Sunday, January 11, 2009

Agricultural Workers Face January (In) Justice

In less than two weeks the White House will have new residents, and Congressional hallways will buzz with increased action. Public hearings will be held, appointments will be made and it is likely that policies -- on a number of issues -- will be reviewed.

This is an ideal moment for the incoming administration to consider a forward-looking shift in immigration policy and repair an obsolete system that no longer responds to global economic, demographic or social shifts.

One basic starting point for the new administration should be the announcement of an executive order that immediately stops worksite and community raids. From coast to coast, and with a clear disregard for basic human rights, raids have destroyed entire immigrant communities and torn apart families. The towns of Postville, Iowa and New Bedford, Massachusetts, and other cities and towns have provided a disturbing sense of how communities have unraveled and the humanitarian crisis that has always followed.

Another immediate action for Washington's new leadership is for a revision of last-minute regulations that target temporary agricultural workers. On January 18th farm and agricultural workers (hired through the Department of Labor’s H2-A temporary agricultural worker program) will face new regulations that raise concerns about wages and labor protections. The H2-A program has historically allowed agricultural sector employers to hire immigrant workers for temporary employment.

AFSC has consistently pressed for a substantive alternative to temporary employment programs so that seasonal farmworkers have the opportunity to adjust their immigration status and be full participants in the nation's social fabric and labor force. Seasonal agricultural workers have limited labor rights, and often live a transitional and marginal existence. The enactment of the regulations will continue this abysmal reality and diminish the few labor protections agricultural guest workers can sometimes rely on while, also, scaling down their wages. More troubling is that these last minute policies continue to set the tone for chipping away at the hard-earned rights of workers in general.

In commenting on the regulations, U.S. Representative Howard L. Berman (D-CA) observed, "Given today's economic crisis, it is stunning that on their way out the door, the Bush Administration would take this eleventh-hour swipe at farm workers who are already paid some of the lowest wages in the United States."

Take Action Now:
  • Visit and urge that the nation's work standards and labor regulations protect any worker in an equal and sensible manner.