful,” said Bruce Goldstein, President of Farmworker Justice.  Farmworker Justice advocates for an opportunity for undocumented farmworkers and their family members to earn immigration status and citizenship.

Farmworker Justice Immigration Update 2/17/17

Immigration Raids Instilling Fear; Preparedness and Rapid Response Efforts Expanding

Immigration raids are taking place across the country following new immigration enforcement priorities laid out by the Trump Administration in one of a string of proposed and signed Executive Orders targeting immigrants.  Farmworkers and other immigrant communities are facing fear and uncertainty as they confront a heightened risk of encountering immigration enforcement actions.   

Farmworker Justice condemns these raids as senseless and heartless; they are causing needless fear and stress in farmworker and other immigrant communities.  Farmworker Justice, along with many other organizations, is working to ensure that farmworkers and others are receiving information about their rights in the event of immigration law enforcement.  Farmworker Justice, SPLC, and the United Farm Workers Foundation participated in a webinar this week through CIRI and IAN, a recording of which will soon be available on IAN’s website.  There are multiple sources for information about immigrant rights and Know Your Rights training available online.  Many resources are available on NILC’s webpage, including a “know your rights” card as well as materials explaining basic rights.

This is an extremely difficult time for many immigrant communities and we urge you to think about creating preparedness plans and rapid response networks in your communities, if you are not already doing so.  Some of the many difficult questions and considerations facing mixed status immigrant families include ensuring that their children will be taken care of in the event the parents or caretakers are detained or deported.  Parents must make arrangements for the necessary paperwork to ensure a responsible individual will assume care and custody for their children and know how to ensure children are able to join their parents if they are deported and choose to be reunited in their country of origin.  Fortunately, many groups are addressing these questions and are working to create family preparedness plans, including this one from ILRC.  Please contact us for additional information and resources in your community.

Agricultural Businesses Identify Serious Risks from Immigration Enforcement

Agribusiness is also feeling the heat of the increased immigration enforcement.  A growing chorus of growers, despite their broad support for then candidate Trump, is concerned about the future outlook of their workforce and their operations.  Farmworker Justice President Bruce Goldstein, speaking as a panelist at the February 2nd Food Tank Summit in Washington, D.C., was asked about the current environment and prospects of widespread immigration enforcement.  He responded by saying that “if we were to engage in massive deportations, our agricultural system would collapse.”

Multiple media articles have addressed grower concerns about their workforce; unfortunately, growers are also using this platform to criticize the H-2A program as being too burdensome and difficult to use.  The truth is that 95% of applications to DOL for H-2A workers are approved and in a timely manner.  The program’s rapid expansion belies claims that it is inaccessible.  Expansion of the already abusive H-2A program is not a solution to our broken immigration system and the senseless immigration enforcement we are now seeing.  Streamlining access to the H-2A industry and including year-round industries does nothing to address the needs of our current experienced workers and the insecurity they and their families are facing; in fact, it could lead to their displacement.  Greater protections for farmworkers and a path to legal immigration status and citizenship are needed.

Attracting and Retaining Workers by Improving Wages and Benefits

For farms experiencing labor shortages, one farm provides a clear model for attracting workers.  Christopher Ranch, the country’s largest fresh garlic producer, decided to increase wages in order to attract workers.  While the California state minimum wage is set to rise to $15 per hour in 2022, the grower is looking to get there by 2018, and has already bumped pay from $11 to $13 per hour this year.  As a result, they report a wait list of 150 workers.  While we recognize that some regions or growers may be experiencing bona fide labor shortages, more often than not these growers are not offering sufficient pay and working conditions in order to attract a stable workforce.

Guestworker Legislation:  H.R. 641, The BARN Act, re-introduced in 115th Congress

U.S. Rep. Rick Allen (GA) has re-introduced the Better Agricultural Resources Now Act, or BARN Act. Allen had also proposed the legislation in the previous Congress, and our summary of that bill can be found here.

The bill fundamentally transforms the H-2A program, eroding the rights and protections of foreign guestworkers and causing further harm to U.S. workers.  Among other provisions, the bill would transfer oversight of the application process from the Department of Labor to the Department of Agriculture while also limiting access to legal services, eliminate the housing guarantee, and expand the program to include year-round jobs.  The bill also sets an arbitrary wage cap at 115% of the applicable federal or state minimum wage, which would almost certainly fall below the current adverse effect wage rate (AEWR) for most states.

Labor Secretary Nominees: Andrew Puzder Withdraws, Alex Acosta Nominated

After a hearing date for the Labor Secretary nominee had finally been set, and amid growing concern that he did not have enough votes from his own party, Andrew Puzder removed himself from consideration.

Farmworker Justice opposed his nomination and is pleased that he has withdrawn.  President Trump has now nominated Alex Acosta.  We at Farmworker Justice look forward to learning about Mr. Acosta’s vision for the Department’s fulfillment of its mission.  The Department of Labor maintains important programs affecting agricultural workers.  These include employment and training programs, licensing farm labor contractors, setting occupational safety standards, administering the H-2A agricultural guestworker program, and enforcing the minimum wage and other wage-hour laws.  Many farmworkers experience low wages and violations of their limited labor protections.  We hope to learn the nominee’s views on building a more sustainable, prosperous and equitable agricultural sector.

Challenge

Responding to the dire situation created by President Trump’s actions and statements on immigration, an anonymous donor has issued a matching challenge.  Every dollar raised between now and May 1st, will be matched up to $10,000.  Please help us serve immigrant farmworkers by meeting this challenge.  Any amount of your donation will help.  Donations are tax-deductible.  Donate with a credit card online or send a check to Farmworker Justice, 1126 16th St., NW, Suite 270, Washington, D.C. 20036.  Thank you.

Farmworker Justice

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Executive Order on Federal Regulations Contravenes the  Rule of Law

President Trump’s executive order issued on Monday requiring elimination of two regulations per each single new regulation issued represents a sound-bite approach to governing that is irresponsible and contrary to the rule of law.  “The stated purpose of the order – to reduce business costs – is not only inappropriately one-sided but also contradicts many of the laws that require agencies to issue regulations.   If carried out, this order would likely result in harm to the health, safety, working conditions, housing quality, and other aspects of the lives of farmworkers and their children.  The ill-considered executive order should be withdrawn,” said Bruce Goldstein, President of Farmworker Justice.

A President may not and should not simply order federal agencies to withdraw existing regulations before issuing new regulations to achieve a numerical goal. Regulations are not a numbers game; they are a way this nation carries out the rule of law.  Congress passes legislation that often delegates to federal agencies the obligation to take action through regulations to achieve specified purposes and goals.  After giving the public and stakeholders the opportunity to comment on the wisdom and legality of a proposal, agencies must publish their reasoning and provide evidence to back up their regulatory decisions.

The President has the power under many laws to revise or even eliminate regulations, but agencies must do so in accordance with law and based on sound policy and facts.

The invalidity of the Executive Order is also evident from the President’s stated goal of helping businesses large and small; under our Constitution and our laws, regulations may not be evaluated simply on the basis of whether they help business or not.  It may be profitable for some businesses to spray toxic pesticides on fields without regard to whether workers are in the field or children are playing on school grounds adjacent to the field, but that should not be the motivation for withdrawing regulations when issuing new rules on other topics.

If federal agencies were forced to comply with this Executive Order, chaos could occur throughout the government on a wide range of issues.  These issues include regulations that support safety of food, vehicles, airlines, workplaces, financial institutions, and the environment.

Farmworker Justice Statement on President Trump’s Executive Order on Immigration

Farmworker Justice condemns the Executive Order issued by President Trump on Friday.  President Trump’s Executive Order bars entry of refugees from Syria and imposes a suspension of admission to the U.S. of citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries. This order contradicts the very essence and history of our country—valuing the contributions of immigrants and providing a safe space for refugees from around the world. We call on the President to withdraw the Executive Order and on Congress to take immediate action to reverse the Executive Order.  

The President should withdraw the Executive Order because it violates the Constitution and existing immigration law.  Grave harm has already been done to thousands of innocent individuals who have followed our immigration laws and been approved to enter the United States.  The Executive Order damages the reputation of the United States as a nation of liberty and justice for all, including people of different religions, races, ethnicities and national origins.  While supposedly designed to protect the nation, the title and purported purpose of the Order misrepresent its aims and its consequences.

We are pleased that people all over the country have demonstrated their opposition through rallies at airports and cities.  We want to acknowledge the work of several federal judges who have already recognized the likelihood that the Order is invalid and have temporarily halted enforcement of aspects of the Executive Order, but that is not enough.

The Executive Order is just one component of an attack on immigrants and immigration, blaming people who have contributed to our country’s greatness for the ills arising from other causes. Last week’s Executive Orders also open the doors to massive and inhumane immigration enforcement and a senseless and costly border wall.

More than 80% of the people who labor on our farms and ranches are immigrants.  Most farmworkers have been here many years and deserve our thanks for working so hard at such low wages to produce our food.  Because our immigration system has not been reformed, a majority of farmworkers lack authorized immigration status.  They and others deserve an opportunity to earn immigration status with a path to citizenship.  Our nation also must continue to offer safe haven to immigrants and refugees from around the world.

There is no doubt that this country – including its agricultural sector -- needs immigration policy reform, but not the kind that President Trump has launched.

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