Immigration and Labor Rights

Friday, 19 September 2014

The past weeks have been extremely disappointing and disheartening for immigrant communities and immigration reform advocates. On September 6th, the White House announced a delay in President Obama’s plans for administrative action to address the broken immigration system, which he had previously promised would take place by the end of the summer. The President justified the delay, saying “… I'm going to act because it's the right thing for the country…But it's going to be more sustainable and more effective if the public understands what the facts are on immigration, what we've done on unaccompanied children and why it's necessary.” Cecilia Muñoz, Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, also said that after the elections it will be easier to protect the actions he takes. The situation of unaccompanied minors at the border had garnered the attention of the American public and polling data showed that Americans were more concerned with immigration than they have been in the past.

Although President Obama, denied the role of politics in his decision to delay administrative relief, many argue that the real reason for the President’s delay is due to the upcoming elections. Control of the Senate is up for grabs this November and several Democratic Senators in tight races had asked for the delay.

Pro-immigration reform groups and some Democrats have criticized the President’s delay. Last week, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) met with senior White House officials to express their frustration with the delay. White House officials reassured the CHC that the President will act by the end of the year. The CHC approved a resolution urging the President to act by the holidays. 

Meanwhile, anti-immigrant Senators Sessions and Cruz took advantage of their brief presence in DC (both the House and Senate are now out of session until after the November election) to push a measure opposing executive action by the President to address the broken immigration system. Specifically, the measure would have disallowed any new DACA applicants and prohibited the President from creating any new affirmative relief programs for undocumented immigrants. A procedural vote on the anti-immigrant measure failed on a 50-50 vote to garner the 51 votes needed to move forward. The Senators had tried to offer the proposal as an amendment to the continuing resolution to keep the government funded through December 11th and provide funding for the situation in Syria. Five Democrats joined Republican Senators in supporting the measure: Senators Kay Hagan (NC), Mary Landrieu (LA), Mark Pryor (AK), Jeanne Shaheen (NH) and Joe Manchin III (WV). Manchin was the only Democrat who voted for the measure who is not up for reelection this November.

Finally, check out the Economic Policy Institute’s blog “Here’s Why We Need to Legalize the Undocumented Immigrant Workforce.” The blog discusses an article in the Tennessean about exploited undocumented farmworkers on a tobacco farm in Tennessee who were threatened with immigration enforcement when they told their boss their plans to leave for another job. The article illustrates that the only way to end the exploitation of farmworkers is for the undocumented population to be granted protection from deportation and work authorization. Farmworker Justice will continue to press the President to provide a broad, bold affirmative relief program for undocumented immigrants that includes farmworkers and their families.  

by Megan Horn
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Friday, 05 September 2014

As the summer comes to an end, President Obama has yet to announce his executive action to reform the broken immigration system. Instead, reports indicate that President Obama may delay the announcement of his executive action on immigration until after the midterm elections. In June, the President said that he would announce executive action by the end of the summer. Although the White House has not said what the action will entail, it is expected that part of his action will involve granting millions of undocumented immigrants with strong ties to the U.S. protection against deportation and work authorization. The White House has suggested that action could be delayed by the unaccompanied minor crisis at the border but the real reason that they are considering the delay appears to be political. Several red-state Democratic Senators are running in close races and there is a good chance that Democrats could lose control of the Senate. This has caused some Democratic Senators and Democratic political advisors to caution the President to hold off on executive action.

Democrats fear that if the President makes a big announcement before the election it could turn off some moderates and swing voters in Southern states and would encourage angry conservatives to turn out to vote for Republicans. On the other hand, inaction by the President could result in Latinos staying home. However, the only Senate race with a large Latino population is Colorado’s.
There has also been some speculation that if the President acts, Republicans will try to defund the program through the budget process and end up shutting down the government. Republicans were blamed for shutting down the government last year and they would likely be blamed again, which could be a boon for Democrats. Of course, in this scenario cooler heads could prevail and Republicans could avoid a shut down.

Adding a further complication, Speaker Boehner has suggested that the House could take up immigration reform next year if the President does not take executive action. Of course, the House Republican Leadership is responsible for the failure of immigration reform to move forward this year and there has been no indication that the situation may be different next year. 

Among those Senators urging delay is Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL), who thinks the President should wait until after the election to announce any action. Other Senators have expressed concern about executive action. Senator Al Franken (D-MN) who is up for reelection said he has concerns about executive action and that immigration is a job for Congress. Angus King (I-ME), an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, opposes executive action. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has not taken a position as to whether the President should act before or after the election. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) opposes any delay by the President. ef

Farmworker Justice and other advocates for immigration reform are urging the President not to wait to take executive action. Last week, 145 protesters were arrested in a civil disobedience in front of the White House organized by CASA de Maryland. The protestors were demanding an end to the massive numbers of deportations. Advocates argue that thousands of immigrants are deported each week, some of whom could be eligible for Obama’s administrative relief program. While the President continues to promise action, how big that action will be and when it will take place – before or after the elections – are the salient issues. President Obama will be interviewed on “Meet the Press” on Sunday where he is sure to be asked about his plans for administrative relief for undocumented immigrants.
The Migration Policy Institute issued a brief this week, “Executive Action for Unauthorized Immigrants: Estimates of the Populations that Could Receive Relief,” which provides estimates of the numbers of undocumented immigrants who would be affected by various proposals for affirmative administrative relief.

by Megan Horn
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Friday, 29 August 2014

When it comes to farm labor, immigration policy is labor policy.  So this Labor Day, let’s hope that our collective advocacy persuades the President to create a generous program that helps many farmworker families. President Obama plans to grant some undocumented immigrants temporary relief from deportation and authorization to work.  Unfortunately, whatever the President does won’t be enough.  Only Congress can change the law.
Most of the nation’s 2.5 million farmworkers – at least 1.25 million and possibly 1.75 million -- are undocumented.
We as a nation permitted this to happen.  A broken immigration system allowed employers to hire new immigrants and deprived these productive workers of  immigration status.  Such vulnerable workers, especially absent a union, cannot negotiate  for job terms as forcefully as U.S. citizens and permanent residents.
“We have long waivered and compromised on the issue of migratory labor in agriculture.  We have failed to adopt policies designed to insure an adequate supply of such labor at decent standards of employment.  . . . We have used the institutions of government to procure alien labor willing to work under obsolete and backward conditions and thus to perpetuate those very conditions.”  Report of the President’s Commission on Migratory Labor (1951), p.23

The President should offer administrative relief.  And then Congress should offer a true legal immigration status and opportunity to earn citizenship  But that is not enough.
“Shall we continue indefinitely to have low work standards and conditions of employment in agriculture, thus depending on the underprivileged and the unfortunate at home and abroad to supply and replenish our seasonal and migratory work force?  Or shall we do in agriculture what we have already done in other sectors of our economy – create honest-to-goodness jobs which will offer a decent living so that domestic workers, without being forced by dire necessity, will be willing to stay in agriculture and become a dependable labor supply?”  Id.
We must empower farmworkers to bargain for better wages and conditions.  A starting point would be to end to discriminatory employment laws that deprive farmworkers of occupational safety protections, workers’ compensation, unemployment insurance, overtime pay, and other labor standards that apply to other workers.  Most important, we must help farmworkers organize to demand and win better treatment by their employers.
Some agricultural employers demand a new agricultural guestworker program.  They prefer guestworkers on restricted temporary visas compared to immigrants and citizens, who may have the freedom to switch employers, challenge illegal conduct, join a labor union, and vote in elections that lead to policy changes. We already have the H-2A guestworker program.  Many don’t want to use it because it has modest labor protections and government oversight. There is also a recent history of successful union organizing of H-2A guestworkers in North Carolina’s tobacco farms.
President Obama should issue a policy that allows the largest possible number of farmworkers and their family members to obtain immigration status and work authorization.  Then Congress should act to grant access to a true immigration status leading to citizenship.  Our challenge at Farmworker Justice is to help farmworkers gain access to any new program and help them organize to win a greater measure of justice in the fields and in their communities.


by Bruce Goldstein, President Farmworker Justice
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