“We need a functioning legal immigration system, a system that has the necessary legal channels for a person to immigrate here whether for a job or his family. That doesn't exist here. Without a solution, the only ones who are winning are the crooked employer who is more than happy to exploit the undocumented, poor third-country worker.” - Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum.
Undocumented immigrant farmworkers, who make up a significant part of the American labor force, are disproportionately disadvantaged in terms of the ability of exercising their legal rights due to the fear of being terminated from their jobs and/or reported to immigration authorities. As a result, these undocumented immigrants are more likely to be abused, manipulated, and harassed by their employers and coworkers. In a 2010 UC Santa Cruz study, for instance, 150 Mexican immigrant farm working women employed in the central valley of California's agricultural fields were asked for their accounts of sexual harassment in the workplace. 80% reported having experienced some form of sexual harassment, with 53% of respondents describing experiences of unwanted sexual attention that ranged from inappropriate and offensive physical or verbal advances, gross sexual imposition, and rape. 24% responded having experienced instances of sexual coercion.” (Waugh, 2010).
“When these workers seek to assert their legal rights, employers have sometimes advanced the position that undocumented workers who experience illegal harassment, discrimination, or other workplace violations are not entitled to legal remedies on account of their immigration status.” (ACLU Women's Rights Project and NELP, 2017)
Although undocumented workers are protected under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex and national origin, they cannot exercise their rights without the impending fear of losing their job, being blacklisted for future jobs, and being deported and separated from their families. With 17.1% (27.4 million) immigrant workers making up the U.S. labor force, the American government cannot afford to continue to subject such a large part of their workforce to unstable and unsafe conditions (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018). Immigration reform, specifically a path towards the legalization of undocumented immigrants, is a solution that many organizations advocate for. With the process of legalization, immigrant workers would gain political influence and be able to exercise their workers' rights without any legal repercussions.
The population of immigrant workers in the United States has steadily grown since the implementation of the Bracero program in the 1940s. The Bracero program was introduced as a method of importing temporary workers from Mexico in order to combat the labor shortages of WWII. This program of temporary work visas was notoriously known for the exploitation of temporary workers as there were little to no legal protections of farmworkers, and even less for temporary workers. To this day, farmworkers are the least protected workers in the United States, with no entitlement to the minimum wage provisions and the “time and one - half overtime pay” under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Additionally, agricultural labor is not tied to the same regulations as other job sectors, such as worker's compensation, child labor laws, and collective bargaining. These restrictions, as well as “differing state eligibility requirements, fluctuating income levels, residency dilemmas and problems navigating bureaucratic systems” prevent many from accessing public benefits such as food stamps and Medicare (MHP Salud). Through these economic vulnerabilities, immigrant workers are less likely to jeopardize their low-wage jobs as usually those positions serve as their main source of income. Due to farm work only being available during certain times of the year, farmworkers or agricultural pickers heavily rely on these harvesting jobs since they will probably be unemployed until the next picking season. Even worse, temporary workers under the H-2A program are legally bound to one employer. If their job is to be terminated, workers would be sent back to their home country. Undocumented workers are protected under anti discriminatory laws such as Title VII and laws that prohibit employer retaliation on workers who exercise their rights. However, undocumented immigrants are not protected from being reported to ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement). Although the employer's retaliation is illegal, ICE can investigate the legal status of the undocumented worker that was reported by the employer, resulting in a pretty high risk for deportation. For instance, immigrant women who are victims of sexual harassment do not report their assaults or their assaulter as a result. Due to these circumstances, the industry of food production in America is destabilized, continuing on the legacy of field exploitation from times of slavery.
“Around 80% of farmworkers are immigrants. Of the approximately 2 million seasonal workers on U.S. farms and ranches, over one-half lack authorized immigration status.” (Farmworker Justice).
Of the many industries that immigrant workers contribute to, the food industry is one that cannot survive without immigrants. The American Farm Bureau Federation has declared that work shortages and increase in food prices are imminent without immigrant workers. For instance, according to the Texas A & M AgriLife Research study, prepared under contract for the National Milk Producers Federation, the elimination of immigrant labor would reduce the U.S. dairy herd by 2.1 million cows and would increase the retail price of milk by 90%.
Therefore, to continue to sustain such an unstable and high–risk workforce is not only to continue a tradition of abuse, but to also jeopardize America's food supply. The debate over immigration reform refuses to acknowledge this fact: without immigrant workers, our industrial produce and animal production and processing systems in the U.S. would collapse. The fact is that U.S-native workers are unwilling to work these labor-intensive jobs. From 2008-2012, only 27% of field and crop workers were born in the United States. From 2002–2014, the number of field and crop workers dropped 20% (146,000 people). In that same time span, the “number of acres harvested for fruits, vegetables, melons, and tree nuts declined by more than 300,000 acres, falling 5.0 percent.” (Bronars, 2015).
“The dire situation faced by farmworkers stems from their lack of economic and political power. Because farmworkers have no measurable political influence, there has been little organized opposition to the efforts of agribusiness interests to deny farmworkers most of the legal protections other American workers take for granted.” - Mary Bauer of the Southern Poverty Law Center, testifying before the U.S. Senate in 2008.
Undocumented immigrants lack the legal right to vote, resulting in little to no legal representation in the U.S. government. The vulnerability of the American food supply is often excluded from the immigration debate, with political officials often focusing on the public benefits and the jobs that illegal aliens are taking advantage of. Lacking the basic right to collectively bargain, undocumented workers cannot advocate for better treatment. As a result, a U.S. immigration reform should be implemented, specifically work authorization and a path towards citizenship for the millions of undocumented workers that make up the country's food industry. One notable bill has already been introduced to the U.S. government: The Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act. The Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act (S.744) would allow undocumented immigrants to apply for lawful permanent residence via a Registered Provisional Immigrant (RPI) program. RPI status would provide undocumented immigrants with a legal status, allowing them to legally work in the U.S and to travel abroad, as well as provide a blue card for undocumented farmworkers with the completion of certain requirements. This bill was first introduced by a bipartisan group of eight senators known as the “Gang of Eight” on 2013 and is divided into five titles: Border Security (Title I), Immigrant Visas (Title II), Interior Enforcement (Title III), Reforms to Nonimmigrant Visa Programs (Title IV), and Jobs for Youth (Title V).
Before other provisions of the bill are applied, such as the legalization of illegal immigrants currently residing in the U.S. and work visas for agricultural workers, specific goals and measures concerning border reinforcement must be met. These measures would be implemented specifically after the Department of Homeland Security certified that the Comprehensive Southern Border Security Strategy (a plan of “effective control” of the border with continuous surveillance and 90% effectiveness rate in preventing illegal crossings.”) was “deployed and operational” within 180 days of the enactment of the bill. Additionally, 700 miles of fencing must have been completed, 38,405 border patrol agents must have been deployed, and the E-Verify employment verification system must have been put into place, among other requirements. (American Immigration Council, 2013). If the secretary were to be unsuccessful in gaining “effective control” of the border, a bipartisan commission (Southern Border Security Commission) would be in charge of recommending additional security measures for at least 1 year within 5 years of enactment. Overseeing the creation and execution of these new border security policies would be an “independent Department of Homeland Security Border Oversight Task Force” with 29 members who would be appointed by the President. The Secretary of Homeland Security would be required to report to Congress the effectiveness of the border security measures. d
The S.744 bill would prioritize the effective control and maintenance of the United States border with an estimated $99 billion cost over the span of 10 years, not including additional costs for other needed security measures and actions (American Immigration Council, 2013).
If border security goals were to be reached, the additional provisions, under Titles II, IV, V, would be put into effect. Title II provisions of the bill would allow undocumented immigrants to obtain RPI status if they have been in the U.S. since December 31, 2011, have not been convicted of a felony or more than three misdemeanors, have paid their assessed taxes, have passed background checks, and must have paid the application fees and an additional $1000 fine. (Congress.gov, 2013-2014). RPI status would have to be renewed every 6 years if “immigrant has remained regularly employed” and undergo another background and complete payment of the $1000 fee. In order to attain Lawful Permanent Residence, also known as a “green card”, applicants must have been in RPI status for at least 10 years. In order to become eligible for naturalization (U.S. citizenship), applicants would have to had maintained a permanent resident status for 3 years. So, the overall time that is required for an undocumented immigrant to obtain American citizenship would be 13 years. Agricultural workers would receive a different type of legalization program, A blue card would allow workers to apply for permanent residency in 5 years and would require employers to pay workers minimum wage and provide housing or a housing allowance.
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) issued two reports regarding the S.77 bill proposition, the first one analyzing the “fiscal impact” of the S.744 bill over the next 20 years and the second one analyzing the impacts this bill would have on the U.S. economy. The CBO later updated their “score” on the version of the bill that passed the senate on June 27 of 2013, with the inclusions of the “Corker-Hoeven border surge amendment (which would increment the amount spent on border security.” The S.744 bill was passed by the Senate on June 27, 2013, however, the House of Representatives has not acted on the bill. The Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act would be difficult to execute as it requires not only billions of dollars in funding, but also the sheer magnitude of this bill would require extensive planning and meticulous leadership. Additionally, because this bill prioritizes the enforcement of borer security, the legalization of undocumented immigrants and workers would be delayed until border security thresholds had been reached. Therefore, with the current lack of a “comprehensive fix” there is a need for smaller-in-scope laws and policies that could be passed in order to lessen the severity of farmworkers exploitation. Some California laws that have already been implemented for the protection of unauthorized immigrant workers are AB 263 and SB 666, two complimentary laws that prohibit employers using threats related to immigration status and legal repercussions for employers who do (Costa, 2018).
California AB 263, passed in 2013, prohibits “an employer from retaliating…against any employee or applicant for employment because the employee or applicant has engaged in prescribed protected conduct relating to the enforcement of the employee's or applicant's rights” (California Legislative Information, 2013-2014). If an employer were to retaliate against an employee or conduct in “unfair immigration-related practice”, an investigation by the California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE) would be set into motion with potential fines and a civil case against the employer, as well as the possibility of a business license suspension. SB 666 bars employers from “reporting or threatening to report the citizenship or immigration status of any employee or the citizenship or immigration status of any employee or the citizenship or the immigration status of an employee's family member in retaliation for exercising a right or engaging on protected conduct (Costa, 2018). As a result, if an undocumented worker has been discharged or threatened with deportation because they complained about a supervisor's treatment, for instance, the worker could file a claim of retaliation that violates the law with DLSE. DSLE's Retaliation Complaint Investigation Unit (RCI) would then initiate an investigation; a settlement between employer and employee would first be encouraged by RCI. However, if there is no agreed settlement between the two parties, the case would then be submitted to the labor commissioner who would decide what repercussions the employer may face in accordance with AB 263 and SB 666.
The exploitation that has historically plagued the agricultural sector of the American food industry has continued its infamous legacy, this time targeting unauthorized immigrant workers. It has been statistically proven that the American food industry cannot survive without immigrant labor. If immigrant labor were to be eliminated, there would be a massive spike in prices for goods, decreases in harvested acres and herd sizes, and possibly the elimination of the harvesting of certain agricultural goods. The food industry itself would not be the only one affected as other industries such as packaging and transportation are directly connected to the food processing/cultivating industry. Therefore, we cannot afford to maintain such a destabilized and “at risk” supply of labor. Unauthorized immigrants should be granted the opportunity to gain a legal permanence in America. A comprehensive immigration reform has been due for decades now and may possibly not be implemented for a few more decades to come. However, states such as California have taken the initiative to protect undocumented workers through the enactment of laws such as AB 230 and SB 666. Other states should follow suit and prioritize the protection of these workers whom the American food industry so heavily relies on.
-Jost, Kenneth. “Immigration Conflict.” CQ Researcher, 9 Mar. 2012, pp. 229-52, library.cqpress.com/cqresearcher/cqresrre2012030900
CQ Researcher provides “in-depth coverage” of a variety of important issues written by experienced journalists and professionally fact-checked. Kenneth Jost, CQ Researcher associate editor, reports on the overall issue of illegal immigration in the United States and the efforts that were currently been done to stop the flow of illegal immigration into the country and the attempts at a comprehensive immigration reform.
- “No Free Pass to Harass: Protecting the Rights of Undocumented Immigrant Women Workers in Sexual Harassment Cases.” ACLU Women's Rights Project and NELP, 19 Nov. 2007. https://www.aclu.org/sites/default/files/pdfs/womensrights/no_free_pass_20071119.pdf
The ACLU, American Civil Liberties Union, is a non-partisan and non-profit organization whose mission is to defend the individual rights and liberties of citizens. NELP (National Employment Law Project) is a 501©(3) nonprofit organization that promotes policies to promote “good jobs, expand access to work, and strengthen protections and support for low wage workers and the unemployed.” This document is a “litigation guide to protecting the rights of undocumented immigrant women workers in sexual harassment cases.” I use this source in my paper to mention the lack of legal protection that undocumented workers have when legally prosecuting abusive employers.
-“Labor Force Characteristics of Foreign-born Workers News Release”. Bureau of Labor Statistics. United States Department of Labor. 17 May. 2018. https://www.bls.gov/news.release/forbrn.htm
The Bureau of Labor Statistics is a unit of the U.S. Department of Labor, serving as the principal research agency for the labor economics and statistics and the principal agency of the U.S. Federal Statistical System. This is an economic news release, with statistical data on foreign-born workers inhabiting the United States in 2017. These estimates were based on the annual average data from the Current Population Survey (CPS), which is a “monthly survey of about 60,000 eligible households that provides information about the labor force status, demographics, and other characteristics. I utilize this source in my paper as statistical evidence of the contribution that immigrant labor provides in America.
-Bronars, Stephen G. “A Vanishing Breed: How the Decline in U.S. Farm Laborers Over the Last Decade Has Hurt the U.S. Economy and Slowed Production on American Farms” Partnership for a New American Economy. July 2015. http://research.newamericaneconomy.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/PNAE_FarmLabor_August-3-3.pdf
New American Economy is a bipartisan research and advocacy organization dedicated to the economic stability of the American labor force through the advocacy on federal, state, and local immigration policies. They do research, build coalition efforts between business leaders and community leaders, as well as partner with state and local government officials. This report closely examines the “declining supply of labor” due to the reduction of immigrant farmworker availability, relying on data from the National Agriculture Workers Survey, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Farm Labor Survey (FLS), and the Census of Agriculture. I use this as my main source of statistical data as evidence of the significant impact that undocumented immigrant workers have on the agricultural industry.
- Claire Fitch, Carolyn Hricko, Robert Martin. “Public Health, Immigration Reform and Food System Change”. Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future Department of Environmental Health & Engineering Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Spring 2017. https://www.jhsph.edu/research/centers-and-institutes/johns-hopkins-center-for-a-livable-future/_pdf/research/clf_reports/public-health-immigration-reform-and-food-system-change.pdf
The Johns Hopkins Center for A Livable Future (under the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health) works in cooperation with other research agencies and advocacy groups to “build a healthier, more equitable, and resilient food system.” This report reviews the “public health impacts facing agricultural and meat processing workers in the U.S. and I use it in my paper as a guide as to what type of reforms/solutions could be implemented in order to solve this problem.
-“Farmworkers in the United States” MHP Salud. https://mhpsalud.org/who-we-serve/farmworkers-in-the-united-states/
MHP Salud is a national nonprofit organization that implements and runs Community Health Worker programs, providing and advocating for health services for underrepresented Latino communities. This article is in the ‘Who We Serve” section of the MHP Salud website, detailing the health risks and workplace abuses that farmworkers in the United States are exposed to. This is a pretty extensive overview of farmworker experiences and their vulnerabilities, specifically health related risks. I used this source to reference the economic vulnerabilities of immigrant farmworkers, and how that influences their decision to continue working with abusive employers.
-“Farmworkers and Immigration: Priorities for Reform”. Farmworker Justice. https://www.farmworkerjustice.org/sites/default/files/Doc%201%20FJFarmworkerImmigrationReformPriorities.pdf
Farmworker Justice is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the empowerment of migrant and seasonal farmworkers, advocating for working conditions, health and safety, and access to justice for these workers. This document is a call for action for Congress to “enact legislation that reforms our broken immigration system,” and prioritize better working conditions for workers in order to attain a “prosperous agricultural sector.” I cite this source as it relates to my argument that immigrant labor is the backbone of the Americana agricultural sector.
- Adcock F, Anderson D, Rosson P. “The economic impacts of immigrant labor on U.S. dairy farms.” Texas A&M AgriLife Research, Center for North American Studies, Prepared Under Contract for National Milk Producers Federation. August 2015.
This is a study done by the Texas A&M AgriLife Research under the Center for North American Studies and prepared under contract for the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) The Texas A&M AgriLife Research is a state agricultural research agency in agriculture, natural resources, and the life sciences. With partners with other research institutes and research centers in order to fund research “across many fields.” NMPF is a federation made up of cooperatives that supply most of U.S. milk and who “formulate policy” that directly affects milk production, marketing, and consumption. This study continues on from another 2009 CNAS study that reported the economic impacts immigrant labor had on U.S. dairy farms and other related sectors. The updated study provides three separate analyses: a national survey of dairy farms determining the “relative importance of immigrant labor to individual dairy farms,” an estimate on losses in milk production related to reductions in immigrant workers on dairy farms, and an input/output analysis on “how varying levels of labor losses would reduce industry sales.” I used this study as a way to emphasize America's need for a comprehensive process for legalization of the millions of undocumented farmworkers that make up the agricultural and food processing sector, as it would inevitably affect the nation's food supply.
- Bauer M. “Migrant tomato workers face chronic abuses.” Southern Poverty Law Center. Published April 14 2008. https://www.splcenter.org/news/2008/04/15/migrant-tomato-workers-face-chronic-abuses
This is a published account of Mary Bauer's testimonial before the Senate committee in 2008 on the abuses that migrant tomato farmworkers face. May Bauer, founder and director of the Immigrant Justice Project at SPLC, “leads” the Southern Poverty Law Center's (SPLC) efforts in advocating on behalf of immigrants. Bauer's testimonial focuses on the exploitation of immigrant farmworkers, specifically tomato pickers in the southeastern part of the country. In my essay, I use a quote from Bauer's testimony to highlight farmworker's lack of legal representation in U.S. politics and how that affects their ability to improve their working conditions.
The Southern Poverty Law Center is a civil rights organization which advocates for the rights of minorities and other underrepresented communities who face injustice.
- Sullivan B. “Study: Undocumented farm workers put food system at risk” USA TODAY. 4 April 2017. https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2017/04/04/study-undocumented-farm-workers-put-food-system-risk/100036382/
USA TODAY is an internationally distributed American newspaper. Bartholomew Sullivan is currently a Communications Director for Congressman Steve Cohen and has worked in other newspaper publications and other news features over the span of 35 years. This article reports on studies focusing on the “lack of legal protections for undocumented agricultural workers” and how it “threatens both public health and a reliable food supply.” Although I don't cite this newspaper article in my paper, it was a great resource as it provided a number of relevant sources/studies that I reference throughout the entirety of my paper.
- “A Guide to S.744: Understanding the 2013 Senate Immigration Bill” American Immigration Council. 10 July 2013. http://www.immigrationpolicy.org/research/guide-s744-understanding-2013-senate-immigration-bill
The American Immigration Council is a Washington- D.C. 501©(3) based nonprofit organization dedicated to advocating for undocumented immigrants in the United States. This “special report” published on July 10, 2013, provides a guide to understanding the Senate's 2013 proposed bill. It introduces the bill, focusing on the “basics” of the S.744 and what the proposed bill's main goals addresses (“border and enforcement issues to legal immigration reforms”). The report then goes in depth into the different aspects of the bill, how it would be implemented, cost and other additional resources that this bill would require. I used this source to understand the different requirements that this bill called for the legalization of undocumented immigrants and workers. I don't intend this bill to be my main solution, as it would be challenging to argue for and implement due to its large scope.
A 501©(3) organization is a type of organization exempt from federal income tax under section 501©(3) of Title 26 of the United States Code.
-Moffett, Dan. “What Is Registered Provisional Immigrant (RPI) Status?” ThoughtCo. 5 April 2017. https://www.thoughtco.com/registered-provisional-immigrant-rpi-status-1951459
ThoughtCo is a reference site focused on “expert-created education content,” with experienced instructors providing answers to questions and providing users with an abundance of information for a wide range of topics. The article was written by Dan Moffett, a professional journalist for 25 years and who has covered stories related to immigration in places such as Havana, Dublin, Sydney, San Francisco, La Paz, New York, and other places. This article provides a general summary of what a Registered Provisional Status (RPI) status and the eligibility requirements. RPI status would allow undocumented immigrant to legally reside in the United States if the S.744 were to be passed.
-Costa, Daniel. “California Leads the Way: A look at California laws that help protect labor standards for unauthorized immigrant workers.” Economic Policy Institute. 22 March 2018. https://www.epi.org/publication/california-immigrant-labor-laws/
Economic Policy Institute is a nonprofit nonpartisan think tank created in 1986 with a focus in “including the need of low- and middle-income workers in economic policy discussions.” EPI conducts research and analysis, as well as promoting public policy regarding the American economy and the workforce. In this article, Daniel Acosta, EPI's Director of Immigration Law and Policy Research from 2013 to 2018, articulates the initiative that California has taken in protecting low-wage unauthorized workers.
- “S.744 – Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act,” 113th Congress (2013 – 2014). Congress.gov. https://www.congress.gov/bill/113th-congress/senate-bill/744
Online database of the United States Congress legislative information, including resolutions, texts, summaries and status, and voting results of bills and resolutions as well as Congressional Record, presidential nominations, and treaties. I used this source in my paper to find more detailed information on the proposed S.744 bill.
-“AB- 263 Employment: retaliation: immigration-related practices.” California Legislative Information, 2013- 2014. https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billTextClient.xhtml?bill_id=201320140AB263
Online source of information regarding California State Legislature, providing users with a database of legislative measures and bills.
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