Wednesday, April 30, 2008

AFSC Submits Comments on "No Match" Rule

Last week the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) submitted comments on the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) republished No-Match rule. AFSC strongly opposes DHS' reissuance of the Safe Harbor Procedures for Employers Who Receive a No-Match Letter believing that relying on outdated information and a flawed database is a disaster for the nation's workforce.

>Read the National Immigration Law Center's summary of the supplemental proposed rule here.

The use of a flawed database to verify employment serves no one, least of all employers or workers - whether native born or born elsewhere. Indeed, errors and discrepancies have already fostered apprehension and fear among workers, and could lead to racial profiling, worksite or labor rights abuse, summary dismissals and other actions that impinge on the basic civil and labor rights of all workers - regardless of their status in the United States.

>Read more of AFSC's response here.

AFSC Portland and Coloradans for Immigrant Rights Share Local Community Concerns

The daily and ongoing work with community partners, faith-based and, grassroots organizations enables AFSC to continue to learn and more deeply understand the pressing immigration policy issues which generate tension and apprehension in immigrant and refugee communities throughout the nation. For example, the proposed "No Match" ruling has already had grave consequences in several of these communities, including job loss and the ensuing worry of how to make ends meet in an already dismal setting in which undocumented immigrant workers are targeted. Yet, legislative and policy solutions to address this situation have been repeatedly stalled.

AFSC Portland Area Program Office and Coloradans for Immigrant Rights, a partner project of AFSC recently submitted comments providing regional perspectives on the detrimental impact of the proposed rule.

Since the issuance of the proposed rule, AFSC Portland and CFIR have received an increasing number of calls from community members reporting increased fear and confusion as employees and employers struggle to understand the policy.

According to AFSC Portland Office Immigration Specialist, Alice Perry, "Due to the current anti-immigrant climate, many citizens of Latino descent in Oregon have reported racial profiling across a number of areas. Reissuing this rule can only make it worse," she wrote in the public comment submitted to DHS.

AFSC strongly urges DHS to pursue worksite policies, which enable employers to help their workers adjust their immigration status, even as those workers continue to contribute to the nation's economic vitality. Rather than re-craft a failed approach to our nation's immigration issues, AFSC urges the administration to pursue realistic and effective policies which provide a due and fair process for the immigration adjustment of immigrant workers who work and who contribute to the nation's economic and social vitality.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

AFSC Responds to Proposed H-2A Visa Program Changes

by Daniela Martinez Moreno
AFSC Special Projects Policy Fellow

On April 14, AFSC submitted public commentary on proposed changes to the H-2A agricultural guestworker program requirements. "With more than four decades engaged in direct community work and partnerships with farm workers and their families, and other leading faith organizations, AFSC is troubled that proposed changes to the H-2A Visa program lack a coherent process for the integration of workers," AFSC stated in the comment to the Department of Labor. AFSC joined hundreds of organizations including Farmworker Justice to issue comments in opposition to the Administration's plan to overhaul the H-2A agricultural guestworker program. Photo Credit: Echando Raices/Taking Root.

> Read more of AFSC's response here.

Changes Reduce Wages and Labor Protections

In February, the Department of Labor (DOL) proposed new regulations to change the H-2A guestworker program, which they claim will make it easier for farmers to obtain a much-needed workforce through legal channels. However, the proposed regulations significantly reduce the wages of agricultural guest-workers and weaken the already modest labor protections.

The proposed regulations mandate the use of the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) database in order to calculate the wages of the workers. According to advocacy organizations Farmworker Justice and United Farm Workers (UFW), the use of the flawed BLS surveys significantly reduce workers' wages.

Congressional Leaders Urge Withdrawal of Proposed Regulations

Last month five senior members of the House of Representatives, including Rep. George Miller (D-CA), Chairman of the Committee on Education and Labor, and Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, sent a letter to Department of Labor Secretary Elaine L. Chao urging the DOL to withdraw the proposed H-2A regulations.

The proposed regulations "fly in the face of the very purpose" of the DOL, wrote the House members, which is to promote and foster the welfare of the wage earners in the U.S. and improve their working conditions.

Needed Reforms Must Not Compromise Worker Rights

AFSC emphasizes that much-needed reform to the H-2A program must not compromise worker rights and also ensure that all workers are protected and treated in compliance with national labor standards. Furthermore, any changes to the H-2A program should involve the oversight and leadership of appropriate Congressional leaders and committees charged with safeguarding worker rights and labor protections.

AFSC will monitor the unfolding discussion and work with faith and other organizations including community organizations and unions to ensure that the nation's workers are protected. We will remain attentive and continue to speak in support of policy proposals and humane measures, which strengthen the rights of all workers and remain true to the nation's founding principles of due process and justice.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Congress' Deadline for Fence Falls Short of Border Reality

Legal Hurdle Side-stepped For Now

by Daniela Martinez Moreno
AFSC Special Projects Policy Fellow

Developments in lawsuits between the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Texas landowners indicate that the Congressional timeline for border fence construction fails to account for residents' rights. A Government Accountability Office (GAO) report found "difficulties in acquiring rights to border lands" as a factor in problems meeting deadlines for the border fence.

DHS Announces Waiver of Environmental Laws to Build Fence

Furthermore, DHS has announced that it will waive federal environmental laws to move forward in the building of the 670 miles of border fence. House Homeland Security Committee Chair Bennie Thompson (D-MS) said the waiver "represents an extreme abuse of authority" (Washington Post). During yesterday's DHS oversight hearing, Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Patrick Leahy (D-VT) said the fence "seemed to be a mean-spirited and costly effort" especially to landowners.

DHS sued 50 Texas landowners who oppose government requests to grant survey access to their private property. Over 25 landowners testified at a federal hearing that the government made no attempt to negotiate a price for accessing their land before the lawsuit began (Houston Chronicle).

University Reaches Agreement with DHS for Access to Campus

In a landmark move, DHS dismissed its lawsuit against the University of Texas-Brownsville and Texas Southmost College (UTB-TSC) last month after the parties reached an agreement hours before a scheduled court appearance. Judge Hanen hopes that the agreement will serve as a model for similar cases. However, the DHS lawsuits with other landowners remain unresolved.

Enforcement-Only Bills Fail to Heed Lessons from Texas

Despite opposition to the border fence from South Texas residents, members of Congress continue to push for an enforcement-only approach that fails to offer constructive solutions for immigration reform. This month, ten Senators introduced a package of enforcement-only bills.

The package includes the Complete the Fence Act (S. 2712) introduced by Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC). The bill would require DHS to complete at least 700 miles of reinforced fencing along the southwest border by December 31, 2010.

Senators Disagree: Call Enforcement-Only Bills "Unworkable" and "Unbalanced"

The enforcement-only bill package received criticism from Senators who played critical roles in previous immigration debates. Senator Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA), said his colleagues are offering "unworkable solutions to complex immigration issues that only make the problem worse." Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) said while "mainstream America knows full well that the immigration system is broken, they also recognize that "an unbalanced, narrow approach won't fix it."

AFSC Calls for Upholding the Rights and Dignity of Border Residents

The American Friends Service Committee's (AFSC) decades of work with allies and communities along the southern border include programs in California, Texas and Arizona. AFSC's on-the-ground-work with communities most directly impacted by DHS physical changes to the terrain and to the community ignores the voices and quality of life of border residents, many who have lived in the area for decades.

AFSC reiterates its call for constructive and humane solutions to immigration issues including policies that are rooted in support the human rights of, the environment including the natural habitat of local wildlife endangered animals, and the quality of life of communities and families that have lived along the U.S. border for decades.