Immigration and Labor Rights

Monday, 21 April 2014

On April 7-9th, the Women’s Fast for Families, organized by We Belong Together, SEIU and FIRM, held a 48-hour fast on the National Mall. Valentina Stackl volunteered on behalf of Farmworker Justice and fasted for farmworkers and their families. Valentina writes that over 100 women fasted “to feed the courage of elected officials to pass fair and just immigration reform and to stop the deportations.” Her full blog is available here. Meanwhile, several individuals with family members in detention are currently fasting in front of the White House.

House Democrats continue their efforts to get 218 signatures on a discharge petition to force a House floor vote on H.R. 15, the comprehensive immigration reform bill which includes the agricultural stakeholder agreement. They still need 27 more members to reach their target. It remains unlikely that they get Republican members to sign-on, but they use the petition as a rallying tool to call Republicans who support reform to action. 

House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) told donors that he is “hellbent” on passing immigration reform this year, but also said that he does not trust President Obama enough to reach a compromise. 

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL) recently said that Republicans must act on immigration reform before the August recess or Obama will act on his own in response to the mounting pressure from advocates to stop the deportations. Diaz-Balart also claimed that immigration reform is not dead and that he has legislative language that would legalize undocumented immigrants ready to go should the House decide to move forward on reform. He argues that once the President acts, the House would not likely act this year and legislation is not likely to be addressed until there is a new President. (The conventional wisdom is that immigration reform is unlikely during the Republican Presidential primary in 2015 and the Presidential elections in 2016. Therefore, if Republicans want to improve their image with the Latino community, the House should act soon.) Of course, no one can predict the future. 

If President Obama provides some sort of administrative relief for the 11 million undocumented immigrants, as he should, it would still be temporary and an incomplete answer. Only Congress can create a path to immigration status and citizenship for undocumented immigrants. Congress is on recess until April 28,th and members are in their home districts. 

An informative article in takepart discusses Idaho’s new law that “allows” Idaho prisoners to do farm work, noting its resemblance to slavery and chain gangs. The legislation was proposed as a solution to a claimed farm labor shortage created by Idaho’s anti-immigrant state enforcement law, increased immigration enforcement and a tightening of the border. However, the legislation is focused on providing cheap labor for growers, not creating a solution for farmworkers or prisoners.

The Farmworker Justice Award Reception on May 7 in Washington, D.C. will honor two people who are committed to helping farmworkers win immigration reform: Rep. Judy Chu of California and Guadalupe Gamboa, Senior Program Officer at Oxfam America and a former migrant farmworker, labor organizer and farmworker attorney. Your support for the award reception helps farmworkers advocate for immigration reform. 

by Megan Horn
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Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Today's guest blogger is Farmworker Justice volunteer Valentina Stackl.

Since International Women’s Day, on March 8th, over 1600 women held 24-hours fasts across 35 states as well as in Washington DC and Mexico City. The month long action culminated with a 48-hour fast with over 100 women on the National Mall. I was one of those women.

Why did we fast? We went without food to feed the courage of elected officials to pass fair and just immigration reform and to stop the deportations.

The event was hosted by We Belong Together, which is an initiative of the National Domestic Workers Alliance and the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum. It was also a part of Fast for Families, a group that hosted an event at the end of 2013 in which core fasters fasted for comprehensive immigration reform for over 22 days on the national mall. Fast for Families also finished their “Fast for Families Across America” bus tour, which lasted seven weeks and reached more than 90 Congressional districts, just as we women finished our fast on the mall.

The over 100 women came from all over the country and were both immigrant and native-born. The youngest was a teenager, the oldest in her 70s. We came from women’s rights organizations; immigrant rights groups, faith, labor and community organizations. The group included farmworker women and domestic workers. We were all united by the desire to send a message for fair immigration reform and an end to the suffering caused by deportations. 

I fasted on behalf of Farmworker Justice because immigration reform with a roadmap to citizenship is critically important to farmworkers and our nation’s food security.

Over 50% of the roughly 2 million farmworkers are undocumented. The current immigration system harms farmworkers, farmers and the nation. Farmworkers work extremely hard at low wages in a dangerous occupation to perform an essential role cultivating and harvesting the food for our tables. But when the majority of workers lack legal status, most farmworkers are too fearful of deportation or being fired to challenge wage theft, dangerous conditions or other workplace violations.

Congress must enact legislation that reforms our broken immigration system and creates an accessible roadmap to citizenship for the 11 million aspiring Americans, including farmworkers and their families.

After almost 48 hours of fasting someone asked the crowd “are you hungry?” and without hesitation the women replied “hungry for justice!” While our fast is over, the fight continues until we see a fair and humane immigration system for America’s immigrants.


by Valentina Stackl
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Friday, 04 April 2014

Many people and organizations celebrated Monday, March 31st, Cesar Chavez’s birthday, which is a state holiday in California and Texas. Special events were held throughout the past week for his birthday and the March 28th release of the film, “Cesar Chavez.”

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) offered a resolution in the Senate, to honor Cesar Chavez for his successful work to improve farmworkers’ wages, working conditions, and housing. A vote on the resolution was blocked by Senate Republicans. Menendez has unsuccessfully tried to pass a resolution honoring Chavez for eight consecutive years. Rep. Cárdenas (D-CA) re-filed a similar resolution in the House, but no vote is expected on it.

Wednesday, during the House Budget Committee markup, Rep. Cárdenas offered an amendment to Rep. Ryan’s budget that would have added the fiscal framework of the comprehensive immigration reform bill, HR 15, to the budget. Rep. Cardenas and several other Democrats spoke in favor of the amendment, describing the predicted economic benefits of comprehensive immigration reform, such as job creation and reduction of the deficit by $900 billion over the next two decades. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) also spoke about the “heart wrenching stories” she hears about families being torn apart and separated.

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), Chairman of the Budget Committee, opposed the amendment but agreed that we have a broken system that needs to be reformed and that if immigration reform is done right, the country will benefit from economic growth as a result. He said that he does not support the Senate comprehensive immigration reform bill, but he said that there is a plan in the House to move forward with a series of bills. Ryan gave no time frame for action. The amendment failed by a partisan vote with Democrats voting in favor of the measure and Republicans opposing it.

News coverage this week included several pieces on growers threatening to withdraw support from Republican candidates due to the House’s inaction on immigration reform. There is still time for the House to act on immigration reform, but that window is closing. Congress is out of session in August and Members will be in full election campaign mode.

In Arizona on Wednesday, a large group of immigrant rights advocates organized by Puente Arizona began a 70-mile walk to a detention center in Arizona, to call attention to the 1,100 deportations daily (300 from Arizona-alone).

The Fast for Families Across America bus tour continues into its sixth week. The group has stopped in House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s district in Virginia. Fasters are urging Cantor to bring commonsense immigration reform to a vote this year. When the tour was in Miami on March 22nd, Eliseo Medina was arrested in front of Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart’s office when he tried to deliver a letter on immigration reform addressed to the Congressman. He was released the same night and continues on the tour. Eliseo Medina was a farmworker and labor organizer in the fields and later became Secretary-Treasurer of the Service Employees International Union.

This month marks the 2 millionth person that the Obama Administration has deported. The #Not1More Deportation campaign is organizing the Two Million Too Many: March and Rally! in Washington, DC on Saturday. President Obama has deported more people than any other president. Still, many House Republicans incredibly claim that they cannot support immigration reform because they cannot trust Obama to enforce immigration laws.

The Women’s Fast for Families, organized by We Belong Together, SEIU and FIRM, have held events around the country for the last month. Next week, they will hold a 48-hour fast on the National Mall as a culmination of the month’s events. At the end of the fast on Wednesday, organizers will hold the America Deserves a Vote on Immigration Reform Rally.  

by Megan Horn
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