The fight over President Obama’s executive actions has continued in the courts and in Congress over the last few weeks. Last week, the Department of Justice (DOJ) petitioned the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals to issue an emergency “stay” lifting the temporary order preventing the Obama Administration from implementing DAPA and expanded DACA. The 5th Circuit has given Texas and the other states until March 23rd to respond. DOJ requested that the court issue a decision on the stay by March 27th; however, the court is not bound by this request. The legal requirements for obtaining such a stay are difficult to meet. DOJ has also filed an appeal of Judge Hanen’s temporary injunction, which is also proceeding in the 5th Circuit, but a decision is not expected for at least a few months. DOJ is requesting first that that the Court of Appeals block the entire order, or alternatively that the 5th Circuit limit the order to Texas – the only State that Judge Hanen found would be harmed by the programs – or at the very least limit the order to the states that have sued the Federal Government and allow the programs to be implemented in those states that welcome them.
Fourteen states and the District of Columbia filed a brief in support of the Federal Government’s request for a stay. These states, led by Washington and California, argue that they welcome the executive actions and will be harmed by the judge’s order to delay its implementation. The 14 states (where most of the undocumented population resides) predict that rather than harm their economies, as the states that have sued are claiming, the deferred action programs will bring economic benefits to their states.
Meanwhile, the main case continues in the district court in Texas. On Thursday, Judge Hanen held a hearing on the plaintiff states’ allegations that DOJ misled the judge by claiming that the immigration action hadn’t been implemented. Pursuant to the DAPA and expanded DACA memo, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) began granting deferred action and employment authorization for DACA recipients for 3 years on November 24, 2014, a change from the 2 year grants previously issued. DHS ceased issuing 3 year grants of deferred action and work authorization as soon as the Judge’s temporary order blocking the implementation of the DAPA & expanded DACA memo was issued. During that period, about 100,000 DACA applicants were granted deferred action and work authorization for 3 years.
House and Senate committees have been busy holding hearings and markups focused on attacking President Obama’s executive actions and highlighting their anti-immigrant, enforcement-only approach. Of note, the House Judiciary Committee marked up the bill formerly known as the “SAFE Act”, now called the “Michael Davis, Jr. in Honor of State and Local Law Enforcement Act,” HR 1148, which would criminalize people for being undocumented in the US and would undermine community safety by requiring local law enforcement agencies to enforce immigration law. This month, the House Judiciary Committee also passed the “Legal Workforce Act,” a mandatory E-Verify bill, along with two bills limiting access to due process for asylum seekers, unaccompanied minors and other vulnerable immigrant populations.
In the midst of these attacks on immigrants and their contributions to our society and economy, one member of Congress lifted up the positive contributions of farmworkers. During the House Subcommittee on National Security Health Care, Benefits & Administrative Rules hearing on “The Fiscal Costs of the President’s Executive Actions on Immigration,” which generally attacked the President’s executive actions as well as tax credits for low-income working people with US citizen and lawful permanent resident children, the witness from the Heritage Foundation, Robert Rector, revealed the classist undertones of this debate by denigrating working people without a college education. Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA) responded to Rector’s statements by stating that it may be “easy for people like you and me who wear ties and work in offices to cast aspersions on people who have 10th grade educations,” but farmworkers have died so that we can have cheaper groceries. Lieu spoke passionately about Maria Isabel Jimenez, a 17-year-old farmworker in California, who died of heat stroke saying that she “has given more to American society than you or I ever will.”
Agriculture Groups Oppose Mandatory E-Verify
The Agriculture Workforce Coalition sent a letter to House leaders Tuesday expressing their opposition to Rep. Lamar Smith’s (R-TX) “Legal Workforce Act.” Over 140 agriculture groups signed on to the letter that stated that the groups would oppose mandatory E-Verify in agriculture until Congress creates a “solution for agriculture.” Unfortunately, the letter stopped short of calling for a path to citizenship for our nation’s current farmworkers or even a path to permanent legal status. Instead, the letter calls for “work authorization for experienced agricultural workers and a new, flexible guest worker program for long term stability...” Work authorization falls short of a path to lawful permanent residency and eventual citizenship.
GAO Report Highlights Abuse of H-2 Workers
A recent GAO report “H-2A and H-2B Visa Programs: Increased Protections Needed for Foreign Workers” highlights the extensive nature of abuses in the H-2A and H-2B programs. The report found that H-2 workers may be required to pay recruitment fees to obtain jobs in the United States and noted that workers who were indebted due to the payment of recruitment fees are more vulnerable to abuses in the workplace as they are less likely to complain. Data in the report also highlighted the rampant gender and age discrimination in the H-2A program, as the vast majority of H-2A workers are men below the age of 40. One important recommendation in the report is that DHS publish the names of recruiters listed on the I-129 applications to USCIS.
The H-2B Program is Running Again
As you may be aware, the Department of Labor (DOL) and US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) temporarily suspended processing of H-2B applications earlier this month due to a court order finding that the DOL has no authority to issue labor certification in the H-2B program. USCIS & DOL announced that they will continue processing applications after DOL filed an unopposed motion for a stay of the court order until April 15th earlier this week. The Department of Homeland Security and DOL also announced that they will jointly promulgate an interim final rule by April 30th to resolve the issue of authority.
Farmworker Justice honors the contributions of farmworkers to our nation’s agricultural abundance. We will continue to fight for fair immigration reform and equal labor rights that reflects the contributions of farmworkers and their value to our society.