Things That Matter

The House Just Introduced A Bipartisan Plan To Help Undocumented Farmworkers But Will The White House Support It?

The United States’ agricultural business is largely ran on the back of undocumented foreign labor. In fact, more than 50% of those employed in agriculture are undocumented. That means there are more than a million people living in the shadows but who a vital part of delivering food to American households.

Not only do they live in the shadows for fear of deportation but many are even too afraid to access much needed healthcare or to speak out against employee abuse.

To help address these very real concerns, a bipartisan group of lawmakers have been quietly working out the details of a bill that could help.

The bipartisan bill was announced on Wednesday and may actually have a chance at being passed.

Lawmakers have struck a deal that would give legal status to hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrant farmworkers in exchange for stronger employee verification in the agricultural sector.

Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose, who chairs the immigration subcommittee of the Judiciary Committee, and Rep. Jimmy Panetta, D-Carmel Valley, led negotiations on the deal with Republican Reps. Doug LaMalfa of Richvale (Butte County) and Dan Newhouse of Washington state.

“The men and women who work America’s farms feed the nation. But, farmworkers across the country are living and working with uncertainty and fear, contributing to the destabilization of farms across the nation,” Lofgren said in a statement. “Our bill offers stability for American farms.”

If it passes the House, the bill still faces an uncertain future in the Senate. It’s also unclear whether President Trump will back it.

However, the bill would face a more uncertain fate in the Republican-controlled Senate.

If 20 Republicans are willing to put their names on the effort, it could show the reach of interest from the GOP side of the aisle to address a very specific portion of the immigrant workforce that is crucial to many of their districts’ economies.

In addition to Diaz-Balart’s participation in negotiations, another Republican at the table has been Rep. Dan Newhouse of Washington, according to two congressional sources.

The bill could offer hope to more than a million people across the US.

Hundreds of thousands of undocumented workers already in California could be eligible to get on a path to citizenship if the bill becomes law, and employers would be able to take advantage of the reformed visa process to hire new foreign workers legally.

If the bill can pass the House, one supporter in the Senate will be California Democrat Dianne Feinstein. She said in a statement provided to The Chronicle that she will work to try to pass the legislation in the upper chamber.

“Our broken immigration system has created shortages of farm labor across California and the rest of our country,” Feinstein said. “This bipartisan bill will fix that and bring farmworkers out of the shadows. It’s time we give farmers the help they need while protecting the hardworking people who put food on our tables.”

United Farm Workers, the union that represents agricultural workers, has come out in support of the bill.

According to a summary of the bill obtained by McClatchy, the so-called Farm Workforce Modernization Act would provide a pathway to legal status for undocumented immigrants who have already been working in the farm and agriculture industry for at least two years and plan to continue in this sector. 

It would make changes to the H2-A visa program, which farmers use to hire foreign nationals for seasonal agriculture work, to make it easier for employers to fill crucial workforce gaps while providing more protections for the workers themselves.

And as a sweetener for immigration hardliners, the measure would make E-Verify — the web-based system that allows businesses to confirm whether their employees are eligible to work in the United States — mandatory for the agriculture sector.

However, because of the expansion of the E-Verify system not everyone is on-board with the legislation.

“We are opposed to E-Verify in principle but as part of a compromise for legalization and more workers, it’d be a sacrifice worth making,” said Cato policy analyst David Bier. Bier said he had heard that “a bipartisan group is close to a deal” on the proposal.

Some farmworker advocates are lobbying to grant farmworkers legal status without requiring future E-Verify checks, while some Republicans want mandatory E-Verify use without granting legal status to any current workers.

A position paper from the Farm Bureau last year said the group would consider mandatory E-Verify in exchange for granting legal status to current workers and a better guest-worker visa program.

She’s An Undocumented Migrant Herself But Is Fighting For People Like Her In The Court System

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She’s An Undocumented Migrant Herself But Is Fighting For People Like Her In The Court System

Emily Berl / Getty

Lizbeth Mateo always had a strong sense of justice since she was a small child. It was this determination that would lead her to become an immigration lawyer and a controversial appointment to a post on a state advisory committee, despite being undocumented. 

The Los Angeles lawyer is a DREAMER. She came to the U.S. from Oaxaca with her parents at 14 years old. Now, 20 years later, Mateo protects immigrants in court every day and each time she does she faces possible arrest and deportation. The Los Angeles Times profiled Mateo as she fights for herself by fighting for others. 

“I’m a walking contradiction,” Mateo told the newspaper.

Officials received death threats when Mateo was appointed to a state advisory board.

When the Senate Rules Committee appointed Mateo to the California Student Opportunity and Access Program Project Grant Advisory Committee, her legal status made headlines. 

“While Donald Trump fixates on walls, California will continue to concentrate on opportunities,” Kevin de León, state Senate president pro tem, said in 2018. “Ms. Mateo is a courageous, determined and intelligent young woman who at great personal risk has dedicated herself to fight for those seeking their rightful place in this country.”

De Leon took a lot of flack, including death threats, for appointing an undocumented immigrant. But who better to help underserved students than one herself. 

“There were some really angry people who said really nasty things,” said Mateo. “They said ICE is coming, they’re going to report me and they hope Trump sends the Army.”

Mateo is a local hero to immigrants who credit her courage for making real change. 

“Any of us with DACA owe Lizbeth and the movement,” said Mateo’s attorney Luis Angel Reyes Savalza who is also undocumented.

Mateo is still on her journey to citizenship. She believes that for people like her, people who have come here without papers but contribute so deeply to society will have a chance at naturalization — at least someday. 

“I wouldn’t say I worry about her. I’d say I’m very much inspired by her, and she’s inspired many others in her outspokenness and her activism,” Reyes Savalza said. “I do think she’s taking a very calculated risk, and I think it speaks to the kind of person she is that she puts community first.”

Even if Mateo is unsurprised by the Trump’s administration anti-immigration policies and disappointed in Democrats who have done little to stop him, she still believes her chances in the United States were better than in Oaxaca. 

“It provides opportunities. So much so that someone like me, who came from a tiny town in Oaxaca — with parents who only finished sixth grade, nothing more — could make it and become an attorney,” she said. 

Mateo’s journey from a struggling ESL student to a revered lawyer was not easy. 

Mateo attended Venice High but it was no walk in the park, the once superstar student wasn’t able to shine her brightest as she struggled to learn English.  

“I couldn’t stand being in school, didn’t understand things and felt isolated and very stupid. In Mexico, I was outgoing and always raising my hand and answering questions,” Mateo said. “I remember one day I came home crying and told my mom I wanted to go back to Oaxaca and live with my grandmother. She said OK, we’ll send you back if that’s what you want. But you have to wait because we don’t have any money.”

Mateo didn’t give up. She graduated from Venice High then attended Santa Monica College and Cal State Northridge. Although her options for grad school and job prospects would be limited due to her immigration status, she continued to fight for her place in the United States. 

In 2014, she and nine other DREAMERs were arrested after traveling south of the border then returning to protest deportations under the Obama administration and lobby for the DREAM act. The move, going back to Mexico, disqualified her from receiving DACA protections. Mateo was still able to attend Santa Clara University for law school soon after. 

“There was a level of determination that is very rare and inspirational and … what was amazing was that she led others,” said one of her professors, Michelle Oberman. “She’s a hero of mine and in this day of big egos she’s quite centered. … It’s all in the service of others and it’s not about her. That’s what’s most singularly impressive.”

Mateo received her law degree, passed the bar, and made defending immigrants her life’s mission. And the rest is history in the making. 

These Are The Changes Likely Coming To Immigration Policy In 2020

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These Are The Changes Likely Coming To Immigration Policy In 2020

ImmigrationEqualityNow / Instagram

Unless you’ve been completely disconnected from reality, you likely know that this year is a presidential election year. Both Donald Trump and candidates for the Democratic primary have been touring their policy positions ahead of the election and regardless of who ends up in the White House, there will be serious changes to the United States’ immigration policies.

Even before the November election, we can expect major policy changes under the Trump Administration. And given the president’s previous stance on immigration, we shouldn’t expect him to stand before the Statue Of Liberty and tout the USA as a beacon of hope for migrants and its tradition as a nation of migrants. But here’s what we should expect in the new year:

DACA

On November 12, 2019, the Supreme Court heard a challenge to the Trump administration’s decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which currently grants work authorization and administrative relief from deportation for up to 700,000 individuals who came to America before the age of 16. If the Supreme Court rules in favor of the administration, then talk of a legislative compromise will increase. However, the closer it gets to the November 2020 presidential election, the less likely a deal may become.

Temporary Protected Status (TPS)

A November 1, 2019, Federal Register notice automatically extended “the validity of TPS-related documentation for beneficiaries under the TPS designations for Sudan, Nicaragua, Haiti and El Salvador through Jan. 4, 2021.” However, a decision in the case of Ramos v. Nielsen, which blocked the Trump administration’s attempt to rescind Temporary Protected Status for several countries, could end long-term stays in the United States for approximately 300,000 people.

Refugee and Asylum Policies

SYDNEY TOWN HALL, SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA – 2016/02/08: Protesters at Town Hall Square gathered to demonstrate against offshore detention. With mounting public and political pressure against the Australian Federal Government an estimated 4000 protesters rallied at Sydney Town Hall to demonstrate their opposition to the deportation and detention of asylum seeker children to the offshore processing centers of Manus Island and Nauru. The protesters called for the abandonment of all offshore detention with the vocal message of ‘let them stay’. (Photo by Richard Ashen/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)

In September 2019, the Trump administration announced a historically low annual refugee admission ceiling of 18,000 for FY 2020, a reduction of 84% from the 110,000-limit set during the last year of the Obama administration. “The administration betrays our national commitment to offering refuge and religious freedom to persecuted Christians and other religious minorities,” said World Relief in a statement. There is no reason to anticipate the administration will raise the refugee ceiling for FY 2021. 

In response to an executive order mandating consent from state and local authorities to resettle refugees, more than 30 governors have written letters to the State Department pledging their states will continue to resettle refugees. Three organizations have filed a lawsuit over the executive order.

Numerous lawsuits have challenged the administration’s asylum policies toward Central Americans. In one respect, the administration has already “won” on asylum, since the policies to block most asylum seekers and send them to Mexico and other countries have been allowed to remain in place while litigation has continued.

The Wall

Credit: US DHS / CBP

Donald Trump is determined to build as much of a “wall” as possible before the November 2020 election. Anticipate stepped-up seizures of private landand fights with judges and environmental groups.

The Public Charge Rule

On October 4, 2019, a presidential proclamation used Section 212(f) of the Immigration and Nationality Act to bar new immigrants from entering the United States without health insurance, potentially reducing legal immigration by hundreds of thousands of people per year. A similar reduction in legal immigration could result if the administration’s rule on Inadmissibility on Public Charge Grounds goes into effect. 

Judges have blocked both measures, at least temporarily, but if a court clears either for use, then it could be the Trump administration’s most far-reaching immigration measure. A permanent reduction in the flow of legal immigrants would reduce the long-term rate of economic growth in America, making these actions potentially the most significant policies to affect the U.S. economy under the Trump presidency.

Workplace Enforcement Rules

Since Donald Trump took office, investigators with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement opened about four times the number of workplace investigations as compared to the Obama administration. That trend is likely to continue in 2020. A U.S. Supreme Court decision in Kansas v. Garcia may represent a more significant immigration enforcement threat for companies. Paul Hughes, who represented Garcia, said in an interview if the court rules in favor of Kansas, then “local city and county prosecutors could engage in mass prosecutions of employees and employers” for “the employment of immigrants who lack work authorization.”

Decriminalizing Illegal Border Crossings

If a Democrat wins the White House come November, we can expect increased conversations on decriminalizing illegal border crossings. Julian Castro first floated the idea during a Democratic debate and since then the idea has been picked up by other candidates as well. This would be a major shift in US policy but one that could bring immense change to migrant communities.