Immigration and Labor Rights

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  The ill-considered executive order should be withdrawn,” said Bruce Goldstein, President of Farmworker Justice.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.

Executive Order on Immigration May Address Farmworkers

President Trump may issue an Executive Order related to immigration and labor issues that could have significant effects on the nation’s farmworkers and their employers in agriculture.  Vox circulated a leaked draft of an “Executive Order on Protecting American Jobs and Workers by Strengthening the Integrity of Foreign Worker Visa Programs.”  If signed, it could result in major changes in the H-2A agricultural guestworker program, but those changes are not specified.  Farmworker Justice seeks improvements in the wages, working conditions, and enforcement under the H-2A program to protect U.S. and foreign workers.

The leaked draft Executive Order calls on the Secretaries of Homeland Security, Labor and State to engage in studies and identify new policies, as needed, regarding temporary foreign worker visa programs, often referred to as guestworker programs. The draft would also require the Secretary of Homeland Security in consultation with the Secretaries of State and Labor to propose “a regulation (or make changes to policy or operations, as appropriate) to restore the integrity of employment-based nonimmigrant worker programs and better protect U.S. and foreign workers affected by those programs.”  Despite this call to protect workers, the order raises troubling questions.:  It would order DHS within 90 days of the order to “submit to the President a list of options for ensuring the efficient processing of petitions for the H-2A nonimmigrant agricultural visa program, while maintaining programmatic integrity.”  Efficient processing of the H-2A program is important but not at the expense of workers; this language is typically used by agribusiness to refer to their interest in  stripping away worker protections and DOL oversight. Although the draft is couched in terms of protecting workers, there is cause for concern. Historically, Republican Administrations have sought to lower wages and remove labor protections for both U.S. and foreign workers under the H-2A program at the behest of agricultural employers.  President Trump promised to cut 75% of all federal regulations. Moreover, he has an interest in facilitating employer access to guestworkers, creating a tension with pro-US worker rhetoric.

The H-2A program has grown recently to 165,000 approved jobs and is expected to continue to grow.  In 2016, over 95% of applications were certified and in a timely manner.  The H-2A program  allows agricultural employers to hire foreign workers on temporary work visas if they recruit inside the United States with certain minimum wages and working conditions and cannot attract sufficient U.S. workers. The Trump vineyard in Virginia has used H-2A guestworkers.  

Farmworker Justice will press the Administration to better protect U.S. and foreign workers under the H-2A program. Farmworkers’ wages and working conditions need to be improved, not worsened.  In addition, there are widespread violations of the rights of both U.S. and foreign workers under the H-2A program that need to be addressed.

This draft Executive Order does not address the reality that a majority of the 2.5 million farmworkers in the U.S. – the experienced workers on our farms and ranches -- are undocumented immigrants. Instead, the President demonizes undocumented workers and promises mass deportations.  Undocumented farmworkers and their family members should be offered the opportunity for immigration status and a path to citizenship.

Farmworker Justice Statement on President Trump’s Plans for Anti-Immigrant Executive Actions

“President Trump signed two executive orders today that threaten some of our country’s most essential values, including diversity and the right to due process, and will inflict great harm on innocent people,” said Bruce Goldstein, President of Farmworker Justice, a national advocacy organization for farmworkers. These include provisions calling for the construction of a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico and increased detention and prosecution of immigrants, as well as a renewed attack on cities that choose to protect immigrants, referred to as “sanctuary jurisdictions.” Further anticipated actions may include an order banning refugees from certain Muslim countries.

These actions represent a campaign to blame innocent immigrants for problems they did not cause.  While calling for budget cuts, President Trump intends to spend billions of dollars without valid reason.  These measures also will likely lead to an increase in civil rights violations by immigration and law enforcement officials, and subject many immigrants to verbal and physical abuse by individuals who feel empowered to act on their xenophobia and racism.  

President Trump’s harsh rhetoric and actions regarding immigrants are instilling fear in many farmworkers and their families.  The large majority of the people who harvest our fruits and vegetables and tend our livestock are immigrants, and many are undocumented workers.  Most farmworkers have held these low-paid, difficult jobs for many years. Many have children.  They help agricultural business owners prosper. 

“We will continue to help farmworkers fight for immigration reform that brings greater justice to the fields and farmworker communities and ensures a prosperous, productive agricultural sector for all,” said Goldstein.

Farmworker Justice Immigration Update, January 18, 2017

Dear friends,


With just two days until the inauguration of President-elect Trump, Washington, DC  is preparing for the change in government.  The Senate has been busy holding hearings on many of Trump’s nominees, although the hearing on the nominee for the Secretary of Labor, Andrew Puzder, has been postponed until February 2 and there is not yet a nominee for the Secretary of Agriculture. Farmworker Justice has joined several coalition letters and statements opposing Attorney General nominee Jeff Sessions, EPA Administrator nominee Scott Pruitt, and Secretary of Labor nominee Puzder. Links to the statements and letters can be found below.

As we have noted in previous updates, the anti-immigrant rhetoric and backgrounds of Trump and some of his key advisors and nominees combined with the threats of harsh immigration enforcement and potential termination of the DACA program have generated a great deal of anxiety and fear in immigrant communities.

Some farmers are also concerned about the threatened immigration enforcement and the impact it may have on their ability to find workers.  The article reports that some farmers are investing in more machinery and others are wondering if they will need to pay more to attract workers. Tom Nassif, President of the Western Growers Association and advisor to Trump, stated that Trump is not interested in deporting their workers.


DACA and the BRIDGE Act

FJ has joined a letter from over 850 organizations requesting President-elect Trump to continue DACA.  Also, on January 12, 2017, Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Dick Durbin (D-IL) reintroduced the BRIDGE Act, with companion bipartisan legislation introduced in the House.  The BRIDGE Act would extend protection from deportation as well as continued access to work permits for Dreamers in the event the Trump administration revokes DACA.  While we are disappointed the legislation doesn’t go further to ensure a path to citizenship for Dreamers and provide broader relief for our broken immigration system, we believe the legislation is important to ensure protection for those Dreamers who came forward to participate in the DACA program.

Farmworker Justice is watching and will report on developments in the new Congress and upcoming Administration.  In addition to the fears immigrant farmworker families are experiencing, we are very concerned by likely efforts by agribusiness to limit government oversight and protections in the H-2A guestworker program.


Trump’s Competing Views on Guestworkers

Trump himself has an interest in the H-2A program that could lead to self-interested changes removing key worker protections.  As reported by The Washington Post, he is the president of a Charlottesville, VA vineyard that has applied for H-2A workers for multiple years, including for 2017.  On the other hand, Trump has repeatedly stressed his interest in protecting American workers and, as we reported in an earlier blog, released a YouTube video stating that he intends to “direct the Department of Labor to investigate all abuses of visa programs that undercut the American worker.” Protecting American workers is  intermeshed with protecting workers with H-2A visas, as the exploitation and vulnerability of H-2A workers harms not only those workers on visas, but all other farmworkers.   The conflict between the pro-exploited-labor lobby and anti-immigrant voices in the incoming Administration is worth observing closely for its  impact the H-2A program protections.


First H-2A Legislation of the Session Introduced

The first H-2A legislation of this Congress was introduced on January 4— the so-called“Family Farm Relief Act of 2017,” HR 281.  The bill proposes to revise H-2A agricultural guestworker program in ways that would deprive U.S. citizens and permanent resident immigrants of job opportunities and allow exploitation of vulnerable foreign citizens who are hired on temporary work visas.  The bill also would permit employers of year-round livestock workers to hire foreign workers under the H-2A program rather than keep its focus on addressing the alleged difficulty of filling jobs that are seasonal or temporary.  Lacking in this bill are any meaningful steps to stop rampant labor abuses under the H-2A program.  Nor does the bill provide a path to immigration status and citizenship for current undocumented agricultural workers or the future year-round dairy workers.  .  Versions of this bill were introduced in earlier Congresses but have never advanced.  The legislation was likely introduced in response to interests of dairy farmer constituents in New York.   An analysis of the legislation can be found on our webpage.  


Several recent media pieces of interest include the following:

An article addressing the issue of safety in farmworker transportation, which continues to be a serious concern, as highlighted by the multiple farmworker fatalities that have occurred.

A piece in the Huffington Post noted that providing decent affordable housing may help attract  U.S. farmworkers to fill open jobs. The company, which had built the housing to bring in H-2A guestworkers, also found that worker productivity increased with the new housing.  As we have been arguing for years, instead of keeping farmworker wages low and working conditions poor, growers should be improving conditions and labor standards to attract and retain workers.  We are pleased to see some of these basic principles of supply and demand are beginning to get recognition in agriculture.

And finally, a LA Times article discussing a plan released by the produce industry regarding abusive Mexican labor conditions.  While this is an important issue that needs to be addressed, the produce industry unfortunately elected not to engage with farm labor unions to design its plan and is instead an effort  by some of the big players to avoid the real efforts at meaningful corporate social responsibility in agriculture, such as the Equitable Food Initiative, of which FJ is a founding board member, and the Coalition of Immokalee’s Fair Food program.


Reminder: Please join our webinar on Tuesday, Jan 24, 2017 at 2:00 PM EST with the Mexican Consulate to learn more about their potential services and how to work with the Consulate to help farmworkers in your community in the face of potential immigration enforcement.

Register now!

A Conversation with the Mexican consulate: Discussing services and protections for Mexican nationals

Please join Farmworker Justice for a conversation with Alejandro Celorio Alcantara, the Head of Section / Hispanic and Migration Affairs for the Embassy of Mexico. Mr. Celorio will share with us the work in which the Mexican consulates are engaging to help their nationals in the face of increased immigration enforcement under the Trump Administration. Mr. Celorio will also discuss potential collaboration to help Mexican workers facing violations of their workplace rights. The call will enable participants to gain a better understanding of how they can collaborate with the Mexican consulate in their communities to better improve services and protections for Mexican nationals.



Attorney General nominee Sessions

Letter from the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a coalition of more than 200 national organizations committed to promote and protect the civil and human rights of all persons in the United States, and  144 organizations writing to express strong opposition to the confirmation of Senator Jefferson B. Sessions (R-AL) to be the 84th Attorney General of the United States.

Statement from the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda (NHLA), a coalition of 40 of the nation’s most preeminent Latino advocacy organizations, which adopted a resolution, presented by MALDEF, opposing the nomination of U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions to be U.S. Attorney General, citing his long record in opposition to immigration reform and his work to undermine the protections of voting and civil rights laws.  Farmworker Justice is on the Board of the NHLA


Labor Secretary nominee Puzder

Statement from the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda, which sent a letter to the U.S. Senate opposing the confirmation of Andrew F. Puzder as U.S. Secretary of Labor citing Puzder’s practices and policy positions that are at odds with the needs and aspirations of American workers. Puzder has expressed opposition to raising the minimum wage, has criticized paid sick leave policies like those mandated for federal contractors, and has said that expanding eligibility for overtime pay is bad for workers.  FJ’s Bruce Goldstein is a cosigner of the NHLA letter as he is a co-chair of its economic empowerment and labor committee.


EPA Administrator nominee Pruitt

Statement from the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda, a coalition of 40 of the nation’s preeminent Latino advocacy organizations, which adopted a motion opposing the nomination of Oklahoma Attorney General E. Scott Pruitt as Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), citing his long record working to undermine the environmental protections and enforcement entrusted to this vital agency.  FJ’s Virginia Ruiz is co-chair of the NHLA Energy and Environment committee.


Department of Agriculture nominee

As of January 18th, the only Cabinet level position that remains unfilled is that of Agriculture secretary; possibly due to disagreement between different factions of Trump’s transition team.

Farmworker Justice Immigration Update 12/22/16

National Day of Action to Protect Immigrants & Refugees
January 14, 2017 will be a day of nationwide mass mobilization to protect immigrants and refugees. The day of action, which is already being planned in over 20 states and is rapidly growing, is intended to celebrate the nation’s immigrant heritage and defend against hateful attacks and policies. Scheduled events include rallies, marches, vigils and community gatherings to discuss topics such as deportation defense and establishing safe sanctuaries. To find an event near you visit:

U.N. Special Rapporteur in Trafficking in Persons Concerned about H-2A Program
The U.N. Special Rapporteur in Trafficking in Persons recently concluded a visit to the U.S. At the end of her visit, she released a statement identifying key concerns, including concerns about the vulnerability of agricultural guestworkers under the H-2A foreign worker program, as well as ongoing abuses. She called on the U.S. to improve the way the program operates and do more to stop abuses. You can read FJ’s summary of the statement, media coverage here, and the full statement here.

GAO Reports Budgetary Challenges at Office of Foreign Labor Certification (OFLC)
This month, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report entitled: “Declining Resources: Selected Agencies Took Steps to Minimize Effects on Mission but Opportunities Exist for Additional Action”. The OFLC, which is charged with reviewing employer applications for the H-2A guestworker program, was one of the agencies studied in the report. The report states that though application volumes were 84% higher in 2015 than in 2010, the amounts appropriated to the agency during this period to process applications decreased by roughly 9%. Given the limited resources available to hire additional permanent staff, the agency reported using temporary seasonal contract staff to help address the application increase. The agency is also requesting an additional $20 million in funding for 2017 and 2018 to process H-2A and H-2B labor certifications, but the agency’s budgetary future remains uncertain. FJ is concerned that these financial constraints and related reductions in staffing could affect the quality and depth of review of employer applications by the OFLC, as the agency tries to process an increasing volume of applications with diminishing resources.

FJ Highlights Ongoing Concerns for Farmworkers in Trump Administration
Amidst continued uncertainty regarding the next administration’s policies on immigration, FJ is closely monitoring developments in the Trump transition. Trump’s team includes anti-immigrant nativists who condemn immigrants and immigration and claim that they want to protect U.S. workers from competition for jobs, including through guestworker programs. On the other hand are business owners and other pro-employer Republicans who are generally supportive of easier access – meaning fewer labor protections and less government oversight -- to temporary foreign workers. Some employer groups are calling for a legalization for current undocumented immigrants. Some of these tensions will play out during upcoming Senate confirmation hearings.

We track negative impacts of Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric, which has led to fear among immigrants and hate crimes, causing undocumented workers to be pushed further into the margins of society. In addition to providing policy analysis to farmworker organizations, we are collaborating with other groups to educate farmworker families about their rights and policy developments.

We continue to educate decision-makers and the public, including through media coverage and social media. It is important to bring forward farmworkers’ voices and accurate information about the immigration system and about the H-2A agricultural guestworker program.
Farmworkers need our help and we hope we can count on you for your support for our policy analysis, advocacy, legal assistance, coalition-building, and other efforts to defend immigrants and farmworkers and advance affirmative initiatives.

In the spirit of giving during this holiday season, and recognizing the serious risks farmworkers face from the incoming Administration and Congress, we ask that you consider donating to Farmworker Justice. You may send a check to our office or donate here.

Happy Holidays and Best Wishes for the New Year!


UN Special Rapporteur in Trafficking in Persons Concerned about H-2A Guestworker Program

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has issued a statement, released on December 19, following a visit to the United States by Maria Grazia Giammarinaro, UN Special Rapporteur in Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children.

The Special Rapporteur, in discussing trafficking, raised concerns about the vulnerability of agricultural guestworkers due to their non-immigrant status under the H-2A temporary foreign agricultural worker program and ongoing abuses under the program.

It is helpful at this moment to have objective observers investigate and comment on the H-2A temporary foreign agricultural guestworker program. Agricultural employers’ use of the H-2A visa program has grown rapidly and likely will continue to expand. Grower associations are campaigning to lower H-2A wage rates and reduce government oversight.

The UN Special Rapporteur said:
“The legal framework governing temporary visas for migrant workers, especially H-2A visa for temporary or seasonal agricultural work and H-2B visa for temporary or seasonal non-agricultural work visas, is of particular concern as it exposes applicants to the risk of exploitation, including human trafficking.”
In practice, she found that for many guestworkers reporting human rights violations or quitting their jobs to return home “is impossible because of the debts they incur from recruitment agencies’ fees.”

She called on the United States to improve the way the program operates and to do more to stop abuses.
Her comments echo our report, “No Way to Treat a Guest: Why the H-2A Agricultural Visa Program Fails U.S. and Foreign Workers,” available on our website.

The UN’s statement will be useful as we and allies defend farmworkers in the policy battle that will occur in the next Administration and Congress and seek to build a just immigration system that respects working people.

Farmworker Justice Immigration Update, 12/12/16

Presidential Transition Appointments

DHS Secretary
General John Kelly has been nominated by President-Elect Trump to be the Secretary of Homeland Security, a position that could have a far-reaching impact on the nation’s immigration policy. Kelly, who retired from the military earlier this year, led the U.S. Southern Command, which oversees military operations in much of Central and South America. Though he worked extensively on cross-border issues in this role, much is still unknown about his views on specific immigration policies and how his military experience will translate to leadership in a civilian agency. Whomever Kelly eventually chooses to direct the different sub-agencies within DHS will likely play a key role in shaping the agency’s immigration policies and enforcement actions.

DOL Secretary
President-Elect Trump has named fast-food executive Andy Puzder as his nominee for Labor Secretary. Puzder favors repealing workplace regulations and has a record of pro-business and anti-worker values. Puzder is the CEO of CKE Restaurant Holdings, the parent company of the Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s fast-food franchises, which are currently the subjects of various ongoing DOL investigations. Puzder has also been a vocal opponent of raising the minimum wage and providing overtime pay, and has advocated automation as a way of avoiding financial and legal obligations to workers. He has also expressed support for guestworker programs, appearing to prefer temporary work visas over the opportunity for workers to obtain immigration status. FJ is currently collaborating with other organizations across the country to call for a thorough investigation of Puzder’s past labor practices and possible conflicts of interests. We are committed to ensuring that the position of Labor Secretary is held by someone whose first priority is protecting the rights of workers.

Labor Transition Team
Another controversial member of President-Elect Trump’s DOL transition team is Veronica Birkenstock, the president of a recruiting agency that specializes in connecting employers with temporary guestworkers from Mexico and other countries. Guestworker programs are rife with abuse of both U.S. workers and foreign workers on temporary work visas. Though Ms. Birkenstock’s firm specializes in the use of H-2B visas, the use of recruiting agencies has proved problematic in the H-2A context as well.

UPDATE: Curiously, Birkenstock’s name was removed from the transition team website, as reported by a group that referred to her as a recruiter for “cheap temporary foreign workers.”

H-2A Visa Use May Increase amidst Immigration Uncertainty
Many employers are concerned that a crackdown on illegal immigration by the Trump administration could affect their ability to retain their workforces. Farmers have been increasingly turning to the H-2A guest worker program for their temporary labor needs, with the number of applications for H-2A workers growing substantially during the last decade. In the South, for example, demand for farm labor continues to grow, with a majority of these workers entering through the H-2A program. In Florida, approximately half of the state’s strawberries are harvested by H-2A workers, while Pennsylvania fruit growers are increasingly turning to the H-2A program as well. This trend of increasing use of the H-2A program will likely continue amidst the current uncertainty about Trump’s immigration policies.
If use of the program does increase, there will be enhanced pressure on the already limited resources available for investigation and enforcement by government agencies. Unlike the H-2B program, the H-2A program does not have a cap on the number of visas that can be issued per year, which means there are no limits to the program’s potential increase.
Employers will also likely continue to advocate for a scaling back of the requirements and protections present in the program. A recent Civil Eats article quoted FJ President Bruce Goldstein on his concern that a Trump administration could change the current guest worker program in a way that erodes worker rights. Specifically, he stated that the Trump Department of Labor adopt policies “slashing wage rates and reducing government oversight.” FJ will continue to ensure that any discussion of guest worker programs includes farmworker voices and will oppose anti-worker changes.

What Will Happen to “Dreamers” Deferred?
On the campaign trail, President-Elect Trump pledged to revoke President Obama’s 2012 deferred action directive, DACA, which gave undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children the opportunity to study and work legally in the country. There are currently more than 740,000 “Dreamers”, with about 7,000 additional applications for the program each month. Since his election, Trump has been facing mounting pressure from Democrats and some Republicans to keep the program in place. There are also concerns that if the program is ended, the personal information submitted by Dreamers may be used to initiate deportation proceedings against them. There is widespread fear in immigrant communities about threat of deportations.

However, in a sign that he may be re-considering his pledge, Trump recently told a Time magazine interviewer that he’s “going to work something out” for Dreamers. He added: “They got brought here at a very young age, they’ve worked here; they’ve gone to school here. Some were good students. Some have wonderful jobs. And they’re in never-never land because they don’t know what’s going to happen.”

New Legislation Introduced. On Friday, Senators Lindsey Graham and Dick Durbin introduced bi-partisan legislation that would extend protection from deportation as well as continued access to work permits for Dreamers for three years in the event the Trump administration revokes DACA. The legislation would also expand the number of Dreamers affected and protect personal information from being used to target their parents for deportation. The bill is named the “Bar Removal of Immigrants who Dream and Grow the Economy” or BRIDGE Act.

We are hopeful that President-Elect Trump will consider the devastating effects that revoking this program will have on both immigrant communities and the broader communities in which these young people live and work. The bi-partisan efforts underway to protect the program are a testament to its significance.

Farmworker Justice

Farmworker Justice Immigration Update, 11/22/16

Impact of the Presidential Election on Farmworker Communities
Many farmworkers and their families face an uncertain fate due to the results of the U.S. presidential and Congressional elections. There are nearly two and a half million seasonal farmworkers in the U.S., at least 50% of whom are believed to be undocumented immigrants, mostly from Mexico. Throughout his campaign, Donald Trump invoked rhetoric disparaging immigrants, including those from Mexico. Trump also infamously proposed to build a border wall paid for by the Mexican government, to end DACA, and to engage in mass deportations. As discussed in this Huffington Post piece, President-elect Trump’s words have instilled fear among immigrant farmworkers and their families.

See also, these pieces regarding the election’s potential effects in the states of Washington, New Mexico and Idaho.

Post-Election Uncertainty. It is not yet clear whether and how the Trump Administration will carry out these dire threats against immigrants. Trump’s mass deportation plan and border wall are unrealistic and even the Trump campaign has acknowledged that his campaign promises may not be put into place as described. Some information can be gleaned from a recent interview on “60 Minutes,” where Trump stated that he plans to deport 2-3 million undocumented individuals who are “criminal[s] and have criminal records, gang members, drug dealers…” He further noted that after securing the border “and after everything gets normalized, we’re going to make a determination on the people that they’re talking about — who are terrific people.” Trump’s advisors have also indicated that he will likely reinstate workplace raids, which would terrorize immigrants in the workplace.

Agribusiness Concerns and Goals. Clearly, immigration enforcement will impact employers who depend on experienced, hard-working undocumented immigrants. Several media reports have suggested that growers will seek to reduce regulations in the H-2A program to ease business access to guestworkers. We’ve seen this before and know that what the growers seek is reduced government oversight and sharp cuts to wages and other worker protections. The Bush Administration’s H-2A regulatory changes diminished government oversight, lowered wages and reduced protections leading to sharp wage cuts and other financial losses for farmworkers. Prior to the Obama Administration’s restoration of the earlier, Reagan-era regulations, the overall loss and increased costs for H-2A workers in 2009 as a result of the Bush regulations was roughly $121.2 million dollars in lost wages, $4.7 million in unreimbursed transportation costs and the payment of approximately $17.3 million in visa and border crossing fees. Farmworkers cannot afford to shoulder these costs. H-2A workers and the U.S workers who work alongside them already suffer far too many abuses; we need to strengthen protections and enforcement, rather than to cut them. In a video message released yesterday, Trump stated that as one of his first actions, he intends to “direct the Department of Labor to investigate all abuses of visa programs that undercut the American worker.” The H-2A agricultural guestworker program contains labor protections that are intended to prevent displacement and undermining of the wages and other labor standards of U.S. farmworkers due to the hiring of vulnerable H-2A visa guestworkers who are dependent on their employers for their continued ability to work in the U.S. There are extensive violations of both U.S. workers’ and H-2A guestworkers’ rights that DOL must investigate and remedy.

The need for meaningful solutions. One-sided H-2A reform does not address the situation of the many undocumented farmworkers contributing valuable work to our food system. Some growers have also recognized the need for broader reform that includes legalization for their workers, as suggested in the Huffington Post piece above. We do not yet know how the Trump administration and Congress will move forward to address these issues. Growers did have a voice in Trump’s campaign, with several grower representatives, including Tom Nassif, President of the Western Growers Association and Chuck Conner, CEO of National Council of Farmer Cooperatives on Trump’s agricultural advisory committee. Chuck Conner is also rumored to be a possible pick for the Secretary of Agriculture. In the past they have supported legal status for undocumented immigrants as part of compromise immigration legislation, but have also insisted on major changes to the H-2A program or its replacement future agricultural guestworker programs.

Developing Trump Administration Brings Many Concerns
President-elect Trump’s transition team and picks for key positions are reinforcing his hard-line message on immigration. His immigration transition team includes Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach who is notorious for his anti-immigrant views and role in pushing anti-immigrant legislation in states such as Arizona. Last week,President-Elect Donald Trump announced that he has chosen Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions (R) as his pick for the position of Attorney General, a position that must first be confirmed by the U.S. Senate. Farmworker Justice is deeply concerned about the selection of Sessions, who has long been a vicious opponent of immigration and reasonable immigration reform and has a history of racially insensitive comments. Other Administration picks, such as Stephen Bannon as chief of strategy, also send troubling messages about the goals and direction of the Trump Administration in terms of its respect for America’s diversity and respect for human rights.

Our Work Ahead
Arturo Rodriguez, President of the United Farm Workers, provides an inspiring reminder, “We have confronted and overcome political adversity many times before. … As the challenges increase so does our commitment to and determination to afford all farm workers and low-income working families the opportunities and respect they deserve.” Indeed, farmworker organizations have faced adversity before. During its 35 years, Farmworker Justice has fought against adversity in Administrations and Congress many times.

Farmworker Justice will track and report on developments at the intersection of immigration policy and labor rights. Collaborating with our partners, we will fight against any efforts to reduce farmworkers’ protections and to harm farmworker communities. We will fight for meaningful, fair immigration reform. In our watchdog role we will monitor immigration enforcement and labor rights enforcement by government agencies and intervene as needed. Through our extensive relationships with farmworker organizations around the country, we will help farmworkers address the fear and uncertainty this election has instilled, and protect the rights and dignity of the farmworkers who cultivate, harvest and process the nation’s food.

The challenges faced by farmworkers should be especially present in our thoughts as we celebrate the national holiday of Thanksgiving this week. As we express gratitude for the bounty on our tables, it is worth remembering that our meals are made possible by the labor and contributions of our nation’s farmworkers. Your support enables us to provide the services that farmworkers and their organizations seek from Farmworker Justice. We ask for your support. If you make a donation to the Shelley Davis Memorial Fund, it will be matched dollar for dollar up to $12,000, so please take advantage of this great opportunity. Thank you. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving. 

Resources for DACA recipients and immigrant communities

The surprising presidential election result poses serious threats to the wellbeing of farmworkers – the people who labor on our farms and ranches – and their family members. We are united with the many undocumented farmworkers and their families who are fearful of next possible steps on immigration policy under the Trump Administration. Farmworker Justice will continue assisting farmworker organizations throughout the country to limit the potential damage from the new Administration and Congress. We will be fighting against President-elect Trump's proposed deportations and other harsh immigration policies. We also will be closely watching the H-2A program to protect against attacks on its modest protections.

For now, we are carefully monitoring developments in the upcoming Trump Administration, including any indications on what immigration, labor and other key policies will be. For those who have DACA or are DACA eligible, we have included resources for DACA and potential DACA recipients and immigrant communities post-election. Thanks to the UFW Foundation and ILRC for preparing these materials. The UWF Foundation's materials are available here and ILRC's talking points can be found here. Both organizations advise those who are eligible for DACA renewal to do so promptly as it is unclear what will happen to applications not completed by January 20. In addition, we also agree with the widespread recommendation for potential new DACA applicants that it is better not to apply now but instead to wait until we learn more about the incoming administration's plans for DACA. The UFWF has also prepared a Know Your Rights piece for individuals who would like to know more about their rights during enforcement actions.

Best, Adrienne


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