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:
"Today is a milestone because this bill will help bring stability to the agricultural industry…Agricultural workers will have stability for themselves and their families. No longer will children worry whether their moms and dads are coming home from work. The bill addresses the pervasive fear faced every day by the immigrant farmworkers who perform one of the toughest jobs in America."
Smaller farmworker organizations, however — Familias Unidas por la Justicia, Community to Community Development, CATA, Farmworker Association of Florida and UFCW, who unite in the Food Chain Workers Alliance — vigorously oppose H.R. 5038. Why the split, and what does it mean for this bill and future steps toward comprehensive immigration reform?
With bipartisan sponsorship, the bill has three titles that address a pathway to legal status for some farmworkers, expansion of the H-2A program — which allows farmers to import seasonal farm labor for up to 10 months if they can show that there is a shortage of resident workers — to year-round work on farms along with many adjustments to make it easier and cheaper for farmers to apply, and a mandatory requirement of e-verify for all agricultural employers. The UFW acknowledges that the bill is a compromise, "crafted with help from a group of Democratic and Republican lawmakers…the result of months of difficult negotiations between Members of Congress from both parties, the United Farm Workers, UFW Foundation, Farmworker Justice and most of the nation's major grower associations."
Let's examine the three sections to see how big those compromises are and who is hurt or benefits from them.
Title One of H.R. 5038 lays out what farmworkers must do to qualify for temporary and then more permanent legal status. If they have records to prove at least 180 days of employment in agriculture over the previous two years and no criminal record, they can apply for five-year renewable Certified Agricultural Worker (CAW) status, which will protect them from deportation, but not allow them to receive any public or tax benefits or health care subsidies. Listing by a Farm Labor Contractor qualifies a worker for CAW. The Secretary of Agriculture "may" (not "shall") grant approval with similar limitations for a spouse and minor children. To retain CAW status, they must work at least 100 days a year in agriculture. Unlike the earlier Ag Jobs Bill (2009), H.R. 5038 does not allow flexibility for periods of illness or injury. CAW status does allow farmworkers to travel outside the U.S. as long as that travel does not interfere with the required 100 days a year of farm work.
To gain Permanent Resident Status (PRS), H.R. 5038 requires a total of 14 years of farm work: 10 years before the passage of the bill and then four more years before applying for PRS. If a person has done farm work for less than 10 years, they have to work and wait eight more years before applying for PRS. Nothing in H.R. 5038 shelters a worker who has been injured and is unable to work the full 100 days per year required to gain citizenship from being disqualified and deported. The 14-year process to gain permanent legal status with no social safety net and no room for even a single misdemeanor seems like a mixed blessing even for the fortunate farmworkers who can meet these requirements that are much more stringent than the 1986 Immigrant Reform and Control Act (IRCA).
CATA, the Farmworker Support Committee, a small organization with 40 years of history helping to organize and defend farmworkers and other low-income immigrants, convened a discussion of H.R. 5038 among its members. They rejected the proposal for failing to provide a short, clear path to legal status for all undocumented agricultural workers.
Changes to H-2A
From the farmer perspective, Title Two of H.R. 5038 improves the H-2A program. 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. (See my blog for a detailed description of how H-2A functions.) 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.
On balance for H-2A workers, H.R. 5038 does extend coverage by the Migrant and Seasonal Workers Protection Act to H-2A workers. 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.
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. According to USDA statistics, 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.
The members of CATA denounce the H-2A program 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."
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 e-verify system has not reached that high bar, and in its current form makes many misidentifications thus disqualifying qualified workers and the reverse. Contested cases take days to straighten out, 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 50 percent of all farmworkers are still undocumented.
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 opposition to H.R. 5038: "As an Alliance, 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 any legislation that does not provide stronger rights on the job for farmworkers and guestworkers and oversight over their conditions."
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 agroecological farms, no one will need to work like a machine.
This article was produced by Earth | Food | Life, a project of the Independent Media Institute.
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.
"It doesn't come out right," he said, "it just doesn't pay anymore to work the land. I take out a loan for seed, and then I can't count on making it back to pay off my debt."
Ruben told me then, for the first time, that he planned to save up his money to migrate out of El Salvador. His story is playing out across Central America among many migrants and would-be migrants.
When I spoke with Ruben, it was 2017, nearly 20 years after I had first spent time in his community, a coffee cooperative in El Salvador's central highlands founded in the 1990s. Over those two decades, the cooperative's hopes and dreams of a sustainable livelihood producing coffee for a global market have been dashed.
In the back of the pickup truck that day, we talked about gangs too. There was increasing criminal activity in the town nearby, and some young people in the town were being harassed and recruited. But this was a relatively new issue for the community, layered on top of the persistent problem of the ecological crisis.
As a cultural anthropologist who studies factors of displacement in El Salvador, I see how Ruben's situation is reflective of a much broader global phenomenon of people leaving their homes, directly or indirectly due to climate change and the degradation of their local ecosystem. And as environmental conditions are projected to get worse under current trends, this raises unresolved legal questions on the status and security of people like Ruben and his family.
Land and Livelihood
Migration from Central America has gotten a lot of attention these days, including the famous migrant caravans. But much of it focuses on the way migrants from this region — especially El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Honduras — are driven out by gang violence, corruption and political upheaval.
The link between environmental instability and emigration from the region became apparent in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Earthquakes and hurricanes, especially Hurricane Mitch in 1998 and its aftermath, were ravaging parts of Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador.
Many people from El Salvador and Honduras lived in the U.S. at the time, and the Bush administration granted them Temporary Protected Status. In this way, the government of the United States recognized the inhumanity of sending people back to places struggling with ecological disaster.
In the years since those events, both rapid-onset and long-term environmental crises continue to displace people from their homes worldwide. Studies show that displacement often happens indirectly through the impact of climate change on agricultural livelihoods, with some areas pressured more than others. But some are more dramatic: Both Honduras and Nicaragua are among the top 10 countries most impacted by extreme weather events between 1998 and 2017.
Since 2014, a serious drought has decimated crops in Central America's so-called dry corridor along the Pacific Coast. By impacting smallholder farmers in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, this drought helps to drive higher levels of migration from the region.
Coffee production, a critical support for these countries' economies, is especially vulnerable and sensitive to weather variations. A recent outbreak of coffee leaf rust in the region was likely exacerbated by climate change.
These trends have led experts at the World Bank to claim that around 2 million people are likely to be displaced 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 climate change from all of the other reasons that people need to leave. And unfortunately, these phenomena interact and tend to exacerbate each other.
Scholars are working hard to assess the scale of the problem and study ways people can adapt. But the problem is challenging. The number of displaced could be even higher — up to almost 4 million — if regional development does not shift to more climate-friendly and inclusive models of agriculture.
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.
Seeking a Protected Status
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.
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.
For several years now, scholars and legal advocates have been asking how to respond to people displaced by environmental conditions. Do existing models of humanitarian response and resettlement work for this new population? Could such persons be recognized as in need of protection under international law, similar to political refugees?
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 responsibility be assigned, and more importantly, what is to be done?
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 "climate apartheid." 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.
Miranda Cady Hallett is an Associate Professor of Anthropology and Human Rights Center Research Fellow at University of Dayton.
Reposted with permission from our media associate The Conversation.
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Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.
By Julia Conley
Hundreds of Bahamian refugees were ordered off a ferry headed for Ft. Lauderdale, Florida from Freeport in the Bahamas days after Hurricane Dorian pummeled the islands, leaving at least 44 people dead and tens of thousands without homes.
After the refugees boarded the boat, operated by Balearia Caribbean, a crew member announced over the loudspeaker that anyone without a visa would be turned away by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and must disembark immediately.
"Please, all passengers that don't have a U.S. visa, please proceed to disembark," the crew member said.
Another announcement just made ordering any Bahamian without a US visa to disembark ferry — not allowed to evacuate… https://t.co/ZJ9XMzXNVd— Brian Entin (@Brian Entin)1567987367.0
Brian Entin, a reporter for WSVN 7 News in Miami, was reporting from the boat and posted a video on social media of the shocked refugees leaving the ferry.
Big problems on the ferry from Freeport to Florida — announcement just made that any Bahamian without a visa must n… https://t.co/bqpa7HJbRm— Brian Entin (@Brian Entin)1567986289.0
As Entin wrote, under CBP protocol Bahamians are regularly permitted to enter the U.S. with just a passport and a clean criminal record. On Saturday, about 1,500 evacuees arrived in Florida from the islands on a cruise ship called Grand Celebration, and none were required to show visas when they disembarked in Florida.
Entin posted a video of the boat pulling away from Freeport after leaving dozens of families in the decimated Caribbean country.
"I think this is terrible. I think they should allow everyone to come into the U.S.," a woman who had been permitted to stay on the boat told the reporter. "They said 130 people had to come off. And now we're leaving them."
That’s it. We’re leaving — all Bahamian evacuees without a visa taken off. The Bahamians who remain are in shock. N… https://t.co/OYyHV9EE1h— Brian Entin (@Brian Entin)1567989165.0
Climate scientists have warned for years that the extreme weather events caused by a rapidly warming planet are already creating climate refugees around the world and will force many more people from their homes.
The videos drew outrage on social media, with University of Pennsylvania sociology professor Daniel Aldana Cohen calling the removal of the refugees "eco-apartheid."
This is #ecoapartheid https://t.co/yVTogyopYo— Daniel Aldana Cohen (@Daniel Aldana Cohen)1567998165.0
CBP told WSVN that the ferry operator made the decision to force the refugees off the boat, but according to the ferry crew, the agency informed Balearia Caribbean that people without visas would not be allowed into the United States.
A little more from crew on the ferry. They say they were told it was ok to accept Bahamian evacuees with passport a… https://t.co/ACDdLjJDtO— Brian Entin (@Brian Entin)1567997418.0
"Even if this rule change were acceptable, how would any Bahamian apply for a visa right now?" tweeted Marissa Jackson Sow, deputy commissioner of the New York City Coalition on Human Rights. "This is beyond cruel."
Even if this rule change were acceptable, how would any Bahamian apply for a visa right now? And how would anyone b… https://t.co/eXmYjJS7f3— Marissa Jackson Sow (@Marissa Jackson Sow)1567992568.0
Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.
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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.
3 Reasons Trump EPA Pick Can't Be Trusted With Climate Science https://t.co/olPdJxwZU7 @BusinessGreen @Ethical_Corp— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1486859103.0
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:
this is from an IRL friend of mine. this is NOT my america. EVER. #MuslimBan Siid is a US Citizen. @CustomsBorder u… https://t.co/4dtdAnTfQV— Nick Adkins (@Nick Adkins)1486409489.0