Immigration and Labor Rights

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.



 

Farmworker Justice Immigration Update: 06/30/17

Two Anti-Immigrant Bills Passed in House of Representatives Yesterday

Representative Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, introduced two anti-immigrant bills that were approved by the House yesterday (June 29). The two bills are entitled the “No Sanctuary for Criminals Act” (H.R. 3003) and “Kate's Law” (H.R. 3004). The “No Sanctuary for Criminals Act” targets sanctuary cities and seeks to coerce state and local jurisdictions into enforcing immigration law, while also requiring mandatory detention for broader categories of undocumented persons, among other provisions. “Kate’s Law,” in turn, enhances the government’s ability to prosecute illegal reentry cases and increases the sentences that may be imposed. This is significant because more than half of all federal criminal prosecutions are for illegal reentry and the prison system is already overburdened.

Farmworker Justice joined over 400 non-governmental organizations urging members of Congress to oppose these bills, which will further the criminalization and incarceration of immigrants and ultimately make communities less safe. These bills demonize immigrants, who actually are less likely to commit crimes than the native-born. Though the bills passed in the House, they have a lower likelihood of passing in the Senate. However, it is important that we continue to advocate against increasing the Trump Administration’s capacity for mass detentions and deportations. The White House has stated that it “strongly supports” both bills and that they will likely be signed into law if they are presented to the President.

House Immigration Agenda: Guestworker Changes May Follow Enforcement Bills

On Tuesday (June 27), Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID) was appointed to head the Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security of the House Judiciary Committee. Rep. Labrador, a former immigration lawyer who was elected in 2010 with the Tea Party wave, supported the two anti-immigrant bills that passed in the House yesterday and has also introduced another enforcement-focused bill, the Davis-Oliver Act.  In a recent press call, Labrador stated that he believes the Davis-Oliver Act will get a vote in the House and that after passage of these enforcement-centered bills, he plans to focus on the issue of guestworkers. He also specifically referenced the H-2A visa program and a possible expansion of the program to include year-round jobs on dairy farms. Idaho is the fourth-largest dairy production state. Additionally, Labrador noted that there are draft plans underway for a guestworker proposal involving 3-year visas which would require undocumented workers to first leave the U.S. in order to be eligible.  

Landmark Ruling Affirms Immigrant Workers’ Protections against Retaliation

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals recently issued a favorable opinion affirming key federal protections for immigrant workers asserting their rights. The case, Arias v. Raimondo (which Farmworker Justice joined as amicus curiae) involved Jose Arias, an immigrant dairy worker who sued his employer for various wage violations. His employer’s attorney reported Mr. Arias to immigration authorities in an attempt to have him removed from the U.S. before trial and Mr. Arias subsequently sued the attorney. The Ninth Circuit Court ruled that the attorney could be held liable under the Fair Labor Standards Act’s (FLSA) anti-retaliation provision, which protects workers regardless of their immigration status. This decision is a victory for workers, and is the result of years of litigation by California Rural Legal Assistance (CRLA) and Legal Aid at Work.

Immigrants’ Health Compromised by Increased Immigration Enforcement

The current context of increased immigration enforcement is having a real impact on the health of immigrant communities. Health providers across the country have noted a decrease in the number of immigrants seeking medical care, even for chronic and possibly life-threatening conditions. In addition, the anxiety of possible deportation and/or family separation is having an adverse impact on the mental health of immigrants, including young children, resulting in physical symptoms such as stomach pain, dizziness, shortness of breath, and insomnia, among many others.

Past studies have demonstrated a correlation between increased immigration enforcement and a decrease in immigrants’ use of preventive health services, as well as tangible negative impacts on health outcomes. Reluctance to seek medical care among farmworkers may also exacerbate physical conditions resulting from the arduous tasks associated with agricultural work.  As noted by a farmworker in a recent article in The Atlantic: “we put our lives out there in the fields for a job that will never give our health back.”

Recent Supreme Court Developments Affecting Immigrants

Muslim Ban – On June 26, the Supreme Court made a long awaited announcement regarding President Trump’s “Muslim Ban” Executive Order. The Court agreed to take on the issue and said it will begin hearing oral arguments in October. The Court also allowed parts of President Trump’s EO to go into effect, allowing a temporary travel ban for refugees and citizens of six predominantly Muslim countries, unless they have a “bona fide relationship” with a person or entity in the U.S. On June 28, the State Department issued guidelines regarding what types of personal and professional relationships qualify for this exception, which it then partially modified the next day in order to clarify that fiancé relationships are included. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) also published a set of FAQs on the ban yesterday (June 29), just before it officially went into effect at 8:00 p.m. Litigation on the new ban is already underway, as the state of Hawaii has submitted a motion asking for clarification on the scope of the ban. It remains to be seen whether the implementation of the ban will once again lead to confusion at ports of entry, as well as further litigation.  

DACA – Also on Monday, the Supreme Court asked the Trump Administration for its views on whether those in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program are legally present in the country. The request was directed to Jeffrey Wall, the acting U.S. Solicitor General, and is related to the case of Brewer v. Arizona Dream Act Coalition (ADAC). The Brewer case concerns a 2012 directive by then-Arizona governor Jan Brewer ordering the state not to provide driver’s licenses to DACA recipients. In 2014, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) supported DACA enrollees in their challenge to the directive, and an appellate court ordered the state of Arizona to issue licenses to DACA recipients. An estimated 21,000 Arizona DACA recipients have since been issued driver’s licenses. However, it is unclear whether the government’s position will change under the new Administration and the Supreme Court is currently weighing whether it will take the case. In the meantime, the licenses currently held by DACA recipients remain valid and operational, as does the DACA program itself, although it continues to be under attack.

Ten States, Led by Texas Attorney General, Call on U.S. Government to End DACA

The Attorney General of Texas, Ken Paxton, along with the Attorneys General of nine other states and the governor of Idaho, have sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions asking that the U.S. government rescind the 2012 memorandum establishing DACA and cease to accept or renew applications for the program. The state of Texas, along with 25 other states, had previously sued the U.S. government over the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) program, a proposed extension of DACA. As a result of that litigation, the DAPA program was blocked before it could be implemented. The recent Texas Attorney General letter threatens to expand the scope of litigation to include DACA unless the U.S. government agrees to rescind the program. It establishes September 5, 2017 as the deadline for the government to act.

 

 

 

Farmworker Justice Immigration Update: 06/16/17

35th Anniversary of Plyler v. Doe Decision on Right to Education for Immigrant Children

Yesterday (June 15, 2017) marked the 35th anniversary of the Plyler v. Doe decision, a seminal Supreme Court case that established the right to public education for immigrant children, regardless of their status. Several of the courageous parents who brought the case against a school district in Tyler, Texas worked in agriculture, including in the area’s then-famous rose industry.  In spite of this landmark decision, some states and localities continue to enact policies attempting to weaken immigrant children’s access to school using the same arguments the Court rejected in 1982. For guidance on how to help ensure that immigrant children exercise this important right, please see NILC’s Model Campus Safe Zones Resolution Language and The Leadership Conference’s Resources to Protect Immigrant Children in School (available in English and Spanish). Protecting immigrant children’s right to an education remains as essential today as it was 35 years ago.   

5th Anniversary of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Program

Yesterday also marked five years since the enactment of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, established by President Obama in 2012.  Since its creation, more than 780,000 young people have enrolled in the program. A 2014 study estimated that about 100,000 farmworkers and children of farmworkers are eligible for DACA. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) processed thousands of DACA applications and work permits during the first quarter of 2017, showing that the program has continued at a robust pace despite concerns about its fate.

Last night, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced the rescission of the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) program, which had not gone into effect due to legal challenges. It is important to note that the DHS announcement on the rescission of DAPA makes clear that the DACA program remains in place. In fact, in its accompanying guidance, DHS explicitly states that “rescission [of DAPA] will not affect the terms of the original DACA program.” These recent developments offer a somewhat optimistic prospect for DACA enrollees, but it is imperative that immigrant rights advocates and lawmakers continue to monitor the issue and push back against attacks on the program.

Secretary Perdue Announces Possible Changes to Agricultural Labor Policy

During a visit to Idaho earlier this month, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue told reporters that he has spoken to President Trump repeatedly about the role of immigrant workers in agriculture. Perdue specifically highlighted dairy producers’ year-round need for workers and stated that there are agricultural jobs that U.S. workers are not willing to fill. According to reporting by Politico Pro, Perdue also signaled that Kristi Boswell, one of his advisors and a former American Farm Bureau Federation lobbyist, is working on the issue. Secretary Perdue did not give any indication about when the proposal would be made public.

On June 15, Secretary Perdue convened the first meeting of a new interagency task force on agriculture and rural America.  During the meeting, Secretary Perdue noted the importance of a “reliable farm supply of agricultural workers,” but did not elaborate on the statement. Wayne Palmer, current chief of staff at the Department of Labor (DOL), was also present at the meeting, but was silent on the issue. One of the task force’s stated objectives is to “develop a reliable workforce” and it plans to issue its recommendations in October. As we noted when Trump signed the Executive Order on Rural Prosperity, the farmworker voice was ignored by the Administration in the meeting leading to the Executive Order and in the Executive Order itself. That shortcoming should not continue. 

Department of Labor (DOL) – Mixed Messages on Labor Rights/H-2A Enforcement  

Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta has stated that the DOL will vigorously enforce laws involving fraud and abuse in guestworker visa programs, as part of an effort to protect American workers. In his statement, Acosta highlighted the DOL’s recent legal action against “G Farms,” an H-2A program employer accused of housing and wage violations. Although Farmworker Justice believes that this enforcement action is a positive step, we are concerned about another recent announcement by the DOL rescinding its guidance on joint employment. Withdrawing the agency’s informal guidance does not change the law. However, it raises questions about the Secretary’s views on holding growers accountable for labor violations when utilizing farm labor contractors, a prevalent practice generally and in guestworker visa programs. DOL’s mixed messaging is also apparent from reports that some local DOL investigators are not questioning growers about joint employment relationships, as well as reports that they are conducting fewer workplace audits. Another sign of a more employer-friendly approach appears in the Trump Administration’s budget, which calls for more compliance assistance to employers and less money overall for enforcement. The direction of DOL’s enforcement will depend significantly on key personnel appointments, which are still pending.  

Lee Francis Cissna Nominated for USCIS Director Position

President Trump has nominated Lee Francis Cissna for the position of Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Cissna’s nomination has been approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee, paving the way for a confirmation vote by the Senate.  Cissna volunteered on President Trump’s campaign team and has stated that he provided technical expertise to those drafting President Trump’s immigration policies. The Congressional Hispanic Caucus and various immigrant rights organizations are urging Senators to vote against Cissna’s nomination.  

Current Litigation Challenging President Trump’s Immigration Executive Orders

Although the issues discussed below may not directly affect farmworkers, the outcome of these ongoing cases related to President Trump’s immigration orders will likely determine the limits of the President’s authority on immigration policy, as well as the extent of constitutional guarantees that protect states and individuals.

“Sanctuary Jurisdictions” – One of President Trump’s January 2017 executive orders on immigration, entitled “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States,” included a provision calling for the withdrawal of funding for “sanctuary jurisdictions.” As the result of lawsuits brought by the counties of San Francisco and Santa Clara in California, on April 25, 2017, a District Court judge ordered an injunction of this provision (Section 9(a) of the Executive Order). Last month, Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a memorandum clarifying that the provision only applies to certain federal grants. Last week, the government filed a motion to dismiss the challenge to its policy. A hearing on the government’s motion to dismiss has been tentatively scheduled for July 12.

“Muslim Ban” – Another executive order on immigration issued in January, entitled “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States,” called for a temporary ban on the admission of individuals from certain Muslim-majority countries, as well as refugees. The implementation of the order led to chaos, protests and lawsuits all around the country. In response, President Trump issued a revised version of the Executive Order in March. Most recently, two Appeals Court decisions (in the 4th Circuit and 9th Circuit) upheld existing injunctions against the Executive Order. The Trump Administration has asked the Supreme Court to address the issue, and the Court is expected to announce whether it will take the case later this month.

 

 

 

Farmworker Justice Immigration Update: 06/02/17

Rep. Gutierrez Introduces Companion Bill to Agricultural Worker Program Act in House

On May 25, 2017, Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), joined by 26 original cosponsors, introduced H.R. 2690, the “Agricultural Worker Program Act of 2017,” a companion to the Senate bill of the same name introduced by Sen. Feinstein earlier this month, S.1034. Farmworker Justice strongly 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. For more information on the Agricultural Worker Program Act, please see our Fact Sheet. A full list of cosponsors of H.R. 2690 is available online.

Farmworker Justice Fact Sheet on Sen. Johnson State Guestworker Bill

Last month, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), with co-sponsor Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), introduced the “State Sponsored Visa Pilot Program Act of 2017,” S. 1040. The bill would allow individual states to create and sponsor their own temporary work visas for foreign citizens. For more information on the State Sponsored Visa Pilot Program Act of 2017, please see our Fact Sheet.

House Judiciary Committee Passes Draconian Anti-Immigrant Bill

Last week, the House of Representatives concluded its “mark-up” of H.R. 2431, the "Michael Davis, Jr. and Danny Oliver in Honor of State and Local Law Enforcement Act," which has been dubbed the "Trump Mass Deportation Act" by immigrant rights’ activists. Similar versions of the bill, formerly known as the “SAFE Act”, were introduced in 2013 and 2015, but did not pass. Among other provisions, the bill, which has been described as “draconian” by Human Rights Watch, would criminalize undocumented immigrants, expand the range of criminal offenses that would make immigrants deportable, increase penalties for immigration offenses, eliminate due process protections and authorize local law enforcement to act as immigration agents. Some members of the law enforcement community have been vocal about their opposition to the bill and their concerns that it will actually make communities less safe.

Uncertainty about Future of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) Designation

On May 22, 2017, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) extended Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for almost 60,000 Haitians for an additional six months (the program will now expire on January 22, 2018). Although this decision is preferable to the immediate termination of TPS status for Haitians, it falls short of the 18-month extension requested by numerous groups, including immigrant rights advocates, faith leaders, members of Congress, and Haitian government representatives. The decision has led to increased uncertainty for TPS holders from other countries, such as El Salvador and Honduras. Adding to this uncertainty, Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL), along with three cosponsors, recently introduced the “TPS Reform Act of 2017,” a bill which would make it harder to establish and/or extend TPS designations. TPS designations provide crucial relief for immigrants who are faced with dangerous situations if they return to their home countries, as the result of natural disasters, life-threatening epidemics, or other circumstances.

Trump Administration’s 2018 Budget Proposal

Last week, President Trump released his budget proposal for FY 2018. Although it is important to keep in mind that this proposal is merely the starting point for budget negotiations, the priorities reflected in the document are very concerning. Below, we summarize some of the aspects of the proposal that could most significantly impact farmworkers.

Increased Funding for Immigration Enforcement and Detention

The Trump Administration’s proposed FY 2018 budget includes billions of dollars to ramp up the Administration’s plans for the increased detention and deportation of immigrants. Amidst deep cuts to most government agencies, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) would receive a budget increase of 23%, while DHS would receive a budget increase of 7%, and a $2.7 billion increase for border security and immigration enforcement, including funds to hire new immigration agents and build portions of a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico.

Decrease in Funding for Key Agencies

The DOL budget for FY 2018 would be reduced from $46 billion to $44.2 billion, with a massive reduction of almost $2.5 billion, or about 20%, of the agency’s discretionary budget. The National Farmworker Jobs Program, which provides programs for migrant and seasonal farmworkers for about $82 million, would be completely de-funded.

Proposal for H-2 Visa Application Fees. According to a proposal also included in the budget, DOL could soon start charging fees to employers who seek to hire foreign workers in order to cover the operating costs for foreign labor certification programs. Employers currently need to ascertain to the Labor Department that they've tried unsuccessfully to hire U.S. workers and that they would pay wages high enough not to disadvantage U.S. workers. Under the budget proposal, employers would also have to pay fees to cover the costs of DOL's prevailing wage determination and the issuing of labor certifications. (Those services are currently free.)

OSHA’s overall budget would be cut by approximately $8 billion, while its budget for regulations would be cut by about 10%. Additionally, the OSHA Susan Harwood Training Grant program, which serves vulnerable worker communities, would be completely eliminated. The proposed budget would also reduce USDA funding by more than 20% and would sharply reduce funding for food security programs.

Marked Increase in Use of H-2A Program in California

Use of the H-2A agricultural worker visa has continued to rise this year. In the state of California, use of the program has increased exponentially over the last five years. This issue continues to be highlighted by the L.A. Times in a series of recent articles detailing use of the program, including employers’ reasons for hiring H-2A workers and concerns about worker housing.

CNN Story on Coalition of Immokalee Workers

The CNN Freedom Project recently published a story on agricultural workers in the tomato industry in Florida, highlighting the invaluable work of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and its Fair Food Program initiative.

New Report on Immigrant Dairy Workers in New York State

The Worker Justice Center of New York and the Workers’ Center of Central New York just released a new report entitled: “Milked: Immigrant Dairy Farmworkers in New York State.” The report details the treatment and working conditions of the immigrant laborers who toil in the state’s milking parlors and barns.

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.

www.farmworkerjustice.org

www.facebook.com/farmworkerjustice  

www.twitter.com/farmwrkrjustice

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.  

Your tax-deductible donation makes our work possible.

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.

 

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