Immigration and Labor Rights

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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Monday, 18 August 2014

Today is the last day that the EPA will accept public comments on proposed revisions to the Worker Protection Standard (WPS) that provides the regulatory minimum for occupational pesticide exposure protection. Other workers who are exposed to toxic substances are covered by stronger protections, issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). The result is that the men, women, and children who produce the nation’s food are less protected from workplace hazards than other workers.

Although the proposed changes to the WPS will not address all the challenges in the fields, they are a step in the right direction to prevent pesticide illness. If the final rule includes our recommended improvements, the results will include greater awareness by farmworkers of the risks they face and preventative measures; and fewer pesticide-related injuries, illnesses, and deaths among farmworkers and their family members.

The agricultural industry is working hard to dissuade the EPA from adopting the rules that benefit farmworkers the most. Today, Politico reported the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture submitted comments that “call on the EPA to scrap the proposed changes.”

Farmworker Justice and other farmworker advocates have provided the EPA with extensive information to justify stronger protections for farmworkers. Your voice is needed to make sure farmworker safety does not take a back seat to the interests of agribusiness and pesticide manufacturers.

Please join Farmworker Justice and urge the EPA to protect farmworkers from pesticide exposure. You have until midnight tonight to submit comments.

Visit our website to use our model comments and submit by midnight tonight!
 

by Jessica Felix-Romero
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Monday, 04 August 2014

Over the last few weeks of its legislative session before a 5-week long summer recess, the House enacted several anti-immigrant measures, even as they failed to provide needed reforms for our broken immigration system.

The Humanitarian Crisis at the Border

Congress has begun its recess without providing any additional funding to the Obama Administration to deal with the crisis of unaccompanied minors from Central America seeking refuge in the U.S. The administrative funding to house and process tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors is expected to run out before the end of the Congressional recess and President Obama has requested Congress to authorize $3.7 billion of emergency supplemental funding. Last week, the Senate tried to pass a supplemental funding bill for $3.57 billion, but it was blocked in a vote of 50-44 (60 votes were needed). Friday, the House passed a bill to authorize $694 million in additional funding for the border but the amount falls far short of the needed appropriations. The bill includes harmful changes to the Trafficking Victims Protection Act that would reduce due process protections for the children, allowing the government to deport the children at a faster pace. The House took this action despite the fact that a broad majority of Americans see these children as refugees. Advocates are concerned that if the process of removal is expedited many children who are eligible for asylum or some other form of relief would be deported, possibly to their death. The bill is unlikely to become law as the Senate Democratic Leadership opposes these changes to current law and President Obama threatened to veto the bill if it comes to his desk. 

House Leadership once again caved to the extremist anti-immigrant minority in the House as part of a deal to get conservative House members to vote for the supplemental funding bill. In conjunction with the border funding bill, the House also voted on a bill to prevent any expansion of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and any new individuals from enrolling. Eleven Republicans voted against the bill, they are mostly from districts with a high percentage of Latino voters; and four Democrats, Representatives Mike McIntyre (NC), Rahall (WV), Collin Peterson (MN) and John Barrow (GA), voted for the bill. After House Republican Leadership killed any chance for immigration reform legislation this year, it adds insult to injury that they ended the summer legislative session by passing bills that would harm refugee children and that would allow DREAMers to be deported. 

The Child Tax Credit 

Last week, the House passed a bill that would expand the Child Tax Credit (CTC) to higher income families, while failing to extend an expiring provision of law that allows working poor families earning as little as $3,000 per year to access the CTC. The bill would also require that parents applying for the CTC (ACTC) have a Social Security number, effectively denying the credit to millions of poor families, most of which have U.S. citizen children. Again, the House managed to pass a bill that hurts immigrant families while failing to bring up any immigration reform legislation.

Affirmative Relief

Over 100 faith leaders and immigrant activists were arrested on Thursday in front of the White House protesting the President’s deportation policies. The groups are urging President Obama to go bold in his plans for administrative relief for undocumented immigrants. The groups also said that the government should focus on expanding resources for the unaccompanied children at the border fleeing violence in their home countries. The action was followed by additional immigration relief events, including an August 2 rally at the White House. 

Advocates have been meeting with Obama Administration officials to discuss proposals for an affirmative administrative relief program that would provide relief from immigration enforcement and work authorization for some sector of the undocumented population. Some reports have stated that the the administration is looking at providing relief for around 4 to 5 million undocumented immigrants. However, on Sunday a senior White House advisor, Dan Pfeiffer, called those numbers “uninformed speculation.” Farmworker Justice, in a letter to Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson and other officials, stressed the importance of affirmative immigration relief to farmworker families and the agricultural sector and the need for a broad, bold program to stay deportation and grant work authorization. We also described the unique circumstances farmworkers face so that they may be taken into account in creating the eligibility criteria and implementation plans in any affirmative relief program.

Agribusiness continues to push for immigration reform for agriculture. The American Farm Bureau Federation and the Partnership for a New American Economy released an advertisement that focuses on a labor shortage in agriculture; unfortunately, there was no discussion of the need to legalize the estimated 1.25 million undocumented farmworkers. While there is a shortage of documented farmworkers, there is not a national shortage of workers. There are pockets of oversupply of farmworkers in some parts of the country and other areas where the labor market is tighter. An affirmative relief program for undocumented immigrants that includes farmworkers and their family members would help stabilize the labor market and would better enable farmworkers and others to work without fear. Growers also have access to the unlimited H-2A temporary agricultural guestworker program, which has greatly expanded in recent years. Ultimately, however, Congress must legalize the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. and offer them the opportunity to become citizens. 

Workplace Raid in Florida Packing Plant

The urgent need for immigration reform is evidenced by a disturbing workplace raid that took place in a Naples, FL fruit and vegetable packing plant on July 16th. The Florida Insurance Fraud Division arrested 105 workers purportedly for using false identification. Reportedly the investigation was triggered due to a discovery that a worker who sought workers’ compensation had admitted to using false identification. It is unclear whether any of the other workers applied for workers’ compensation. According to one report, some of the workers are being charged with third degree felonies of identity theft and/or workers’ compensation fraud. According to the Florida Immigrant Coalition, some of the workers have been transferred to ICE custody. Others could be picked up and deported at a later date. The Florida Immigrant Coalition’s executive director, Maria Rodriguez, called the actions a cruel immigration raid. She stated, “It is no secret that many immigrant workers are forced to use invalid Social Security numbers, often with a wink and a nod from their employers, if they want to survive and feed their families. Employers knowingly rely on these workers for their own economic survival.” Beyond the devastating impact to this community, the raid may have a chilling effect on workers in the broader Florida immigrant community who may be entitled to benefits such as workers’ compensation. 

One last thing: Read Rep. Marcy Kaptur’s (D-OH) op-ed in the Nation on her visit with tobacco workers in North Carolina and the Farm Labor Organizing Committee’s work to improve their wages and working conditions.

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

by Megan Horn
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