FJ Blog

Friday, 11 July 2014

On June 30th, President Obama announced that he plans to take executive action to reform our broken immigration system. The President’s remarks came after House Speaker Boehner told him that the House would not pursue a vote this year on much-needed immigration reform. Speaker Boehner reportedly expressed a desire to try to bring up immigration legislation at the beginning of 2015. Farmworker Justice’s statement on the President’s speech is available here.

The growers and other business groups haven’t given up on Congress yet. The Western Growers Association joined other business leaders for a press conference at the Chamber of Commerce in Washington, DC this week to call on the House to act on immigration reform. However, Thursday Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL) confirmed that Republican House leadership has said that the House will not take up his immigration legislation that includes a legalization program this year. The bill has not been filed but Diaz-Balart has discussed it with many Members of Congress and he claims that the bill had significant bipartisan support. 

President Obama has not provided many specifics as to what form the administrative relief will take. Immigration advocates are pushing for the President to be bold in his actions and to provide broad affirmative relief that offers relief from deportation and work authorization to the 11 million undocumented immigrants currently in the U.S. 

Farmworker Justice joins these voices in pressing for broad relief. We are advocating to ensure that undocumented farmworkers and their families are included in any affirmative programs and are not excluded due to their special circumstances. For example, if the program requires proof of recent stable employment in the U.S., seasonal job holder should not be excluded. In addition, many young single men are laboring to harvest our food and should be afforded relief along with those immigrants who have families in the U.S. 

Farmworker Justice and its partners are preparing for implementation of any affirmative relief program that is announced. Farmworker communities tend to be in rural, under-resourced areas and have limited access to electronic media. Farmworkers may also face challenges proving their residence in the country and employment history as many live in employer-provided housing and are paid in cash. 

Prior to his announcement, President Obama met with unions and advocacy groups to discuss the humanitarian crisis at the border. The President told the group that he would ask Congress to increase border enforcement resources and expedite the deportations of the unaccompanied children from Central America who have been crossing the border in high numbers. According to second-hand accounts, President Obama aims to send a message to the Central American families that children can’t simply just show up at the border and hope to be let in

President Obama asked Congress for supplemental funding of more than $3.7 billion dollars for more detention facilities, judges, border security and more resources to Health and Human Services for housing and care for the children. Expedited removal, a speedier process to return undocumented immigrants at the border is currently not allowed for unaccompanied minors from non-contiguous countries. Unaccompanied minors are granted broader protections under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPRA). Many immigration, refugee and child advocates and religious groups have pushed back hard against the President, arguing that this is a refugee situation and that the law should not be changed. These children and families deserve protection from violence under U.S. and international law and that includes adequate due process. The Administration and Congress have been urged to focus on root causes of this migration, including criminal violence in home countries, economic consequences of trade policies, and our broken immigration system’s role in separating families. 

The Obama Administration initially softened its tone on the issue of expedited removal, saying that it is looking to streamline the process of removal, not expedite removals. However, Republican leaders in both the Senate and the House are demanding changes to the law in order to pass the funding measure and Thursday Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said they would support such changes. However, some Democrats spoke out in opposition to making changes to the TVPRA, arguing that expedited removal reduces due process and would make it more likely for individuals to be returned home to violent situations when they are actually eligible to stay in the country. It remains to be seen exactly how Congress and the Administration will resolve this issue

Many advocacy groups and lawmakers are also critical of the Administrations’ plans to increase detention facilities for children and families. They argue that alternatives to detention are more appropriate. Advocates are also urging the government to provide legal representation for these individuals. The American Civil Liberties Union, the American Immigration Council and other groups filed a lawsuit this week against the government for not providing counsel to children facing deportation hearings. Individuals in immigration proceedings are entitled to legal representation if they can afford it, but the government is not required to provide free representation. While the Administration has put some resources towards getting council for some children, demand for free or low-cost immigration attorneys greatly exceeds supply.

Your support enables Farmworker Justice to help farmworkers win a more just immigration system.

Yonny Castillo, 2014 NMSHSA Intern, contributed to this blog post.

by Megan Horn
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Friday, 27 June 2014

One Year Anniversary of Senate Bill and Dimmed Hope for Congressional Immigration Reform

Today marks the one year anniversary of the Senate passage of a bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform bill; but it is not a date to celebrate. Knowledgeable members of Congress announced that the House is very unlikely to pass immigration reform either before or after the August recess. The prospects for legislation are dim but the fight to fix our broken immigration system must continue.

The Senate bill, S.744, while far from perfect, includes the agricultural stakeholder agreement, critical international labor recruitment protections, and a path for many undocumented immigrants to become citizens. Despite bipartisan support for this bill, and its House counterpart, HR 15, the House has failed to move forward, amid a parade of excuses by the House leadership. Opponents claim that President Obama cannot be “trusted” to enforce a new immigration law even though this Administration has conducted an unprecedented number of deportations and new legislation likely would be implemented primarily by his successor. Most recently, obstructions claimed that Eric Cantor’s primary election loss and the crisis of youths crossing our southern border (described below) justify inaction or one-sided, limited legislation.

While there probably remains a slim chance that the House will take up immigration reform in July or during the “lame duck” session of Congress after the November elections, many organizations and immigration advocates are moving on for now. Rep. Gutierrez (D-IL) spoke on the House floor Wednesday, announcing that he has finally given up on waiting for Republicans to act and that it will now be up to the President to modify deportation priorities and provide some form of temporary status for many undocumented immigrants. 

On Thursday, Rep. Gutierrez hosted a press conference with other Members of Congress and the advocacy groups Fair Immigration Reform Movement (FIRM), NCLR (the National Council of La Raza), and America’s Voice, proclaiming their disappointment with House inaction and calling on the President to act. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other Democrats also held a press conference Thursday where they urged Speaker Boehner to bring a bill to the floor for a vote in July. At least one Republican Member of the House still thinks that immigration reform is possible this year. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) says she remains “cautiously optimistic” but views the July window as a last opportunity. 

Although President Obama should take additional action, Congress remains the only option for true immigration reform as it is the only body of our government that can provide lawful permanent residency with a path to citizenship. Until the August recess, Farmworker Justice will continue to support efforts in Congress to pass immigration reform, even as we press the White House for administrative relief from the broken immigration system. 

There remains the question of what kind of reform the House would pass even if it does vote on immigration legislation and then how the House and Senate would reach a compromise on a final bill that could be signed by the President. Some legislators would allow undocumented immigrants to remain the country under certain conditions but without an opportunity to earn citizenship. Some conservative groups and individuals, however, would follow the lead of the Senate bill. An Op-ed in Politico by Sheldon Adelson, a major funder of conservative causes, calls for the House to act on immigration reform with a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants. Another op-ed this week by representatives of AGree, an agribusiness collaborative, urged Congress to take up immigration reform for agriculture. Unfortunately, the op-ed focused on the need for an agricultural guestworker program and only briefly mentioned the need to legalize undocumented farmworkers, without an explicit call for a path to citizenship. The AGree principles do recognize the need to “[e]nsure quality of life, good working conditions, and opportunities for food and agriculture workers.” It is troubling, however, that the employers who benefit from the labor of undocumented immigrants often fail to publicly advocate for the opportunity for undocumented farmworkers to become full and equal members of our society.

Farmworker Justice will continue to support immigration reform that enables farmworkers and their family members to hold a true immigration status with an opportunity for citizenship. Farmworker Justice also will continue to provide farmworker organizations and the public with the information they need to understand the policy debate and make their voices heard.

Actions for immigration reform continue. Yesterday the UFW, the UFW Foundation and other groups held an action in Colorado Rep. Gardner’s office (also the Republican Senate candidate) and PCUN and Causa Oregon rallied in Rep. Walden’s (R-OR) district to protest their failure to move immigration reform forward. Tomorrow FIRM is initiating a National Day of Action to Stop Separating Families on June 28 which includes events around the country. The events will mark the one-year anniversary of the S. 744 passage and will seek to hold accountable Members of Congress that have stalled reform in the House and to demand that President Obama take immediate and aggressive action on administrative relief for our families. More information is available at http://www.stopseparatingfamilies.org/

Devolution of Immigration Reform Prospects in the House: Leadership Changes and Crisis of Unaccompanied Minors at the Border

Last week, the House Republicans held leadership elections for the Majority Leader and Majority Whip positions. Following Eric Cantor’s primary loss and subsequent resignation as Majority Leader, House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), defeated Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID) to become the new Republican majority leader. As we noted in our press statement, Majority Leader elect McCarthy, who represents a heavily agricultural district in California that is 35% Latino, should understand the importance of immigration reform. Unfortunately, McCarthy’s recent statements have focused on a call for border security before immigration reform can be a possibility, without acknowledging the intrinsic link between the two issues. 

Following the election of McCarthy as Majority Leader, Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) was elected to replace McCarthy as the Republican whip. Rep. Scalise is the Chair of the Republican Study Committee, a conservative House Republican group. According to Scalise’s website, he is an original co-sponsor of notoriously anti-immigrant Rep. King’s Birthright Citizenship Act, a bill that would end birthright citizenship (although he did not sponsor the bill this Congress). Scalise’s position on immigration also includes increased border security and opposition for granting “amnesty” for undocumented immigrants.

Crisis of Unaccompanied Minors at the Border

As we mentioned in our last update, the surge of unaccompanied minors crossing the border into the U.S. from El Salvador, Honduras & Guatemala is a continuing humanitarian crisis. Unfortunately, the crisis has become the latest page in the playbook to delay consideration of immigration reform and to criticize the Obama Administration. This week, the House Judiciary Committee, the House Homeland Security Committee and the House Foreign Affairs Committee held hearings on the issue. 

Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson testified in the Homeland Security Committee and described the Administration’s efforts to open more detention facilities; place more immigration officers and judges; and Immigration and Customs Enforcement attorneys on the border; and educate potential migrants about the dangers of the journey and lack of immigration options. During the hearings, several Republican Members of these committees blamed the crisis on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), arguing that the children are coming in response to President Obama’s DACA program. While Johnson acknowledged the misinformation being spread by the criminal networks of human smugglers, he noted that the Administration is working to counter this message. He and several members of the committee pointed to the severe violence in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala as the cause for the migrations. 

In an extremely disheartening response to this humanitarian crisis, Rep. Darrel Issa (R-CA) is circulating a sign-on letter to his colleagues blaming the President for the crisis at the border and specifically calling on him to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program (DACA). Earlier in the year, Rep. Issa announced that he planned to file a bill to legalize undocumented immigrants. Now, he appears to be doing an about face. Deporting Dreamers is not a solution to the humanitarian crisis at the border, nor an appropriate response to fixing our broken immigration system. 

Reminder: Last Day of Farmworker Voices Social Media Campaign 

We seek your help in promoting farmworkers and immigration reform through a social media campaign this week. We must continue to fight for a just immigration reform. Spread the word.

Please share one of our graphics right now on Facebook or Twitter. Click on this link and you will be taken to site where you can download the images and paste it into your message. When you share online, don’t forget to tag Farmworker Justice on Facebook and Twitter, and please use the hashtag #FWVoices. Tell Congress to support the people who put food on our tables every day.

by Megan Horn
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Friday, 27 June 2014

Today is National HIV Testing Day, a day that focuses on the importance of knowing your HIV status and encouraging others to get tested. It is also a day to remember and reiterate to everyone that HIV testing saves lives. When a person is diagnosed with HIV early on and begins treatment early (and remains on treatment), he or she has a much better chance of living to a normal life expectancy. Plus, when a person knows they are HIV positive, they are more likely to take steps to protect their partners.

So, why is this important to farmworker organizations and supporters? The truth is, it is much more difficult for farmworkers and other rural or mobile populations to find a testing location, get to the testing location, receive a HIV test in their native language, be able to access HIV medication, and be able to take their medication consistently for the rest of their life. Those are a lot of barriers and not every farmworker will encounter all of them (and maybe a lucky few won’t encounter any of these), but as organizations interested in the lives of farmworkers and their families, these are barriers that make it difficult for farmworkers to find out their status and remain healthy if they test positive

HIV testing is the first step in the HIV Care Continuum, a model the government uses to look at the challenges and opportunities related to the care and treatment of people living with HIV. After testing positive for HIV, there are four more steps: linkage to care, staying in care, getting on HIV drug therapies, and maintaining a low amount of HIV virus in the body. Sadly, the numbers consistently drop. Of those who test positive for HIV, less get linked to care, and less of those linked to care stay in care, and less of those who stay in care get on HIV drugs, and even less maintain a low amount of virus.

Many farmworkers are not even able to get to that first step – getting tested and knowing their HIV status. However, just like many others in this country, many farmworkers are at risk for HIV. And if they do test positive, they have a much harder time getting linked to care, staying in care, getting HIV drug therapies, and maintaining a low HIV virus in their body. Some farmworkers that do find out they are HIV positive decide to return to their home country (where hopefully they will receive treatment and care), but some choose to stay here.

There is a lot of things we, as farmworker organizations, can do to help farmworkers overcome some of these challenges. We know that many farmworkers do not go to health centers or health departments regularly, and when they do, the first thing on their mind is most likely not an HIV test. However, they often interact with other social service organizations like attending ESL classes, getting involved in their children’s schools, and talking to lawyers about work issues. If we could use these avenues to encourage and organize HIV testing and education (through job fairs, school fairs, referrals, medical-legal partnerships, etc.), we could make great strides in helping farmworkers to know their HIV status. From there we could concentrate on some of the other steps mentioned above in the Continuum of Care, like helping HIV positive farmworker get linked to care, stay in care (for example, linking them to care in another State if we know they are heading north for a few months), help find ways to get on affordable life-saving drug therapies, and encouraging them to take their medication as directed.

Farmworker Justice is working hard, through a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Act Against AIDS Leadership Initiative (AAALI) grant, to educate and assist non-HIV organization in how they can play an important role in HIV prevention. As part of our AAALI work, we will be sponsoring free, confidential HIV testing at the National Council of La Raza’s Latino Family Expo at the Los Angeles Convention Center in Los Angeles, CA from 19-21 July from 10:30am – 6pm. HIV testing will be done by AltaMed. Throughout the Expo we will also be sponsoring a booth and activities to highlight HIV/AIDS prevention. We look forward to seeing you there!   

by Kattrina Merlo
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