The Department of Homeland Security is Funded Through September
Last week, Congress narrowly averted a shutdown of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for at least one week. As you’ll remember from previous updates, House Republicans had passed a DHS-funding bill that included language blocking President Obama’s executive actions on immigration, including the 2012 DACA program. The Senate held repeated votes on this legislation but was unable to muster the 60 votes needed to move forward due to unanimous opposition by Democrats. Furthermore, President Obama had promised to veto the bill.
On Friday morning, the last day that the DHS was funded, the Senate removed the House’s language blocking the President’s deferred action programs and passed a “clean” DHS-funding bill with the support of Democratic Senators. To satisfy conservatives focused on blocking battling President Obama’s executive actions, Senator Collins introduced a bill that would prevent President Obama’s 2014 executive actions on immigration from going into effect. So far, the Collins’ bill has lacked the votes to move forward, although four Democrats – Senators Donnelly (IN), Heitkamp (ND), Manchin (WV), and McCaskill (MO) – joined all Republicans to vote in favor of moving forward on the bill. The Senate is expected to revisit it after the DHS funding battle is over.
The Senate passage of the “clean” funding bill put the funding issue back in the House’s hands, where there was a surprising defeat of a proposed 3-week extension of current funding before the House managed to get a one week funding extension passed shortly before midnight. The one week extension relied on the support of House Democrats, who were reportedly promised the opportunity to vote on a clean funding bill through September this week.
On Tuesday, the House passed a bill by 257-167 to fund the Department of Homeland Security through September without any language blocking President Obama’s executive actions on immigration. 167 Republicans voted against the bill. The bill has already passed the Senate and the President is expected to sign it into law.
House Judiciary Committee to Mark-up Harsh Enforcement-only Bills
The House Judiciary Committee will begin marking-up four punitive, enforcement-oriented immigration bills on Tuesday. The four bills are revived versions of previous-failed bills. They are Rep. Trey Gowdy’s (R-SC) draconian interior enforcement “SAFE Act” from last congress, renamed the “Michael Davis, Jr. in Honor of State and Local Law Enforcement Act” (H.R. 1148); Rep. Lamar Smith’s (R-TX) “Legal Workforce Act,” which requires all employers to use E-Verify; Rep. Jason Chaffetz’s (R-UT) “Asylum Reform and Border Protection Act of 2015” (H.R. 1153), which would gravely harm asylum seekers, survivors of domestic violence and trafficking, military members, and abused neglected or abandoned children; and Rep. John Carter’s (R-TX) ironically named, “Protection of Children Act of 2015” (H.R. 1149), which would lower due process standards for all unaccompanied children and expedite their removal from the US.
Mandatory E-verify and local law enforcement of immigration would increase fear and drive undocumented farmworkers deeper into the underground economy, leading them to work for unscrupulous employers and labor contractors. These bills would further destabilize the farm labor force and harm the estimated 1.2 million undocumented farmworkers working hard to put food on our tables.
Enforcement-only approaches to immigration have been tried before and failed. The House Judiciary Committee is out of touch with the large majority of Americans who understand that deporting 11 million people is inhumane and unrealistic. The House Judiciary Committee should stop wasting time with political posturing and instead work towards a compromise solution to fix our immigration system, which must include a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants currently residing in the US.
The President Promotes his Executive Actions
President Obama spoke at a televised town hall last week in Miami on his executive actions on immigration. Members of the United Farm Workers and the Florida Association of Farmworkers attended the event along with leaders of their organizations. The President also met with several leaders of immigrant organizations, immigrants’ rights groups and labor unions last week. Obama expressed confidence that the Administration will prevail in the lawsuit against his deferred action programs—DAPA and extended DACA. The President also promised that he would veto any piecemeal legislation that does not contain a path to citizenship for the 11 million.
Legalized Farmworkers Will Stay in Agriculture
A recent NPR news story debunks the myth that undocumented farmworkers will leave agriculture once they obtain work authorization. As an expert in the article explains, when farmworkers do leave agriculture, it is not because of their legal status, but because they can't earn enough money from the low-wages and temporary work. Therefore, the answer to stabilizing the farm labor market is to improve wages and working conditions and provide stable employment. The story indicates that some growers are lobbying Congress for a new temporary agricultural guestworker program, but fails to mention that growers already have access to an unlimited number of guestworkers through the H-2A temporary agricultural guestworker program. A new agricultural guestworker program with lower wages and fewer worker protections than exist in the H-2A program is not a solution to stabilize the agricultural labor market. It would only lead to greater worker exploitation and displacement of US farmworkers and other experienced workers.
The real solution is to offer experienced farmworkers the opportunity to earn citizenship and for the food industry to adapt and improve farm jobs and conditions in order to maintain a productive and stable workforce and food supply. Farmworker Justice continues to monitor Congress for harmful agricultural guestworker proposals and educate legislators and their staff on such proposals and the H-2A program.