FJ Blog

Wednesday, 05 November 2014

Starting in April 2015, individuals and families who file U.S. income taxes will have to provide information about their health insurance coverage to the IRS. Those individuals who do not have health insurance and do not qualify for an exemption will have to pay a tax penalty under the Affordable Care Act’s shared responsibility provision (more commonly known as the individual mandate). For tax year 2014, the penalty is $95/person or 1% of household income above the tax filing threshold, whichever amount is greater. 

Although tax season is several months away, it’s important to start educating communities about the intersection between taxes and the ACA. With that in mind, the IRS recently unveiled Spanish-language webpages dedicated to the ACA’s tax provisions. These webpages include information about eligibility for the advanced premium tax credit, the individual mandate, and eligibility for exemptions. While mostly text, there are also YouTube videos that answer basic questions about advanced premium tax credits and the individual mandate. These webpages and videos can be found on the IRS website.

Of course, filing federal income tax returns is not easy. In 2015, tax filers will have to fill out additional forms that detail health insurance coverage, the provision of tax credits (if the filer received tax credits to lower the cost of health insurance), and any claimed exemptions (if applicable). Due to a lack of access to tax preparers, farmworkers and their families will rely on community-based organizations to navigate the tax filing process.

Farmworker Justice developed fact sheets in Spanish and English for farmworkers and their families on the Affordable Care Act, including the health insurance requirement. To supplement IRS resources, we will be working with advocates on the ground in the coming months to develop tax-specific resources that address the unique needs of farmworker communities. We also plan to host a webinar devoted to the issues of taxes and the ACA in March 2015. 

Farmworkers have rights and responsibilities under the Affordable Care Act. Farmworker Justice will continue to work with advocates across the country to ensure that farmworkers have the tools they need to comply with the ACA’s requirements.

by Alexis Guild
(0 total comments)
Friday, 31 October 2014

As we approach the midterm elections, pieces of information are surfacing in the press about President Obama’s plans for executive action. According to recent news, President Obama has not yet made a decision on what form administrative immigration relief will take. According to Buzzfeed, the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security are expected to pass along their recommendations to the White House in the next two weeks for the President’s review and decision-making. The administrative relief is expected to include some kind of deferred action or parole program that would provide protection from deportation and work authorization for a defined group of undocumented immigrants.

 Many immigration advocates are disappointed by rumors that the recommendations may provide for potential administrative relief to only a limited number of individuals. The recommendations will likely include factors such as length of residence in the United States and family relationships with others in the country. For example, if the President only offers relief for undocumented immigrants who have been in the US for 10 years and have US citizen children, an estimated 3 million individuals would be eligible, as opposed to other proposals that could cover up to 5 million individuals. The Senate immigration bill, on the other hand, would have offered permanent relief for up to 8 million individuals, including separate farmworker and DREAMer provisions. Many advocates have been urging the President to be bold in his actions, pointing out that he will face Republican criticism for any administrative relief action, no matter the size. Advocates are concerned that the President may choose a smaller option. DREAMer groups are particularly disappointment that the parents of DACA-recipients could be excluded from relief.

A program that only covers individuals who have been in the U.S. for 10 years and have U.S. citizen children would be very challenging for farmworkers and others in the informal economy. Many farmworkers would have difficulty proving residency in the United States for 10 years if they are paid in cash and don’t have bank accounts; live in employer-provided housing or shared housing; or otherwise lack documentation such as utility bills in their own name. Farmworker Justice and allies continue to raise issues such as these with the Administration to ensure that any administrative relief program is as inclusive as possible and takes into consideration the unique challenges faced by farmworkers.

Farmworker Justice believes President Obama must act boldly to provide broad affirmative administrative relief to address the millions of undocumented people who contribute to our economy and society but suffer due to our broken immigration system. The Administration must take action because the House of Representatives has refused to address the urgent need for comprehensive immigration reform. Any action President Obama takes must be inclusive of farmworkers, the majority of whom are undocumented. Broad, bold administrative relief would help farmworkers, their families and their communities, and would help stabilize the farm labor force and ensure a prosperous agricultural sector.

Members of Congress continue to express their support for the President taking executive action on immigration. Representatives Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) and Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) co-authored an op-ed in Thursday, expressing confidence that President Obama will announce an affirmative relief program and outlining his legal authority to do so. The Members of Congress mention that among Obama’s options for affirmative relief, he could “recognize that it is ‘essential for agriculture’ that farmworkers who toil in our fields do so without fear.”

Regarding timing for the President’s announcement, the only timeframe given so far has been the President’s assertion that he would take action by the end of the year. Some are predicting that the announcement may not come until December due to a possible run-off election for the Louisiana Senate seat and the interest in completing the appropriations process prior to the announcement. The current continuing resolution will expire on December 11 and if the President makes his announcement before the government is funded, the House may attempt to limit the President’s action through the appropriations bill as it tried to in the summer when it voted to defund DACA. Some individuals have also expressed concern that if there is a runoff election in the Georgia Senate race which would take place January 6th, the President may delay his announcement yet again. The runoff could create pressure for the President to delay by Democrats who believe that the executive action would motivate Republicans to turn out for the runoff, hurting the Democratic candidate Michelle Nunn’s chances of winning. If the Democrats need Nunn to win to maintain control of the Senate, the pressure on the President will be more intense. However, the President and his staff have repeatedly promised that he will announce executive action by the end of the year and another delay would produce much anger from immigrant communities and reflect poorly on the President’s willingness to keep his promises.

H-2A Program Increases Show the Program Working Well for Employers

Data on the H-2A program for Fiscal Year 2014 released last week by the Department of Labor show that the H-2A program is far from “broken,” as growers continue to claim. From FY 2013 to FY 2014, the number of H-2A worker positions certified increased by 18%. The number of applications from FY2013 to FY2014 also increased by 13%.1 North Carolina remains the number one user of the H-2A program, bringing in up to14,502 H-2A workers in FY2014, a 17% increase from last year. Several states had significantly large increases in the number of H-2A workers certified, including a 45% increase in Washington, 44% in California and 35% in Florida.

The increase in H-2A program usage has not been limited to this past year. The program has more than doubled in size in recent years: from about 48,000 worker positions certified in FY 2005 to about 117,000 worker positions certified in FY 2014—an increase of 141%.

Complaints by growers that the H-2A program is “broken” are thinly-veiled attempts to get a new guestworker program with lower wages and fewer worker protections. But the H-2A program wages and worker protections are greatly needed. Despite the current H-2A program’s modest protections aimed at reducing exploitation of guestworkers and protecting the jobs, wages and other labor standards of U.S. farmworkers; the program is rife with abuse. H-2A workers typically arrive indebted and fearful, are tied to their employer for the length of their visa, and must leave the country when the job ends, factors which make workers extremely dependent on their employers and vulnerable to abuse. No matter how many years H-2A workers spend in the U.S., they never earn the opportunity to become an immigrant or citizen.

With comprehensive immigration reform unlikely next year, some growers may push for a new agricultural guestworker program with reduced government oversight, low worker wages and reduced protections; with no legalization program for current experienced undocumented farmworkers. Farmworker Justice will continue to educate policymakers and the public about such harmful proposals. 

Happy Halloween and don’t forget to vote next week!

Note that the number of workers certified is not an accurate reflection of the number of H-2A workers who entered the US in FY 2014 as growers may not bring in the total number of workers listed on their certification.

by Megan Horn
(0 total comments)
Friday, 17 October 2014

Administrative Relief, Family Detention & Fraud in the H-2 Visa Programs

In recent weeks President Obama has reaffirmed his commitment to announcing executive action on immigration reform before the end of the year. The President also said that he remains committed to passing immigration reform through Congress, warning that it is “suicide for the GOP not to address the issue.” Meanwhile, some Democrats running in close races have distanced themselves from pro-immigration stances. Most notably, Alison Lundergan Grimes is running an offensive “anti-amnesty” advertisement accusing incumbent Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) of being pro-amnesty due to his support for the 1986 immigration law that legalized undocumented immigrants. In the ad Grimes says “I’ve never supported amnesty or benefits for illegal immigrants, and I never will.” Several progressive and get-out-the-vote groups, such as and the Latino Victory Project, have expressed their strong opposition to the ad, calling on Grimes to take it down.

While immigrant communities await administrative relief, detentions and deportations continue. In Florida, immigrant and worker advocates are criticizing Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater for going after undocumented immigrants for workers’ compensation fraud. Last July, the state arrested more than 100 workers in a raid on a fruit and vegetable processing plant in Naples, FL. Workers are being charged with the felony of identity theft for using a fake ID to get a job and sign up for workers’ compensation insurance. However, the workers had not submitted any false workers’ compensation claims, which is typically what is considered workers’ compensation fraud. Instead, it appears that this is a roundabout way for Atwater to enforce immigration law.

The Obama administration is being seriously criticized for its increased use of detention facilities for families from Central America, many of whom have legitimate claims for asylum. Immigration and refugee advocates and religious organizations argue that detaining families and children is unnecessary and inhumane. The Obama Administration’s justification for detaining the families is to deter more families from coming and to ensure that they show up for court proceedings. However, the US Executive Office for Immigration Review recently stated that 85% of the unaccompanied minors who have recently entered the country and have been placed with relatives in the US are showing up for their court hearings, undermining the argument that detention is necessary.

Moreover, there are serious concerns regarding the treatment of women and children in these detention centers. MALDEF and others filed a lawsuit on behalf of women in family detention in the privately-run Karnes facility in Texas alleging sexual harassment and abuse by guards. Three guards are accused of engaging in sexual acts with detainees and making inappropriate remarks in front of children and other detainees.

However, there are some positive developments around the issue of ICE detainers. An increasing number of municipalities are refusing to honor ICE detainers, or requests to hold undocumented immigrants 48 hours past their scheduled release date from jail. Several federal court rulings on the issue have held that ICE detainers are not mandatory and they do not constitute probable cause. This opens local law enforcement up to the possibility of being sued for violating individuals’ constitutional rights. According to the LA Times, 225 local law enforcement agencies have decided to completely ignore the requests. Another 25 have limited the circumstances under which they will honor the requests to individuals who have committed more serious crimes.

Grower Representative Accused of Defrauding the U.S.

Harry Lee Wicker, Jr. was recently indicted by the federal government for criminal conspiracy to defraud the United States in a scheme involving the H-2A temporary agricultural guestworker program and the H-2B temporary nonagricultural guestworker program. Wicker is Deputy Director of the North Carolina Growers Association (NCGA), a large farm labor contractor that brings in guestworkers from Mexico, and a board member of USA Farmers, which represents employers of guestworkers.

Wicker has testified several times in Congressional hearings on behalf of agricultural employers seeking to eliminate labor protections and reduce government oversight of the H-2A program.

Wicker was added to a case that was previously filed by the U.S. Attorney in federal court in North Carolina. Wicker’s co-defendants in the 87-count indictment of USA v Eury, are Craig Stanford Eury, Jr. and Kenneth White. Eury serves as the Executive Director of NCGA and the founder and primary interest holder of International Labor Management Company (ILMC), a North Carolina company engaged in preparing and submitting applications for H-2A and H-2B workers on behalf of client companies. White is another Deputy Director of NCGA.

The indictment alleges that under a scheme to defraud, Lee Wicker improperly directed the payment of over $1,000,000 to a limited liability company under his control. The indictment seems to allege that the farm operators that are members of, and are supplied with guestworkers by, the NCGA and/or ILMC were victims of fraud. The defendants allegedly overcharged growers and pocketed the money. Among other claims, the indictment alleges that ILMC, Eury and others instructed H-2B employers on how to interview US workers so as to inhibit their hiring and to hire token US workers. The alleged result was to allow ILMC to profit from hiring guestworkers instead of United States citizens. These criminal charges, if proved, would suggest that the defendants sought to evade the federal immigration law’s requirement that qualified, available U.S. workers should be hired before an application for guestworkers is approved.

Wicker most recently testified before the House Judiciary Committee on May 16, 2013, in favor of Rep. Goodlatte’s “Agricultural Guestworker Act,” HR 1773, which would create a new program with lower wages, fewer requirements for ensuring job opportunities for U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents, and allow exploitative conditions for hundreds of thousands of new guestworkers. According to Wicker’s testimony before the House Judiciary Committee, the NCGA has been the single largest user of H-2A agricultural guestworkers for over 15 years. In his testimony, Wicker calls the H-2A program “expensive, overly bureaucratic, [and] unnecessarily litigious.”

The H-2A program and its predecessor have been characterized by widespread evasions of their modest labor protections for U.S. and foreign workers. Indeed, a guestworker program is inherently problematic because the foreign workers are denied freedoms most workers possess and are vulnerable to abuse. Farmworker Justice has long called for greater oversight and stronger enforcement of the H-2A program’s requirements.

Labor Violations on Florida Farms

The Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD) issued a press release on findings of wage, housing and transportation violations under the Fair Labor Standards Act and the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act in its ongoing initiative focusing on Central and Northern Florida farms. So far, the WHD has assessed $100,000 in back wages for 277 workers and more than $25,000 in civil money penalties. The high rates of labor violations in agriculture is directly related to the high portion of undocumented farmworkers in the workforce and demonstrates the urgent need for legalization of undocumented immigrants. Farmworker Justice continues to advocate for Congress to pass immigration reform with a path to citizenship and for President Obama to create a broad affirmative relief program for undocumented immigrants that includes farmworkers and their families.

by Megan Horn
(0 total comments)