Immigration Reform & Farmworkers
Immigration is a critically important issue for farmworkers. Over one-half of the approximately 2 million seasonal workers on U.S. farms and ranches lack authorized immigration status. These farmworkers, like millions of Americans before them, immigrated to the United States to find opportunities and create a better life for their families. Farmworkers, who work extremely hard, often in hazardous conditions and for very low wages, make great contributions to our economy and deserve a common sense path to citizenship.
Undocumented workers’ fear of deportation deprives them of bargaining power with their employers and inhibits them from challenging illegal employment practices. The presence of so many vulnerable farmworkers depresses wages and working conditions for all farmworkers, including U.S. citizens and lawful immigrants. Outside of the workplace, daily life for many undocumented farmworkers and their families is filled with fear about potential deportation and separation from family and loved ones. In the face of increased deportations and other immigration enforcement, harsh anti-immigrant state laws, and ill-advised proposals to mandate employers’ use of the E-Verify system, we have an urgent need for Congressional action.
Farmworker Justice is committed to immigration reform that empowers farmworkers to improve their inadequate wages and working conditions. Congress should enact legislation that reforms our broken immigration system and creates a roadmap to citizenship for the 11 million aspiring Americans, including farmworkers and their family members. Immigration reform should be a stepping stone toward modernizing agricultural labor practices and treating farmworkers with the respect they deserve. For today’s and tomorrow’s farmworkers, a roadmap to immigration status and citizenship, combined with strong labor protections and economic freedom, is essential.
Farmworker Justice is pleased that Congress and the President have made passing comprehensive immigration reform legislation a priority this year. Information on immigration reform proposals and legislation may be found below in the section on Legislation and Analysis. For the latest update on immigration reform for farmworkers, click here to read our most recent immigration updates, or sign-up to receive automatic updates.
Comprehensive Immigration Legislation: On April 17, 2013, a bipartisan group of eight Senators (Senators McCain (R-AZ), Graham (R-SC), Flake (R-AZ), Rubio (R-FL), Schumer (D-NY), Durbin (D-IL), Menendez (D-NJ) and Bennet (D-CO)) coined the “Gang of 8,” introduced a comprehensive immigration reform bill. The Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013, S.744, contains compromise agricultural provisions that are the result of intense negotiations among Senators Feinstein (D-Cal.), Bennet (D-Col.), Rubio (R-Fla.), and Hatch (R-Ut.), agribusiness representatives and the United Farm Workers. The immigration reform bill’s Subtitle F, Prevention of Trafficking in Persons and Abuses Involving Workers Recruited Abroad, provides important protections to address abuse in the international recruitment of workers across visa programs. The widespread discrimination, fraud, and recruitment fees during the recruitment process drastically impact the experience of workers during recruitment and once they are in the US.
► Read Farmworker Justice's summary of farmworker provisions of the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013
► United Farm Workers’ letter of support for farmworker provisions
► Farmworker Justice's Talking Points on the Agricultural Compromise
International Labor Recruitment Provisions
► Legislative text: Title III, Subtitle F, Prevention of Trafficking in Persons and Abuses Involving Workers Recruited Abroad
► UFW/Farmworker Justice fact sheet: The Vital Importance of Oversight of the International Labor Recruitment System
► International Labor Recruitment Working Group fact sheet: Senate Bill Improvements to International Labor Recruitment
The Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013, S.744
► For more information on the other provisions of the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013, read the National Immigration Law Center’s summary.
Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing on the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act, S.744
► Testimony of Arturo Rodriguez, President of the United Farm Workers
Senate Judiciary Committee Mark-up of S. 744
House of Representatives
Rep. Goodlatte ( R-VA), the Agricultural Guestworker Act, H.R. 1773
On April 26, 2013, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Goodlatte (R-Va.) introduced the “Agricultural Guestworker Act,” H.R. 1773. The bill would create a new agricultural guestworker program, which would deprive U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents of job opportunities, lower farmworkers’ already poor wages, and allow exploitative conditions for hundreds of thousands of new guestworkers. Significantly, Goodlatte’s bill fails to address our broken immigration system and does not offer an opportunity for the current experienced farmworkers who lack authorized immigration status to earn a roadmap to citizenship.
► Farmworker Justice’s Fact Sheet
► Farmworker Justice’s Press Statement
► Legislative Language H.R. 1773
► House Judiciary Committee hearing on the Agricultural Guestworker Act, H.R. 1773
► Farmworker Justice's Talking Points on H.R. 1733
Rep. Ross ( R-FL), Legal Agricultural Workforce Act, H.R. 242
On January 14, 2013, Rep. Ross introduced the Legal Agricultural Workforce Act, HR 242, which would devastate America’s farmworkers and endanger our nation’s food system. Rep. Ross proposes a massive new guestworker program with no meaningful labor protections. Rep. Ross ignores the lessons of history by eliminating virtually all of the labor protections that have been recognized for decades as necessary to prevent displacement of U.S. workers, depression of U.S. workers’ wage rates, and exploitation of foreign citizens.
Priorities for Immigration Reform: On January 29th, 2013, President Obama gave a speech in Las Vegas, laying out his priorities for immigration reform.
► Farmworker Justice's Statement
► White House Fact Sheet: Fixing our Broken Immigration System so Everyone Plays by the Rules
Farmworker Justice applauds Secretary Napolitano’s and the President's announcement of a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) plan for certain young people. Eligible unauthorized immigrants who meet certain criteria will be able to apply to the Department of Homeland Security’s U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for deferred action, which will prevent them from being deported for two years, at which time they may reapply for another two-year period. Individuals granted deferred action may apply for work authorization. You may request consideration of deferred action for childhood arrivals if you:
- Were under the age of 31 as of June 15, 2012;
- Came to the United States before reaching your 16th birthday;
- Have continuously resided in the United States since June 15, 2007, up to the present time;
- Were physically present in the United States on June 15, 2012, and at the time of making your request for consideration of deferred action with USCIS;
- Entered without inspection before June 15, 2012, or your lawful immigration status expired as of June 15, 2012;
- Are currently in school, have graduated or obtained a certificate of completion from high school, have obtained a general education development (GED) certificate, or are an honorably discharged veteran of the Coast Guard or Armed Forces of the United States; and
- Have not been convicted of a felony, significant misdemeanor, three or more other misdemeanors, and do not otherwise pose a threat to national security or public safety.* *Taken directly from the USCIS website.
Generally, applicants must be at least 15 years old to apply. However, children who are under 15 years old in removal proceedings or who have a final order of removal may also apply. Applicants will also be required to undergo a background check after submitting their applications.
Farmworker Justice, in collaboration with farmworker unions and other organizations, is helping to ensure that farmworkers and their children are able to take advantage of the opportunity to earn DACA. Farmworkers support our communities and our country by ensuring a stable, healthy food supply, but face special obstacles due to their geographic isolation and low wages. They deserve full access to this opportunity. Farmworker Justice applauds DACA as a temporary, helpful step, but it will not solve the large-scale problem in agriculture, where the majority of farmworkers are undocumented and are unable to improve their working conditions or receive the respect they deserve. We also urge Congress to create a sensible immigration system for the many farmworkers who are aspiring Americans.
AVOID NOTARIO FRAUD AND HIGH FEES FOR ASSISTANCE WITH YOUR APPLICATION.
Potential beneficiaries of DACA should exercise caution to avoid fraud. Applicants should seek free or very low-fee services from a reputable organization or immigration lawyer.
For more information, see these warnings:
UNDERSTAND DACA AND THE REQUIREMENTS BEFORE YOU APPLY
Know the facts before you apply for DACA. Applications, along with guidance on the application process and information on confidentiality are available on USCIS’s website.
Legal Assistance: Information on legal clinics and free or low-cost attorneys and BIA accredited immigration representatives can be found at We Own the Dream.
Please note that there is no appeals process if your application is denied, so applicants should take their time in preparing their applications and have a lawyer or BIA accredited individual review their application.
Additionally, because this program is based on prosecutorial discretion (high level decisions about how to prioritize immigration enforcement), there is no guarantee that this program will continue. As USCIS itself notes, "DHS can terminate or renew deferred action at any time at the agency's discretion." Prospective applicants will have to weigh these considerations in deciding whether or not to apply for DACA.
►Farmworker Justice Factsheet on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals
►Factsheet: Important Warning for People Interested in Applying for the Deferred Action Program Announced by President Obama
►Labor Council for Latin American Advancement guidebook:Life After DACA: Obtaining a Social Security Number, Transferring Your Credit History, and Rescinding your ITIN," LCLAA's comprehensive guide for DACA-holders on how to obtain a social security number, transfer your credit history from your ITIN, and contact the IRS to rescind your ITIN Number. The guide includes template letters, step-by-step instructions and links to required forms.
State Immigration Laws
Farmworker Justice tracks harsh anti-immigrant state laws that violate civil liberties and intimidate both documented and undocumented Latino farmworkers. These laws drive hardworking undocumented farmworkers even further underground, making them more vulnerable to workplace abuse and often separating them from their families. Unfortunately, some growers are using the fear and devastation resulting from these laws to try to build support for a harsh new guestworker program. Instead, Congress needs to create a common sense roadmap to citizenship for these aspiring immigrants that respects the contributions they have made to American agriculture and the economy.
Arizona v. United States
The recent Supreme Court decision in Arizona v. United States sent a strong message that the regulation of immigration is a federal issue by striking down as unconstitutional several provisions of Arizona’s harsh immigration law, SB 1070. Unfortunately, the Court ruled that one harmful provision of the law may stand, at least until the law takes effect and its implementation can be examined. That provision requires law enforcement officers to check the immigration status of someone who they stop or arrest for a different, legitimate purpose if they have a reasonable suspicion that the person is undocumented. As a practical matter, the provision may encourage police officers to detain someone for an alleged state-law traffic infraction or misdemeanor to justify investigating their immigration status and reporting them for deportation. The Court acknowledged that the provision may be struck down in the future depending on how it is carried out.
The Supreme Court’s decision is yet another reminder of the dire need for Congress to enact immigration reform legislation that gives the current undocumented workforce and their families the opportunity to earn legal immigration status.
► Farmworker Justice Press Statement on Arizona v. United States
► Report on state anti-immigrant laws by the National Council of La Raza, The Wrong Approach:State Anti-Immigration Legislation in 2011
During the summer and fall of 2011, the House Judiciary Committee, led by Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Tex.), focused on a mandatory employment verification bill, the Legal Workforce Act, H.R. 2885, that would require most employers to use the E-Verify system to electronically check the work authorization of job applicants. Given that the majority of farmworkers are undocumented, Farmworker Justice, the United Farm Workers and others were concerned about the impact of piecemeal immigration enforcement measures such as Smith’s E-Verify bill on farmworkers. We joined efforts to defeat Rep. Smith’s E-Verify bill by highlighting the damage the bill would cause to the farm labor force and calling for comprehensive immigration reform.
In September 2011, the House Judiciary Committee approved Chair Smith’s E-Verify legislation, the Legal Workforce Act, by a party-line vote of 22-13. During the Committee mark-up, much discussion focused on the impact of the bill on agriculture. The E-Verify bill would push farmworkers further underground where they will likely be exploited. The bill would also increase the trend of growers using farm labor contractors to hire farmworkers and disclaiming any responsibility as an “employer” of the workers under immigration or labor law. The E-Verify bill would do nothing to address the immigration status of more than one million undocumented farmworkers currently harvesting our fruits and vegetables – or the several million undocumented workers in other jobs. Since the Judiciary Committee vote, the Legal Workforce Act has not moved to the floor for a vote by the full House.
Chairman Smith and other Congressional members recognized the problem E-Verify would cause agriculture, but responded to grower complaints by introducing one-sided harmful guestworker proposals that would eliminate key H-2A worker protections and government oversight. None of the guestworker bills would legalize undocumented workers but instead would allow agribusiness to bring in hundreds of thousands of new temporary guestworkers from abroad without offering the wages and working conditions that have evolved over decades to protect U.S. workers from displacement and guestworkers from exploitation.
► Farmworker Justice/ United Farm Workers joint press statement explaining how the Legal Workforce Act would harm farmworkers.
► Farmworker Justice Fact Sheet on the Legal Workforce Act, “Farmworkers and the Food System Will Suffer Under Smith’s Mandatory Employment Verification.”
► National sign-on letter condemning the Legal Workforce Act and calling for broader immigration reform.
► Legislative language, the Legal Workforce Act, HR 2885.
Secure Communities is a federally mandated program, through which individuals arrested by local law enforcement agencies for criminal violations get their immigration status checked. Normally, all arrestees get their fingerprints run through an FBI database. Through Secure Communities, the FBI sends the fingerprints to the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Immigrant and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which uses the fingerprints to identify potentially deportable immigrants and take action according to its priorities – noncitizens that are a threat to public safety are the highest priority. The Federal Government is expanding the program gradually and plans to have it implemented nationwide by early 2013.
Secure Communities is heavily criticized for several reasons. A major concern is that its application has resulted in the deportations of many low-priority individuals, such as those with no criminal record. For example, in FY 2011, 26% of people deported through the program did not have a criminal conviction. There are also major concerns, including from some law enforcement agencies, that Secure Communities will result in distrust of the police in immigrant communities, which may deter immigrant victims and witnesses from coming forward to seek help or to cooperate with law enforcement. Additionally, the program may be subject to abuse. Law enforcement agents may use racial profiling to arrest people for suspected immigration violations rather than criminal offenses.
For more information on Secure Communities, check out the Immigration Policy Center’s Report, Secure Communities: Unanswered Questions and Continuing Concerns and the National Immigration Law Center’s website.
For additional information on issues related to enforcement of immigration law in the workplace, visit the National Employment Law Project’s website.
AgJOBS, the Agricultural Job Opportunities, Benefits and Security Act, is a historical farmworker immigration compromise bill that would provide agricultural employers with a stable, legal labor force by providing farmworkers with a path to citizenship. The AgJOBS compromise was reached in 2000 after years of Congressional and labor-management conflict resulting in tough negotiations between the United Farm Workers (UFW), major agricultural employers, and key federal legislators, including the late Sen. Kennedy (D-MA), the former Sen. Craig (R-ID), Sen. Feinstein (D-CA), Rep. Berman (D-CA), and past Reps. Putnam (R-FL) and Cannon (R-UT). If enacted, AgJOBS would (1) create an “earned adjustment” program, allowing many undocumented farmworkers and agricultural guestworkers to obtain temporary immigration status based on past work experience with the possibility of becoming permanent residents through continued agricultural work, and (2) revise the existing agricultural guestworker program, known as the “H-2A temporary foreign agricultural worker program.”
In past Congresses, AgJOBS enjoyed broad bipartisan support and was introduced as both stand-alone legislation and as a piece of broad comprehensive immigration reform bills, including the bills that passed the Senate in 2006 and that was debated in the Senate in 2007. AgJOBS has not yet been introduced as a stand-alone bill this Congress. However, it was included in the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2011, S. 1258, the comprehensive immigration reform bill introduced in the Senate by Senator Menendez (D-NJ) and seven other co-sponsors, Sens. Reid (D-AZ), Leahy (D-VT), Durbin (D-IL), Schumer (D-NY), Kerry ( D-MA), Murray (D-WA), and Gillibrand (D-NY). Farmworker Justice applauds the introduction of the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2011 and is pleased that the legislation includes the AgJOBS farmworker immigration bill.
For more information about AgJOBS, please see the resources below:
The History of AgJOBS
► AgJOBS in the 111th Congress (2009-2010)
► AgJOBS in the 110th Congress (2007-2008)
► AgJOBS in the 109th Congress (2005-2006)
► AgJOBS in the 108th Congress (2003-2004)