Over the last few weeks of its legislative session before a 5-week long summer recess, the House enacted several anti-immigrant measures, even as they failed to provide needed reforms for our broken immigration system.
The Humanitarian Crisis at the Border
Congress has begun its recess without providing any additional funding to the Obama Administration to deal with the crisis of unaccompanied minors from Central America seeking refuge in the U.S. The administrative funding to house and process tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors is expected to run out before the end of the Congressional recess and President Obama has requested Congress to authorize $3.7 billion of emergency supplemental funding. Last week, the Senate tried to pass a supplemental funding bill for $3.57 billion, but it was blocked in a vote of 50-44 (60 votes were needed). Friday, the House passed a bill to authorize $694 million in additional funding for the border but the amount falls far short of the needed appropriations. The bill includes harmful changes to the Trafficking Victims Protection Act that would reduce due process protections for the children, allowing the government to deport the children at a faster pace. The House took this action despite the fact that a broad majority of Americans see these children as refugees. Advocates are concerned that if the process of removal is expedited many children who are eligible for asylum or some other form of relief would be deported, possibly to their death. The bill is unlikely to become law as the Senate Democratic Leadership opposes these changes to current law and President Obama threatened to veto the bill if it comes to his desk.
House Leadership once again caved to the extremist anti-immigrant minority in the House as part of a deal to get conservative House members to vote for the supplemental funding bill. In conjunction with the border funding bill, the House also voted on a bill to prevent any expansion of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and any new individuals from enrolling. Eleven Republicans voted against the bill, they are mostly from districts with a high percentage of Latino voters; and four Democrats, Representatives Mike McIntyre (NC), Rahall (WV), Collin Peterson (MN) and John Barrow (GA), voted for the bill. After House Republican Leadership killed any chance for immigration reform legislation this year, it adds insult to injury that they ended the summer legislative session by passing bills that would harm refugee children and that would allow DREAMers to be deported.
The Child Tax Credit
Last week, the House passed a bill that would expand the Child Tax Credit (CTC) to higher income families, while failing to extend an expiring provision of law that allows working poor families earning as little as $3,000 per year to access the CTC. The bill would also require that parents applying for the CTC (ACTC) have a Social Security number, effectively denying the credit to millions of poor families, most of which have U.S. citizen children. Again, the House managed to pass a bill that hurts immigrant families while failing to bring up any immigration reform legislation.
Over 100 faith leaders and immigrant activists were arrested on Thursday in front of the White House protesting the President’s deportation policies. The groups are urging President Obama to go bold in his plans for administrative relief for undocumented immigrants. The groups also said that the government should focus on expanding resources for the unaccompanied children at the border fleeing violence in their home countries. The action was followed by additional immigration relief events, including an August 2 rally at the White House.
Advocates have been meeting with Obama Administration officials to discuss proposals for an affirmative administrative relief program that would provide relief from immigration enforcement and work authorization for some sector of the undocumented population. Some reports have stated that the the administration is looking at providing relief for around 4 to 5 million undocumented immigrants. However, on Sunday a senior White House advisor, Dan Pfeiffer, called those numbers “uninformed speculation.” Farmworker Justice, in a letter to Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson and other officials, stressed the importance of affirmative immigration relief to farmworker families and the agricultural sector and the need for a broad, bold program to stay deportation and grant work authorization. We also described the unique circumstances farmworkers face so that they may be taken into account in creating the eligibility criteria and implementation plans in any affirmative relief program.
Agribusiness continues to push for immigration reform for agriculture. The American Farm Bureau Federation and the Partnership for a New American Economy released an advertisement that focuses on a labor shortage in agriculture; unfortunately, there was no discussion of the need to legalize the estimated 1.25 million undocumented farmworkers. While there is a shortage of documented farmworkers, there is not a national shortage of workers. There are pockets of oversupply of farmworkers in some parts of the country and other areas where the labor market is tighter. An affirmative relief program for undocumented immigrants that includes farmworkers and their family members would help stabilize the labor market and would better enable farmworkers and others to work without fear. Growers also have access to the unlimited H-2A temporary agricultural guestworker program, which has greatly expanded in recent years. Ultimately, however, Congress must legalize the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. and offer them the opportunity to become citizens.
Workplace Raid in Florida Packing Plant
The urgent need for immigration reform is evidenced by a disturbing workplace raid that took place in a Naples, FL fruit and vegetable packing plant on July 16th. The Florida Insurance Fraud Division arrested 105 workers purportedly for using false identification. Reportedly the investigation was triggered due to a discovery that a worker who sought workers’ compensation had admitted to using false identification. It is unclear whether any of the other workers applied for workers’ compensation. According to one report, some of the workers are being charged with third degree felonies of identity theft and/or workers’ compensation fraud. According to the Florida Immigrant Coalition, some of the workers have been transferred to ICE custody. Others could be picked up and deported at a later date. The Florida Immigrant Coalition’s executive director, Maria Rodriguez, called the actions a cruel immigration raid. She stated, “It is no secret that many immigrant workers are forced to use invalid Social Security numbers, often with a wink and a nod from their employers, if they want to survive and feed their families. Employers knowingly rely on these workers for their own economic survival.” Beyond the devastating impact to this community, the raid may have a chilling effect on workers in the broader Florida immigrant community who may be entitled to benefits such as workers’ compensation.
One last thing: Read Rep. Marcy Kaptur’s (D-OH) op-ed in the Nation on her visit with tobacco workers in North Carolina and the Farm Labor Organizing Committee’s work to improve their wages and working conditions.
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Farmworker Justice, Staff Attorney & Policy Analyst
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On May 7, Park Avenue Christian Church pastors Rev. Dr. Alvin Jackson and Rev. Luis-Alfredo Cartagena spoke on behalf of Disciples of Christ, the National Farm Worker Ministry (NFWM), and the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) at the Phillip Morris International (PMI) Annual Meeting in New York City. The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) was a founding member of the NFWM, and has expressed its support for improved farm worker conditions through multiple resolutions and actions for over 85 years. In line with Disciples’ ongoing commitment to farm worker justice, Pastors Jackson and Cartagena requested a meeting between PMI’s Chairperson and FLOC’s President to discuss tobacco workers’ opportunities to organize for better living and working conditions in the fields of North Carolina, Tennessee, and Kentucky.
Within two days of the pastors’ request, a meeting had been scheduled between the FLOC and PMI leaders for May 30, 2014, in Washington, DC. Please hold this meeting in your prayers–and read here for further information on the pastors’ courage to speak for worker justice. Also–contact Refugee & Immigration Ministries Director Rev. Sharon Stanley-Rea (firstname.lastname@example.org; 202-957-7826) to sign up for regular updates about Disciples Farm Worker Ministries, or to join our Disciples Farm Worker Ministries team!
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