We couldn’t disagree more with the contention that the Bracero program was “one of the most successful programs of all times” (“Bring on the Guest Workers” by William McGurn, Main Street, March 24). The Bracero program, which began during World War II to provide foreign labor to U.S. farms, ended in 1964 after years of exposés about its labor- and human-rights abuses. While Mexican citizens often were grateful for the job opportunities, the Bracero program exploited the workers’ vulnerability. The guest workers held a restricted, nonimmigrant status with no right to earn immigration status or citizenship. They were tied to particular employers and depended on the employer for the chance for a visa in a following season. Wages stagnated and U.S. citizens and immigrants were displaced in favor of the more controllable foreign workers. While protections against undermining of U.S. workers’ wages and working conditions existed, they weren’t strong enough and they weren’t enforced effectively.
More important, we already have an agricultural guest-worker program and its history reveals that it should not be a model for this nation’s immigration policy. The H-2A temporary foreign agricultural-worker program also began during World War II and has been revised several times, but the program suffers from the same flaws as the Bracero program. The U.S. should not become a nation of guest workers but instead should remain a nation of immigrants who are granted the opportunity to become citizens and enjoy our economic and political freedoms.
The House Judiciary Committee will mark-up four punitive, one-sided immigration bills this week. The four bills revive previously-failed bills. If they were to pass, they would deepen the problems of our broken immigration system. 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, (H.R. 1147)” which requires all employers to use the E-verify system for checking immigration status; 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.
A very conservative, outspoken federal judge yesterday issued a temporary order blocking the Federal Government from implementing the President’s deferred action programs that were announced on November 20, 2014, known as DAPA and expanded DACA. The not unexpected ruling held that of the 26 states challenging the programs, Texas, at least, has “standing” to sue. The district court judge based the order enjoining the deferred action programs on the claim that the Obama Administration had not followed proper procedures in creating the Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA) Program and the expanded Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (expanded DACA) program. The judge reserved for later the decisions of whether the programs violate any law or the Constitution. The U.S. Government will appeal the temporary injunction against President Obama's immigration relief, and the appeal is likely to succeed. The ruling unfortunately creates uncertainty and fear in affected communities, but should be recognized as being only a temporary roadblock as the President’ actions were constitutional and will prevail. Farmworker Justice urges individuals to stay calm and to continue preparing for administrative relief. The decision does not affect the current DACA program announced in 2012, which is still in effect and accepting new applications and applications for renewal.
“Farmworker Justice, along with many legal experts, believes that President Obama’s executive actions are a proper exercise of his prosecutorial discretion, are constitutional, and will ultimately prevail. Farmworker Justice urges the Department of Justice to request the Court of Appeals to issue an emergency stay, which could expedite the process of review,” said Bruce Goldstein, president of Farmworker Justice. “Several hundred thousand farmworkers who labor on our farms and ranches could be eligible for these deferred action programs. The programs are well within the President’s authority. By eliminating 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.”
Farmworker Justice will continue to work with groups throughout the country to support and plan implementation of the DAPA/DACA programs and to win legislation that creates a path to citizenship for undocumented farmworker families.
Thousands of farmworkers in San Quintin Valley, Baja California, Mexico, began a labor strike on March 17th, protesting low wages and poor working conditions. The striking workers also shut down 55 miles of the Trans-Peninsular Highway for several days, blocking the movement of produce from Baja California to the US. The highway blockade has been stopped for now, but the work stoppage continues.
The workers are paid about $10/day, and for most wages have not increased in years. In addition to higher wages, the workers seek employers’ compliance with their obligation to pay into Mexico’s social security and health insurance system as well as with labor laws. The workers’ alliance also demands an end to sexual harassment in the fields. Last Wednesday, an employer representative offered the workers a 6% increase—that is, just $.60 more per day— an amount the workers understandably found offensive. As negotiations continued the employers increased their offers to an 8% increase per day. The workers, represented by the Alliance of National, State and Municipal Organizations for Social Justice, a coalition of indigenous groups, countered with a demand to be paid $19 a day. The strike and the negotiations have continued into this week. The organizers have also said that they plan to call for a boycott of goods produced in the region.
Many of the fruits and vegetables grown near San Quintin in the Mexican state of Baja California are grown on large farms that use modern technology and are sold in major US supermarket chains and restaurants. Some of the farm operators are co-owned by or affiliated with U.S. companies. Often, US consumers will not notice a price difference between produce grown in the US and produce grown abroad. Mexican farmworkers should be earning higher wages and the laws should be enforced.
Farmworker Justice stands in solidarity with these striking farmworkers who seek to improve their working conditions and be paid a living wage. The U.S. government should use its influence with U.S.-based corporations and with the Mexican government to press for enforcement of labor rights and improvement in wages and working conditions.
A few of the farmworker leaders in San Quintin drew on organizing experience and relationships in the US with the United Farm Workers union and the Coalition of Immokolee Workers. The United Farm Workers started an on-line petition to US retailers asking that they demand that they hold the growers, such as Driscoll’s accountable. An important solution to address these problems is the Equitable Food Initiative, which Farmworker Justice co-founded with other organizations, including the UFW and Costco Warehouse. The EFI, www.equitablefood.org, offers training of workers and managers and a certification system to assure growers, workers and consumers that there is compliance with meaningful standards on wages and working conditions, pesticide safety, and food safety. The EFI is working with two farms in Baja California in Mexico as well as farms in the U.S. and Canada.
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.