Washington, DC – Farmworker Justice opposes amendments to the appropriations bill for the Department of Homeland Security (H.R. 240) that seek to prevent the Administration from implementing President Obama’s immigration executive actions, which are urgently needed to protect immigrant families, youth, and others.
“The DACA and DAPA programs are sensible efforts to address the broken immigration system that is harming immigrants, employers, and the nation. They are a modest step in the right direction and should not be obstructed,” said Bruce Goldstein, President of Farmworker Justice. Among agricultural workers, the people who labor in dangerous, low-paid jobs on our farms and ranches, a majority are undocumented. Many of these undocumented farmworkers live in fear of detection, job loss and deportation, and are vulnerable to abuse.
The President’s deferred action programs will allow eligible residents who lack authorized immigration status to come forward, submit to background checks and properly document themselves with the federal government and in their workplaces. Those undocumented immigrants who qualify will obtain a temporary relief from deportation and temporary work authorization. “With protection against the constant fear of deportation, farmworkers and other aspiring Americans will be able to contribute more fully to their communities and will be empowered in their workplaces,” said Goldstein.
The President’s actions are a proper exercise of his authority to enforce immigration laws. “Congressional efforts to prevent the Administration from taking these modest steps should be rejected not only because the President possesses the authority, but also because the Administration’s efforts are sensible and humanitarian as well as economically beneficial to our nation and food system,” said Goldstein.
We commend President Obama’s action to address our broken immigration system. The President took action because Congress has refused to address the urgent need for comprehensive immigration reform. In 2013, the Senate passed a comprehensive immigration bill that included a carefully negotiated compromise regarding agricultural workers and employers. Unfortunately, the House failed to act. These proposed amendments move in the fundamentally wrong direction.
Learn how Farmworker Justice helps farmworkers improve their living and working conditions. Highlights include:
- Immigration Reform Update: Deferred Deportation and Farmworkers
- Victory for Farmworkers: Remedying Systematic Labor Abuses Confronted by Farmworkers
- The Affordable Care Act Open Enrollment 2.0: Connecting Farmworkers to Health Insurance
- Keeping Up the Pressure to Protect Farmworkers from Pesticides
Washington, DC – Farmworker Justice applauds President Obama for taking action to address our broken immigration system. Farmworker Justice has been helping farmworker organizations advocate for a more just immigration system because immigration policy has profound impacts on farmworkers, their families and their communities. The President’s administrative relief for certain undocumented immigrants will help several hundred thousand farmworker families. It also represents a step toward desperately-needed, comprehensive reform of our immigration system that Congress should enact.
“We commend President Obama for providing temporary protection against deportation and work authorization for undocumented immigrants who have strong ties to our communities. Several hundred thousand farmworkers who labor on our farms and ranches could be eligible for this administrative relief. It is sensible and within the President’s authority. With protection against the constant fear of deportation, farmworkers and other aspiring Americans will be able to contribute more fully to their communities and will be empowered in their workplaces.
“Even as we celebrate with those who will be eligible for relief, we are disappointed at the limits of the program. The eligibility criteria will deny administrative relief to many deserving farmworkers and their family members, including many long-time farmworkers who do not have U.S. citizen children.” said Bruce Goldstein, President of Farmworker Justice.
Goldstein concluded: “Immigrant farmworkers and other aspiring Americans deserve to be treated with respect and should be given the opportunity to earn immigration status and citizenship. Demands by some employer groups for exploitative guestworker programs should be rejected. Congress should pass immigration legislation that remains true to our history as a nation of immigrants.”
In the past few weeks, President Obama’s executive actions on immigration reform have been under attack in Congress and in the courts. You may recall that during the appropriations process late last year, a decision was made to fund DHS until only February in order to give the new Congress an opportunity to undo President Obama’s administrative actions on immigration. Wasting no time in acting, this week, the House of Representatives passed a bill funding the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that attempts to block the President from implementing the new executive actions on immigration reform and to end the existing DACA program for young people. The parts of the Homeland Security bill relating to administrative relief were added to the bill as amendments. Members of the House of Representatives voted on the amendments and the underlying bill mainly along party lines. However, several pro-immigration reform Republicans voted against the amendments and final passage of the bill and several Democrats voted in support of the amendments and final passage. The amendment to terminate the DACA program passed by only a slim margin, with 26 Republicans voting against it, mostly from districts with high immigrant populations. The final appropriations bill passed by a vote of 236-191. Farmworker Justice joined other organizations in condemning the anti-immigrant amendments.
The DHS funding bill is not expected to become law, however, as it is unlikely to get the 60 votes needed to pass the Senate. Even if it were to pass the Senate, President Obama is likely to veto the bill. This poses a problem for Congress because if they don’t pass a bill funding the Department of Homeland Security by February 27th, then the agency will be “shut down” (last time there was a government shut down the majority of DHS employees worked without pay until Congress passed an appropriations bill awarding them back pay). Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said that he will give Senators the opportunity to vote on the House version of the bill. Some Republican Senators have stressed the importance of funding the security agency over playing politics on immigration.
On the litigation front, a federal judge heard oral arguments on Thursday in the lawsuit in which 25 states are suing the President over his executive actions on immigration. After the hearing in the Southern District of Texas, Judge Andrew Hanen will decide whether or not to order the government to refrain from implementing the deferred action programs until after the case is fully adjudicated. It’s also possible that the judge could prohibit the implementation of the deferred action programs only in those states that are suing the federal government, allowing the programs to proceed in the other states. About a dozen states led by Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson have filed a brief in the case defending the executive actions.
In one victory for President Obama’s immigration executive actions, on December 23rd, a federal judge dismissed Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s lawsuit against the Federal Government challenging the Administration’s deferred action program. Judge Beryl Howell held that Arpaio does not legally have the right to bring the lawsuit. She found that he was unable to show that he would suffer a particular harm and therefore his claim is better suited for the political process to work out. In other words, he is no different from any other citizen who doesn’t like a government policy. Arpaio’s argument that the policies would affect him relied on the effect that undocumented immigrants’ criminal activities would have on him as a sheriff (arguing that the program incentivized more undocumented criminals to enter the country). Judge Howell said that the opposite is true: the Administration’s focus on deporting serious criminals could actually address his concerns rather than exacerbating them as Arpaio claimed. Judge Howell’s opinion also stated that the deferred action programs are an exercise of valid prosecutorial discretion consistent with Congressional policy.
In response to President Obama’s deferred action programs, some growers and their associations have begun to cry wolf about labor shortages again. A Florida article claiming that there is a labor shortage in agriculture says that during an economic recovery, workers leave agriculture for “less intensive jobs that produce more pay and stability – like hospitality and construction.” The article goes on to say that “industry experts fear the trend will broaden if many illegals are allowed to stay in the United States without fear of being deported,” implying that the fear of deportation keeps them working in agriculture. Check out Daniel Costa’s blog on the Economic Policy Institute’s website which responds to the Director of Government Affairs for the Western Growers’ Association, Ken Barbic’s statement that farmworkers with DAPA will leave agriculture.
For too long growers have been able to rely on an oversupply of farm labor and paying below market wages to keep their labor costs down, whether through guestworker programs or by hiring undocumented workers. Like any other business, growers need to follow the economic law of supply and demand to attract and retain farmworkers. That means improving wages and working conditions and introducing more efficiency and fairness into the workforce. Farmworker Justice rejects the demands of some legislators and growers for a new guestworker program that would eliminate wage and other labor protections from the H-2A program and would not include an opportunity for immigration status and citizenship. The only solution to stabilize our labor force is Congressional action that offers the opportunity for legal immigration status and citizenship to undocumented workers. While President Obama's executive action provides valuable relief for those who qualify, the action is limited in that it will only reach a portion of the undocumented farm labor force and does not provide a path to citizenship.
Meanwhile, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D. Calif.) is reportedly interested in filing a farmworker immigration bill based on the agricultural stakeholder agreement in last year’s Senate bill. However, even if a reasonable compromise farmworker bill passes the Senate, the House is unlikely to take it up. Rep. Goodlatte’s “Agricultural Guestworker Act” that was passed out of the House Judiciary committee in the last Congress is worse than the historically abysmal Bracero program, and would create a massive new guestworker program with low wages and almost no worker protections. Undocumented farmworkers would be expected to self-deport and come back as guestworkers without their family members. In addition to being contrary to American values, Goodlatte’s bill fails to provide needed reforms and lacks the political support to become law.
Farmworker Justice will continue working to build support for meaningful immigration reform in Congress that includes a path to citizenship, and to educate Congressional offices about the problems in the current H-2A guestworker program and with the guestworker reform model. We are also continuing to defend President Obama’s immigration executive actions while educating the farmworker community about administrative relief and planning for implementation in conjunction with the UFW Foundation and the Si Se Puede network, as well as with other immigration advocacy groups.
On November 20th, 2014 President Obama announced his plans for executive action on immigration. We applaud the President’s action, which includes a deferred action program that provides relief from deportation and work authorization for millions of undocumented individuals, including hundreds of thousands of farmworkers and their family members.
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.