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By Elizabeth Henderson
Farmworkers, farmers and their organizations around the country have been singing the same tune for years on the urgent need for immigration reform. That harmony turns to discord as soon as you get down to details on how to get it done, what to include and what compromises you are willing to make. Case in point: the Farm Workforce Modernization Act (H.R. 5038), which passed in the House of Representatives on Dec. 11, 2019, by a vote of 260-165. The Senate received the bill the next day and referred it to the Committee on the Judiciary, where it remains. Two hundred and fifty agriculture and labor groups signed on to the United Farm Workers' (UFW) call for support for H.R. 5038. UFW President Arturo Rodriguez rejoiced:
Changes to H-2A<p>From the farmer perspective, Title Two of H.R. 5038 improves the <a href="https://www.uscis.gov/working-united-states/temporary-workers/h-2a-temporary-agricultural-workers" target="_blank">H-2A program</a>. Instead of sequential filings via snail mail with three different government agencies, it consolidates the application process into one online filing, allows farmers to stagger labor requests and post their workers wanted listings in a single electronic registry. (<a href="https://thepryingmantis.wordpress.com/2017/04/28/time-to-replace-h2a-the-us-guestworker-program/" target="_blank">See my blog for a detailed description of how H-2A functions.</a>) Title Two changes the formula for calculating H-2A pay in a way estimated to reduce wages slightly while allowing more flexibility for differentiating among different work assignments, freezes the rate for a year and then caps the percentage increase per year, and allows alternatives to inspected on-farm housing. It sets up a limited number of three-year visas for year-round workers, thus opening the program to dairies and other livestock farms and a pilot program for 10,000 workers who will be allowed to change employers.</p><p>On balance for H-2A workers, H.R. 5038 does extend coverage by the <a href="https://www.dol.gov/agencies/whd/laws-and-regulations/laws/mspa" target="_blank">Migrant and Seasonal Workers Protection Act to H-2A workers</a>. This act regulates labor contractors, requires full disclosure of wages, hours and work assignments, and provides workers with some protection from retaliation for raising grievances. Section 505(a) of MSPA states that it is a violation for any person to "intimidate, threaten, restrain, coerce, blacklist, discharge, or in any manner discriminate against any migrant or seasonal agricultural worker because such worker has, with just cause, filed any complaint or instituted, or caused to be instituted, any proceeding under or related to this Act, or has testified or is about to testify in any such proceedings, or because of the exercise, with just cause, by such worker on behalf of himself or others of any right or protection afforded by this Act." While section 505(a) sounds good, it is hard to see how the timing of the grievance process could work for short-term seasonal workers who would probably have to return home before the wheels of justice start turning.</p><p>From the perspective of both H-2A and undocumented workers, most of the changes to H-2A do not look like improvements. Except for those in the pilot program, H-2A workers are still locked in to the employer who invited them and cannot switch jobs unless the employer is a multi-farm association, and they are left without the legal right to organize. <a href="https://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/farm-economy/farm-labor/#h2a" target="_blank">According to USDA statistics,</a> the number of H-2A positions has increased "from just over 48,000 positions certified in fiscal 2005 to nearly 243,000 in fiscal 2018." By making it easier for farmers to hire "guestworkers," the bill threatens the job security of farmworkers already working on U.S. farms.</p><p>The members of <a href="https://cata-farmworkers.org/cata-statement-on-the-proposed-farm-workforce-modernization-act-h-r-5038/" target="_blank">CATA denounce the H-2A program</a> for leaving all the power in the hands of the employer. In CATA's words: "If a worker loses their job, they lose their visa and must return immediately to their home country. We have documented extensive lack of compliance with the workers' rights regulations included in the current H-2A program. Despite this, workers in the program are extremely reluctant to report issues with their job orders and problems in the workplace because their status and their ability to return through the program depends on their employers."</p>
Mandatory E-Verify<p>The final title makes electronic verification of employment eligibility, known as "e-verify," mandatory for the entire agricultural sector. No other industry sectors are saddled in this way. The goal is to close all pathways to farm work for undocumented people and to provide due process for authorized workers who are unfairly rejected by the system. However, despite the bill's assurances of fairness and accuracy, so far, the <a href="https://www.aclu.org/other/prove-yourself-work-10-big-problems-e-verify?redirect=technology-and-liberty/prove-yourself-work-10-big-problems-e-verify" target="_blank">e-verify system has not reached that high bar</a>, and in its current form makes many misidentifications thus disqualifying qualified workers and the reverse. <a href="https://www.cato.org/blog/serious-problems-e-verify" target="_blank">Contested cases take days to straighten out</a>, threatening new hires. A large farm would have office staff assigned to sort this out, but for small farms, appealing a mistaken finding can turn into a lengthy and expensive legal tangle. According to USDA, close to <a href="https://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/farm-economy/farm-labor/#h2a" target="_blank">50 percent</a> of all farmworkers are still undocumented.</p><p>I have combed UFW public statements for an explanation for the compromises in H.R. 5038, but I have not been able to find a UFW analysis of the details of the bill, and none of the UFW staffers I have reached out to have responded to my queries. Their press releases crow about a victory and urge supporters to contact the Senate to pass the same bill. By contrast, the Food Chain Workers Alliance, which includes all the smaller farmworker organizations, urges calls and letters to the Senate in <a href="https://actionnetwork.org/letters/oppose-hr-5038-the-farm-workforce-modernization-act-of-2019" target="_blank">opposition to H.R. 5038</a>: "<a href="https://tinyurl.com/yxy8k6h9" target="_blank">As an Alliance,</a> we believe that regardless of immigration status, all farmworkers deserve dignity, respect, and full protection on the job and in the communities in which their families reside. It is our belief that our movement should be guided by this vision of expanding access to rights and protection for all workers, especially the right to organize…we should oppose <em>any</em> legislation that does not provide stronger rights on the job for farmworkers and guestworkers and oversight over their conditions."</p><p>A close reading of H.R. 5038 leads me to the same conclusion. If we want to end this country's dependence on desperate people who are willing to do hard physical labor at machine speeds for poverty wages, we need to transform farm work into a respected vocation with living wages, the right to organize, full benefits, health coverage and a pension plan. When we replace giant farms with integrated, biodiverse family-scale organic and <a href="https://tinyurl.com/vhoq22o" target="_blank">agroecological farms</a>, no one will need to work like a machine.</p><p><strong>Take action: </strong><a href="https://actionnetwork.org/letters/oppose-hr-5038-the-farm-workforce-modernization-act-of-2019" target="_blank">Urge your senators to oppose H.R. 5038 — The Farm Workforce Modernization Act of 2019</a>.</p>
Clouds of dust rose behind the wheels of the pickup truck as we hurtled over the back road in Palo Verde, El Salvador. When we got to the stone-paved part of the road, the driver slowed as the truck heaved up and down with the uneven terrain. Riding in the back bed of the truck, Ruben (not his real name) and I talked while we held on tight, sitting on sacks of dried beans that he was taking to market.
Land and Livelihood<p>Migration from Central America has gotten a lot of <a href="https://www.pewresearch.org/hispanic/2017/12/07/rise-in-u-s-immigrants-from-el-salvador-guatemala-and-honduras-outpaces-growth-from-elsewhere/" target="_blank">attention</a> these days, including the famous migrant <a href="https://www.sierraclub.org/sierra/root-migration-climate-change-caravan-central-america" target="_blank">caravans</a>. But much of it focuses on the way migrants from this region — especially El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Honduras — are driven out by <a href="https://academic.oup.com/rsq/article/33/3/34/2797909" target="_blank">gang violence</a>, <a href="https://theglobalamericans.org/2019/04/the-cost-of-systemic-corruption-in-honduras-migration-north/" target="_blank">corruption</a> and <a href="https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2019/country-chapters/nicaragua" target="_blank">political upheaval</a>.</p><p>These factors are <a href="http://www.internal-displacement.org/publications/understanding-and-estimating-displacement-in-the-northern-triangle-of-central-america" target="_blank">important</a> and require a response from the <a href="https://www.unhcr.org/en-us/claims-from-central-america.html" target="_blank">international community</a>. But displacement <a href="https://insideclimatenews.org/news/08072019/climate-change-migration-honduras-drought-crop-failure-farming-deforestation-guatemala-trump" target="_blank">driven by climate change</a> is significant too.</p><p>The link between environmental instability and emigration from the region became apparent in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Earthquakes and hurricanes, especially <a href="http://hurricanescience.net/history/storms/1990s/mitch/" target="_blank">Hurricane Mitch</a> in 1998 and its aftermath, were ravaging parts of Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador.</p><p>Many people from El Salvador and Honduras lived in the U.S. at the time, and the Bush administration granted them <a href="https://cmsny.org/publications/jmhs-tps-elsalvador-honduras-haiti/" target="_blank">Temporary Protected Status</a>. In this way, the government of the United States recognized the inhumanity of sending people back to places struggling with ecological disaster.</p><p>In the years since those events, both rapid-onset and long-term environmental crises continue to <a href="http://www.internal-displacement.org/sites/default/files/publications/documents/20181213-slow-onset-intro.pdf" target="_blank">displace people</a> from their homes worldwide. Studies show that displacement often happens indirectly through the impact of climate change on <a href="https://www.nri.org/publications/working-paper-series/4-coffee-and-climate-change/file" target="_blank">agricultural livelihoods</a>, with some areas pressured more than others. But some are more dramatic: Both Honduras and Nicaragua are among the top 10 countries <a href="https://germanwatch.org/sites/germanwatch.org/files/Global%20Climate%20Risk%20Index%202019_2.pdf" target="_blank">most impacted</a> by extreme weather events between 1998 and 2017.</p><p>Since 2014, a serious drought has decimated crops in Central America's so-called <a href="http://www.fao.org/emergencies/crisis/dry-corridor/en/" target="_blank">dry corridor</a> along the Pacific Coast. By impacting smallholder farmers in <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-elsalvador-drought/salvadoran-farmers-lament-brutal-drought-hope-for-recovery-idUSKBN1KG2RE" target="_blank">El Salvador</a>, <a href="https://www.nbcnews.com/news/latino/central-america-drying-farmers-face-choice-pray-rain-or-leave-n1027346" target="_blank">Guatemala and Honduras</a>, this drought helps to drive <a href="https://econpapers.repec.org/article/sprclimat/v_3a140_3ay_3a2017_3ai_3a3_3ad_3a10.1007_5fs10584-016-1863-2.htm" target="_blank">higher levels</a> of migration from the region.</p><p>Coffee production, a critical support for these countries' economies, is especially vulnerable and sensitive to weather variations. A recent <a href="https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/coffee-rust-battle-intensifies/" target="_blank">outbreak of coffee leaf rust</a> in the region was likely <a href="https://2012-2017.usaid.gov/news-information/press-releases/may-19-2014-usaid-texas-am-invest-5-million-combat-coffee-rust-crisis" target="_blank">exacerbated</a> by climate change.</p><p>The <a href="https://time.com/5346110/guatemala-coffee-escape-migration/" target="_blank">fallout</a> from that plague combines with the recent <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-centralamerica-immigration-coffee/coffee-slump-reaps-bitter-harvest-for-central-american-migrants-idUSKCN1TS2QB" target="_blank">collapse</a> in global coffee prices to spur desperate farmers to give up.</p>
Compounding Factor<p><br>These trends have led experts at the World Bank to claim that around <a href="http://documents.worldbank.org/curated/en/983921522304806221/pdf/124724-BRI-PUBLIC-NEWSERIES-Groundswell-note-PN3.pdf" target="_blank">2 million people</a> are likely to be <a href="http://www.ecowatch.com/tag/climate-refugee" target="_self">displaced</a> from Central America by the year 2050 due to factors related to climate change. Of course, it's hard to tease out the "push factor" of <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/climate-change" target="_self">climate change</a> from all of the other reasons that people need to leave. And unfortunately, these phenomena interact and tend to exacerbate each other.</p><p>Scholars are working hard to assess the scale of the problem and study ways people can <a href="https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0088463" target="_blank">adapt</a>. But the problem is challenging. The number of displaced could be even higher — up to almost <a href="http://documents.worldbank.org/curated/en/983921522304806221/pdf/124724-BRI-PUBLIC-NEWSERIES-Groundswell-note-PN3.pdf" target="_blank">4 million</a> — if regional development does not shift to more climate-friendly and <a href="https://ccafs.cgiar.org/news/central-americas-climate-smart-agriculture-strategy-contains-key-recommendations-ccafs-future#.XWUp8pNKgWo" target="_blank">inclusive models</a> of agriculture.</p><p>People who emigrate from Central America may not always fully realize the role climate change plays in their movement, or think of it as the final trigger given all the other reasons they have to flee. But they know that the crops fail too often, and it's harder to get clean water than it used to be.</p>
Seeking a Protected Status<p>Ruben recently contacted me to ask for a reference to a good immigration lawyer. He and his daughter are now in the United States and have an upcoming hearing to determine their status.</p><p>Just as he predicted a few years ago, Ruben couldn't make a living in El Salvador. But he may find it hard to live in the U.S. too, given the mismatch between refugee law and current factors causing displacement.</p><p>For several years now, scholars and legal advocates have been asking <a href="https://www.fmreview.org/peopletrafficking/romer" target="_blank">how to respond</a> to people displaced by environmental conditions. Do <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/publication/328261364_Possible_Framework_for_Climate_Change_IDP's_Disaster_and_Development_Induced_Displacement_and_Resettlement_Models_and_their_Integration" target="_blank">existing models</a> of humanitarian response and resettlement work for this new population? Could such persons be recognized as in need of <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/j.1467-9930.2008.00290.x" target="_blank">protection under international law</a>, similar to political refugees?</p><p>Among the most complicated political questions is who should step up to deal with the harms of climate change, considering that wealthier countries pollute more but are often shielded from the worst effects. How can <a href="https://heinonline.org/HOL/Page?collection=journals&handle=hein.journals/nzjel20&id=112&men_tab=srchresults" target="_blank">responsibility be assigned</a>, and more importantly, what is to be done?</p><p>In the absence of coordinated action on the part of the global community to mitigate ecological instability and recognize the plight of displaced people, there's a risk of what some have called "<a href="https://news.un.org/en/story/2019/06/1041261" target="_blank">climate apartheid</a>." In this scenario — climate change combined with closed borders and few migration pathways — millions of people would be forced to choose between increasingly insecure livelihoods and the perils of unauthorized migration.<em> </em></p><p><em><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/miranda-cady-hallett-343720" target="_blank">Miranda Cady Hallett</a> is an Associate Professor of Anthropology and Human Rights Center Research Fellow at University of Dayton. </em></p><p><em>Reposted with permission from our media associate </em><u><em><a href="https://theconversation.com/how-climate-change-is-driving-emigration-from-central-america-121525" target="_blank">The Conversation</a>.</em></u></p>
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Sidd Bikkannavar, a U.S.-born citizen and scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), was detained by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CPB) when trying to reenter the country from Chile late last month. Bikkannavar was in Patagonia racing solar-powered cars. He was detained by CPB in Houston without explanation and forced to unlock his NASA-issued phone.
After his passport was scanned, he was taken into a back room where other detained travelers waited on cots. Bikkannavar is a member of Global Entry, a CBP program that “allows expedited clearance for pre-approved, low-risk travelers" upon arrival in the U.S.
Bikkannavar asked "Why was I chosen?" But, no response was given, The Verge reported.
Bikkannavar was questioned on basic information already provided by his Global Entry membership and then asked to hand over and unlock his work phone. He was reticent to unlock his phone because it was issued by a federal agency and might contain sensitive information—NASA employees are told to protect work data. He tried to politely explain this when the CBP officer handed him an Inspection of Electronic Devices form.
While manual phone searches are legal, travelers are not required to unlock phones. But, travelers who do not unlock phones may be further detained.
"In each incident that I've seen, the subjects have been shown a Blue Paper that says CBP has legal authority to search phones at the border, which gives them the impression that they're obligated to unlock the phone, which isn't true," said Hassan Shibly, chief executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Florida, according to The Verge.
Bikkannavar's form listed detention and seizure among the consequences for not cooperating and he decided to turn over his phone and PIN. The phone was returned in about 30 minutes. He immediately turned his phone off and took it to the cybersecurity team at JPL upon arriving in Los Angeles.
Bikkannavar left for Chile on Jan. 15 prior to the Trump administration's travel ban, which targeted people from seven predominantly Muslim Middle Eastern and African countries, but returned to the U.S. four days after the ban was signed.
The ban is currently on hold after a federal appeals court upheld U.S. District Judge James Robart's ruling against the executive order. Bikkannavar, whose family name has roots in southern India, has been searched before but not to this extent. "Maybe you could say it was one huge coincidence that this thing happens right at the travel ban," he told The Verge.
Read Bikkannavar's account of the events from one of his friends who shared his tweet: