California Sen. Dianne Feinstein said she will work with fellow senators to give legal status to undocumented farmworkers and streamline the H-2A visa system for agricultural guestworkers. "It's time to give farmers the help they need and protect the essential workers who work hard to put food on our tables," said Feinstein, a senior member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
To aid farmers worried about an imminent labor shortage, two federal departments said on Thursday that they will help farms find foreign and domestic workers who may be eligible to transfer from one agricultural employer to another. (No paywall)
The global pandemic feels distant to 31-year-old Manuel Alejandro Lopez Delgado in his town of some 4,000 people in the state of Sinaloa, along the Gulf of California. There’s been just one confirmed case of coronavirus in the state, and that was four hours away, in the city of Culiacan. But in the next two weeks, Lopez, along with three other workers from his town, will be traveling to the U.S. to work in Washington State. The three-day bus journey will take them to the epicenter of the Covid-19 crisis in America.(No paywall)
The Idaho state Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously approved a bill that would allow prison inmates to work in all parts of agriculture, an expansion of the 2014 law that authorized prison labor in businesses that produce perishable foods.
The White House says it will propose a compromise on immigration built on four pillars: “Securing the border and closing legal loopholes; ending extended-family chain migration; canceling the visa lottery; and providing a permanent solution on DACA.” The announcement by White House press secretary Sarah Sanders left open the question of undocumented farmworkers.
The chairmen of the House Judiciary and Homeland Security committees unveiled a broad-scale immigration reform bill that might piggyback on a legislative resolution of the “dreamers” issue.
The "Brexodus" — the British withdrawal from the EU — "is being felt particularly acutely in the agriculture industry, which relies heavily on manual laborers, especially from poor European countries like Romania and Bulgaria," says the New York Times. Thousands of foreign-born workers have left England, or have decided not to return to harvest-time jobs on farms or other industries.
In announcing his retirement at the end of 2018, House Judiciary chairman Bob Goodlatte said his goals in his final year in office include "bolstering enforcement of our immigration laws and reforming the legal immigration system." Goodlatte, a Virginia Republican, is the sponsor of divisive legislation to create a year-round H-2C agricultural guestworker program to replace seasonal H-2A visas.
The Government Accountability Office urged federal regulators, in the words of Harvest Public Media, "to better protect meatpacking workers, who are often exposed to dangerous chemicals, not allowed bathroom breaks and refused medical treatment." The GAO report said workers sometimes decide not to report problems for fear of retaliation, making it harder for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to get a clear picture of conditions.
The United Farm Workers union likened legislation for a new guestworker program, scheduled for a vote today in the House Judiciary Committee, to the post-war bracero program in that it would "undermine the wages and working conditions of all agricultural workers." The bill, by Judiciary chairman Bob Goodlatte, will be considered at the same session as a bill to require all employers to use the E-Verify system to check if applicants can work legally.
The U.S. would scrap its much-criticized H-2A system of short-term visas for agricultural workers and replace it with an H-2C program that allows foreign laborers to stay in the country for up to three years under a bill filed by House Judiciary chairman Bob Goodlatte. The bill also would allow those laborers, for the first time, to work in dairies and processing plants. The committee is scheduled to vote on the bill on Wednesday, at a moment when lawmakers want to resolve the issue of "dreamers," youths brought illegally into the U.S. by their parents.
President Trump’s decision to scrap the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program is unlikely to have a major impact on the nation’s agricultural workforce, says Capital Press, quoting an immigration attorney who estimates that “only 5 to 10 percent of the 800,000 people benefiting from DACA ... work in agriculture.”
In today’s uncertain climate for immigrants, undocumented workers in the farm communities of California’s Central Valley are terrified of what may come next, says Jesus Martinez of the immigrant rights group, CIVIC. “There’s a generalized fear about how the anti-immigrant policies can impact them, to the extent that even permanent residents are fearful about how their status might be revoked without any justification,” Martinez told FERN’s Ag Insider.
Many farmers in California’s Central Valley, where 70 percent of the farmworkers are in the U.S. without documentation, voted for Donald Trump. But as Trump takes a hard line on immigration in his first few weeks in office, some farm owners are worried he won’t make any exemptions for agriculture, says the New York Times.
The senior Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Committee, Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, said she had a productive conversation with President Trump's nominee for agriculture secretary, but did not endorse former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue for the job. So far, Agriculture Committee member Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota is the only Democrat in the Senate to commit to voting for Perdue.