Farmworker Justice is deeply disappointed in President Obama's delay of anticipated administrative relief to fix our broken immigration system. In June, after the House of Representative’s failure to pass needed immigration legislation, the President had announced that he would take executive action by the end of the summer. Although the White House had not yet indicated what the administrative action would entail, it is expected to include granting administrative relief against deportation and work authorization to millions of undocumented immigrants with strong ties to the U.S. protection.
“This delay in fixing the broken immigration system will inflict unconscionable harm on the millions of hard-working aspiring Americans, including the many farmworkers who labor on farms and lack authorized immigration status,” said Farmworker Justice President Bruce Goldstein. “The entire food system is undermined by the failure of the political leadership in this country to address this crisis responsibly. Farmworker Justice will continue to press the Administration and Congress for immigration reform,” said Goldstein.
Farmworkers, public health advocates, labor organizations, and public officials, were among the more than 175,000 who submitted comments to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) calling on the agency to strengthen its Agricultural Worker Protection Standard (WPS). The WPS is the only federal standard designed to protect the nation’s more than 2 million farmworkers from one of their greatest occupational hazards: pesticide exposure.
“Farmworkers face dangerous exposure to poisons over the course of their working life,” said Eve Gartner, attorney for Earthjustice, a public interest law firm. “While most Americans benefit from broad workplace protections, farmworkers are not protected by the same health and safety standards.”
“The nation’s 2 million farmworkers deserve the level of workplace protections provided to other workers,” said Margaret Reeves, PhD, a senior scientist with Pesticide Action Network. “Protections for workers from pesticide exposure also mean protections for farmworker children and families.”
“Each year pesticide exposure poisons tens of thousands of farmworkers and their families,” said Virginia Ruiz, Director of Occupational and Environmental Health at Farmworker Justice. “We hope EPA responds to the hundreds of thousands of individuals who submitted comments in support of stronger protections and acts quickly to implement a Worker Protection Standard that prevents needless illness, injury, and death in farmworker communities.”
The groups are calling on EPA to change the proposed standard to include:
● Parity with safety rules provided to workers in non-agricultural industries
● Improved safety training annually and starting before workers enter treated fields
● Easily accessible information about pesticides used on the farm and in nurseries
● No children under 18 years of age allowed to handle hazardous pesticides
● Strict adherence to no-entry rules for areas recently treated with pesticides
● Improved protections and safety monitoring for pesticide handlers
Elvia Vasquez of Oxnard, California worked in the fields of Southern California picking strawberries, lettuce and broccoli for nearly a decade. "I would get rashes and headaches when forced to enter the strawberry fields that had been sprayed with pesticides only hours before," said Vasquez, who now works with Organizacion en California de Lideres Campesinas, Inc. to educate farmworkers on the dangers of pesticide exposure.
“We know the EPA has all the information they need to finalize a stronger, better WPS that actually provides real protections for the people who feed our nation,” said Tirso Moreno, General Coordinator of the Farmworker Association of Florida . “The administration has heard the stories from farmworkers and they know what is needed to do the right thing.”
"Millions of farmworkers are exposed to cancer-causing chemicals without adequate safeguards to protect their health," said Murshed Zaheed, Deputy Political Director at CREDO. "The least the EPA can do is take basic steps to protect farmworkers from being exposed to these toxic chemicals."
Indeed the administration has been hearing from workers and advocates for over a decade now - the WPS was first adopted in 1995 and has been awaiting revision since 2000. EPA is finally expected to issue the finalized rule by early 2015, after closing its public comment period on their proposal for a revised WPS at midnight on Monday, Aug 18.
More than 175,000 petition signatures were collected by Earthjustice, Farmworker Association of Florida, Farmworker Justice, Migrant Clinicians Network, Pesticide Action Network North America, United Farm Workers, and CREDO.
About 2.5 million men and women work on our nation’s farms and ranches; nobody knows how many of them are laboring on Monroe County’s more than 450 farms. It is hard work, made worse by our inhumane national immigration system which Congress seems determined not to fix.
Today the system serves neither our economic interests nor does it protect farmers and their workers, a majority of whom are undocumented immigrants. In the Rochester area, many work picking apples, which is particularly dangerous given the risks of pesticide exposure. Their wages are low and fringe benefits are rare. Housing, when available, is often decrepit and crowded. Undocumented status inhibits workers’ ability to speak up against wage violations, sexual harassment and other abuses.
Agriculture contributes $5.7 billion annually to New York’s economy, yet farmworkers do not have the right to join a union free from retaliation or to overtime pay, and they aren’t guaranteed a day of rest. Bills to address these basic needs stalled in New York’s State Senate. Both of us have first-hand experience with these issues. After entering the United States at age 15 as an undocumented immigrant, Librada joined her brothers picking apples in New York. A single apple tree might be sprayed three times a week or more with a dangerous mix of pesticides, exposing workers to serious long and short-term health risks. In college years later, Librada learned what her rights were and what workplace standards apply to the farms where she had worked. As a public interest lawyer and policy advocate, Bruce and his colleagues help farmworkers remedy their problems.
Our broken immigration system remains a barrier to progress for farmworkers.After months of negotiations between farmworker and agricultural stakeholders, a bipartisan group of senators in Washington produced a tough-but-fair compromise that is included in the comprehensive immigration reform bill. But obstruction in the House of Representatives has led to demands for President Obama to alleviate the harm unfairly inflicted on law-abiding,undocumented immigrants. The President should act, but only Congress can grant aspiring Americans the opportunity to earn legal residency and citizenship.
Goldstein is president of Farmworker Justice, a non-profit, nonpartisan organization in Washington, D.C. Paz, a former farmworker, is the Robert F. Kennedy human rights laureate for 2012 and a Brockport resident.
The past weeks have been extremely disappointing and disheartening for immigrant communities and immigration reform advocates. On September 6th, the White House announced a delay in President Obama’s plans for administrative action to address the broken immigration system, which he had previously promised would take place by the end of the summer. The President justified the delay, saying “… I'm going to act because it's the right thing for the country…But it's going to be more sustainable and more effective if the public understands what the facts are on immigration, what we've done on unaccompanied children and why it's necessary.” Cecilia Muñoz, Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, also said that after the elections it will be easier to protect the actions he takes. The situation of unaccompanied minors at the border had garnered the attention of the American public and polling data showed that Americans were more concerned with immigration than they have been in the past.
Although President Obama, denied the role of politics in his decision to delay administrative relief, many argue that the real reason for the President’s delay is due to the upcoming elections. Control of the Senate is up for grabs this November and several Democratic Senators in tight races had asked for the delay.
Pro-immigration reform groups and some Democrats have criticized the President’s delay. Last week, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) met with senior White House officials to express their frustration with the delay. White House officials reassured the CHC that the President will act by the end of the year. The CHC approved a resolution urging the President to act by the holidays.
Meanwhile, anti-immigrant Senators Sessions and Cruz took advantage of their brief presence in DC (both the House and Senate are now out of session until after the November election) to push a measure opposing executive action by the President to address the broken immigration system. Specifically, the measure would have disallowed any new DACA applicants and prohibited the President from creating any new affirmative relief programs for undocumented immigrants. A procedural vote on the anti-immigrant measure failed on a 50-50 vote to garner the 51 votes needed to move forward. The Senators had tried to offer the proposal as an amendment to the continuing resolution to keep the government funded through December 11th and provide funding for the situation in Syria. Five Democrats joined Republican Senators in supporting the measure: Senators Kay Hagan (NC), Mary Landrieu (LA), Mark Pryor (AK), Jeanne Shaheen (NH) and Joe Manchin III (WV). Manchin was the only Democrat who voted for the measure who is not up for reelection this November.
Finally, check out the Economic Policy Institute’s blog “Here’s Why We Need to Legalize the Undocumented Immigrant Workforce.” The blog discusses an article in the Tennessean about exploited undocumented farmworkers on a tobacco farm in Tennessee who were threatened with immigration enforcement when they told their boss their plans to leave for another job. The article illustrates that the only way to end the exploitation of farmworkers is for the undocumented population to be granted protection from deportation and work authorization. Farmworker Justice will continue to press the President to provide a broad, bold affirmative relief program for undocumented immigrants that includes farmworkers and their families.
Immigration is a critically important issue for farmworkers. Learn about current legislation proposals impacting farmworkers.
Learn about the history of guestworker programs, H-2A program for temporary agricultural work, and the H-2B visa program.