FJ Blog

Friday, 19 December 2014

As the 113th Congress comes to an end, so does the closest chance that we have had to passing comprehensive immigration reform in over a decade. The prospects for immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship in the incoming 114th Congress are dim. On the bright side, President Obama’s executive actions on immigration will be implemented in 2015, including expanded DACA and the new deferred action for parents program (DAPA), which could grant deportation relief for up to 5 million people. US Citizenship and Immigration Services is expected to begin accepting applications for expanded DACA in February and DAPA in May 2015.

President Obama’s executive action on immigration is likely to face challenges in the upcoming Congress; however, any efforts to block the President’s immigrations actions are likely to be largely symbolic because Congress lacks the vote to override an expected Presidential veto. In the last couple of weeks, Congress passed and the President signed the omnibus appropriations bill which funds all government agencies through FY 2015, except for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). DHS was separately funded until February, when the Department’s budget will be reconsidered. House Republican leadership chose to only fund DHS for two months to give them another opportunity to block the President’s immigration executive action.

In the Senate, Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) filed a bill in an attempt to prevent the President from implementing his deferred action programs for undocumented immigrants. The “The Preventing Executive Overreach on Immigration Act,” is the companion legislation to Rep. Yoho’s (R-FL) bill, H.R. 5759, with the same title, which passed the House two weeks ago. Paul’s bill would prevent the Administration from implementing the DAPA program (the program which will allow parents of US citizens and lawful permanent residents who have been living in the US since January 1, 2010 to apply for deferred action and work authorization). The bill would also prevent the Administration from processing any new DACA applications, effectively terminating the program.

The Senate Judiciary Committee also held a hearing titled, “Keeping Families Together: The President’s Executive Action on Immigration and The Need to Pass Comprehensive Reform.” Prior to the hearing, UFW member Raul Esparza de la Paz participated in a press conference with Senators and other impacted community members. De la Paz said that he has one adult child who has already benefited from DACA and that he and his wife and 2 of his adult children will now be able to benefit from deferred action, removing the fear of immigration enforcement that they currently live with. De la Paz urged Congress to support the executive action on immigration and work to pass comprehensive immigration reform.

In addition to challenges from Congress, President Obama’s immigration actions are facing legal challenges from the courts. On Tuesday, in an overreach of his authority, a federal judge in Pennsylvania took it upon himself to declare Obama’s executive action on immigration unconstitutional in a court opinion that provided no basis for him to issue such a decision. The judge, Arthur Schwab, did not order the Administration to stop implementing the executive action and his ruling has no legal effect on it. The decision has been criticized because the constitutionality of the case was not at issue: neither party had argued that the President’s actions are unconstitutional nor had they briefed the court on the issue. Ilya Somin, a law professor at George Mason University writes in the Washington Post that the court opinion’s discussion of the executive action was brief and poorly reasoned. The Huffington Post reports that Judge Schwab has a checkered past. He has been removed from two cases by the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals, in 2008 and 2012, a move that is rare and considered to be a disciplinary action.

There are also two pending constitutional challenges to the President’s administrative action. As mentioned in a previous update, several states have sued the President; the total count is now up to 24 states. The notorious Sheriff Joe Arpaio in Arizona has also requested a federal court to declare the President’s administrative relief programs unconstitutional and issue an order preventing the President from implementing it. The Department of Justice has asked the court to dismiss the Arpaio case. As we’ve said before, the President’s deferred action programs are firmly rooted in his prosecutorial discretion authority and many legal scholars believe the programs are constitutional. Nonetheless, we will be watching these cases closely and will keep you informed on developments.

Recent polls indicate that the majority of voters want Congress to act to fix our broken immigration system, rather than prevent President Obama’s executive action. Only time will tell whether Congress will listen. Unfortunately, statements by Congressional leaders indicate that Congress may move forward on a guestworker and enforcement-only strategy, doing nothing for the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the US. In the new Congress, Farmworker Justice will continue to advocate for immigration reform that treats farmworker communities and other undocumented immigrants humanely and in a way that comports with our values as a nation of immigrants. We will also be preparing to help implement DAPA in farmworker communities.

by Megan Horn
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Friday, 05 December 2014

Two weeks have passed since President Obama’s announcement of executive relief. Farmworker Justice, along with many individuals and organizations, is working hard to share information about the upcoming opportunity for deferred action through the new deferred action program for parents (DAPA) and the expanded DACA programs. Information is available on our webpage, www.farmworkerjustice.org, and the sisepuede.org website. We are working with the UFW Foundation and other farmworker and immigration groups to plan for the implementation of administrative relief when the application period begins in around May 2015. Our Spanish-language outreach flyer can be found here.

Even as we continue to plan to implement administrative relief, we are also having to defend the program against congressional attacks. Following last week’s Thanksgiving recess, Congress returned this week to a brief session. As expected, President Obama’s executive action on immigration came under immediate attack by House Republicans.

On Tuesday, the House Committee on Homeland Security held a hearing titled “Open Borders: The Impact of Presidential Amnesty on Border Security.” Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson testified at the hearing, defending the executive actions on immigration as a common sense approach to enforcing immigration law. The House Judiciary Committee also held a hearing on Tuesday, with a biased title “President Obama’s Executive Overreach on Immigration.” As the name implies, the hearing focused on whether or not the President has the authority to take his administrative actions on immigration, particularly the Deferred Action for Parental Accountability program (DAPA). Republicans and their witnesses claimed that the President does not have the authority to create deferred action programs. The Democrat members’ witness, Marielena Hincapie, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, defended the President’s constitutional authority as a proper exercise of prosecutorial discretion. Farmworker Justice submitted statements for the record of both hearings to support the president’s executive action and highlight its importance to agricultural workers.

With some exceptions, there is broad consensus among legal scholars that the President has ample authority to create DAPA and DACA along with his other executive actions on immigration. His actions are supported by a legal memo by the Office of Legal Counsel. One hundred and thirty-five legal scholars have signed a statement stating that the President’s actions were constitutional and within his legal authority. Separately, four lawyers who formerly served as general counsel to US Citizenship and Immigration Services wrote a letter supporting the President’s authority to take these actions. 

On Thursday, the House passed Rep. Yoho’s (R-FL) bill, H.R. 5759, the “Preventing Executive Overreach on Immigration Act of 2014” by a 219-197 vote. H.R. 5759 asserts that President Obama’s deferred action program has no statutory or constitutional basis and seeks to categorically prevent the executive branch of the government from providing deferred action going forward, with only limited exceptions. The bill also incorrectly implies that President Obama’s deferred action programs provide categorical relief, instead of case-by-case relief. The House voted largely along party lines with a few pro-immigration reform Republicans voting against it and 3 Democrats voting for the measure. 

Farmworker Justice condemns the House’s passage of HR 5759, which would strip away potential protections and work authorization from the many aspiring Americans who could benefit from the President’s executive authority, including the parents of US citizen and LPR children and DACA individuals who came to the country as children. Instead of playing political games, the House should take up and pass HR 15, the comprehensive immigration reform bill that is similar to the bill passed by the Senate over a year ago, S.744.

Yoho’s bill was largely a symbolic measure as the Senate is not expected to take it up and President Obama has promised to veto it. A few other anti-immigrant Republicans voted against the bill or abstained from voting in protest because they would like the House to be more aggressive in opposing the President’s action. Specifically, those members along with Senator Ted Cruz would like to see the deferred action programs defunded through the government spending bills up for a vote next week, even though this would almost certainly lead to a government shutdown. 

House Speaker John Boehner and other Republican leaders do not support shutting down the government (Republicans were largely blamed for the last shut down). Instead, Speaker Boehner proposes to split the funding bill in two parts, funding all of the government except for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) until September 2015 and funding DHS, which among other things is responsible for immigration services and enforcement, only for a few months. That way, this fight can play out again in 2015 when Republicans control both houses of Congress.

Seventeen states also filed a lawsuit against the President arguing that his executive actions are in violation of his constitutional duty to enforce the laws and are placing an illegal burden on state budgets. The lawsuit is led by Attorney General and Governor-elect of Texas, Greg Abbott. It is unclear whether the states have standing, or the right to sue the President at all. 

Some grower groups have expressed concern that the President’s administrative relief will not be very helpful to them and that it may instead harm them by giving their workers work authorization and the ability to “migrate into other industries that give them year-round work, holidays, pensions, more security. And that would be obviously detrimental to agriculture.”

We are expecting to see efforts to pass an agricultural program in the upcoming Congress. Incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has declared that he will “bust up” the Senate comprehensive immigration reform bill to pass it in pieces. He said that he would like to focus on border security, E-verify and changes to the H-1B and H-2A programs. McConnell, however, did not promise to bring up the piece that would offer undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship. We will be watching any efforts to change the H-2A program closely. Despite many grower complaints that the H-2A temporary foreign agricultural worker program is “unworkable,” the H-2A program has seen huge increases in recent years. Program use has expanded over 140% since 2005, with 18% growth in the last year alone. From our perspective, the H-2A program’s modest protections are inadequate to protect workers and the program is rife with abuse. H-2A workers typically arrive indebted and fearful, are tied to an employer for an entire season, and must leave the country when the job ends, factors which make workers extremely vulnerable to abuse. 

In the upcoming Congressional session, Farmworker Justice will continue to fight against proposals for harsh and exploitative temporary agricultural guestworker programs and will urge Congress to provide farmworkers and other aspiring Americans currently residing in the US a path to permanent legal status and eventual citizenship. 

by Megan Horn
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Monday, 01 December 2014

Focus, Partner, Achieve: Interview with Kenett Melgar, Interpreting and Outreach Lead, Blue Ridge Community Health Services

Today, Monday December 1, marks the 26th anniversary of World AIDS Day. The theme for this year is Focus, Partner, Achieve: An AIDS-free Generation.

In recognition of World AIDS Day, Farmworker Justice interviewed  Blue Ridge Community Health Services (BRCHS) about the essential health care they provide for migrant and seasonal farmworkers, including HIV services. 

Based in Hendersonville, North Carolina, BRCHS is recognized as one of the nation’s oldest operating migrant health centers. The center evolved from a clinic established by volunteers in 1963 which served local migrant workers. This clinic became fully incorporated in the 1980s after which the name of the center was changed to Blue Ridge Community Health Services. BRCHS currently operates five clinical sites, offers school-based health services, and provides a mobile clinic in and around Hendersonville. 

Farmworker Justice had the privilege of speaking with Kenett Melgar, Interpreting and Outreach Lead for BRCHS, regarding his experience providing HIV services to the North Carolina farmworker community. Mr. Melgar joined BRCHS in the early 2000s and became the first outreach team member certified by the state to provide pre- and post-HIV Spanish counseling to farmworkers.

Blue Ridge Community Health Services provides care for approximately 2,500 farmworkers during the agricultural season. The season typically begins in early July and lasts through the end of October. Migrant farmworkers comprise the majority of the labor force; however, there is a small portion of local seasonal farmworkers as well. When BRCHS first opened the majority of farmworkers served were African American. Over the years the demographics have changed significantly, the clinic now caters primarily to Latino farmworkers. 

The outreach team from BRCHS conducts regular visits to labor camps and fields to reach farmworkers. Educational trainings are offered on a variety of health topics including, but not limited to: pesticide safety, heat stroke, and HIV/AIDS. The outreach team also collaborates with local organizations to make resources available to fulfill the needs of farmworkers and their families that may otherwise go unmet due to their migrant status. This may include collecting food and clothing from the community to provide farmworkers or connecting parents with local migrant education services.

In addition to regular outreach, BRCHS organizes a free mobile clinic which operates between two and three times during the season. The mobile clinic is able to offer nearly all of the same services as those made available at the regular BRCHS clinics. Nurses and health providers work together to offer a variety of screenings such as BMI, blood pressure and HIV testing, in addition to offering private consultations. Health providers working with the mobile clinic are also able to distribute samples of medications to farmworkers on a case basis. These medication samples are provided by local pharmacies and are those used to treat the most common illnesses seen within the farmworker community.

Throughout the season, BRCHS offers regular HIV education trainings, testing and private consultation for farmworkers. Prior to offering these services, the outreach team makes a minimum of three visits to each labor camp they attend in order to establish rapport with the farmworkers. Once a relationship is built between the farmworkers and outreach workers, nurses from BRCHS join the outreach trips and conduct screenings for HIV and STIs one to two times per week. Oral and finger print rapid testing methods are utilized during mobile screenings. In the event that there is a positive result, a blood sample is immediately re-tested to verify it is not a false positive. Farmworkers may be referred on a case basis to the local clinics for further consultation, treatment and care.

The principal challenges the outreach team faces when providing HIV services to farmworkers are fear, accessibility of services, and patient follow-up. 

One of the greatest challenges that must be overcome by those providing HIV testing and education is the stigma associated with HIV. Although not exclusive to the farmworker community, there is a general fear of HIV/AIDS which prevents many from getting tested or inquiring about more information. One way the outreach team has addressed this challenge is by establishing a strong relationship with local farmworkers through regular visits. BRCHS has been operating in the community for many years and this encourages farmworkers, in particular those who may return annually, to regard the outreach team as a trusted source of information. Consequently, the farmworker community is more receptive to the HIV trainings and screening offered by the outreach team. 

In addition to fear, farmworkers must overcome the challenge of limited access to local clinics. The outreach team has found that the majority of farmworkers, specifically migrant workers, working in and around Hendersonville lack a stable mode of transportation. Furthermore, farmworkers work long, non-traditional hours which makes it difficult to schedule and attend clinical appointments. We recognize these challenges and has implemented a number of measures to help the farmworker community overcome barriers related to accessibility. For example, most outreach trips and mobile HIV screenings are conducted in the late afternoon and early evening to ensure that as many farmworkers are reached as possible. In addition, several clinics operate with extended hours to accommodate for the farmworker’s work schedule. The outreach team works to coordinate transportation for farmworkers who may otherwise be unable to make their appointments.

Fortunately, in the years that mobile HIV testing has been offered by BRCHS there have been few positive results. However, ensuring that patients who test positive have adequate follow-up in the clinical system remains a challenge. The BRCHS outreach workers play an essential role in the effort to improve patient retention in care and treatment. As an established trustworthy source of information, the outreach workers can help to put farmworkers who require clinical attention at ease by explaining the system and ensuring they are aware of the services available to them. Furthermore, outreach workers can collaborate with BRCHS health providers to ensure accuracy of the contact information for patients whom are migrant farmworkers. 

“We don’t carry the burden ourselves, we work with the community.” Collaboration with local organizations is essential. It is important to include HIV service providers as well as non-HIV specific organizations who work regularly with farmworkers, such as Migrant Head Start. The wider the network of organizations that are working to spread educational messaging around HIV prevention and awareness, the greater the reach and impact will be within the farmworker community. 

To learn more about the Blue Ridge Community Health Services please visit their website at http://www.brchs.com/

For more information about World AIDS Day and to find out how to become involved in the universal campaign to end HIV/AIDS please visit AIDS.gov.
 

by Caitlin Ruppel
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