Four immigration bills failed in the Senate last week. A few of those bills would have addressed DACA and border security, but none addressed other undocumented populations or improvements to a guest worker program. “One of the bills, the one following the President’s ‘Four Pillars’, would have restricted legal immigration by eliminating family immigration and the visa lottery system,” explained Mike Gempler, Executive Director of the Washington Growers League. This “is the primary reason the Democrats and many others opposed it.”

In the wake of the failed Senate attempts, President Trump is now backing U.S. House Rep. Bob Goodlatte’s solution. Goodlatte’s bill addresses DACA, funds border security, ends chain migration, ends the visa lottery, and replaces the H2A program with the new H2C program.

"It also has e-verify, which is popular with the public," said Goodlatte in a NewMax article. "In most polls, I see support for e-verify and it includes a guest worker program that is necessary when you do e-verify. We're building support and hope to bring it to the floor soon.”

Western Growers, which initially applauded Goodlatte’s bill, is now working with “greatest urgency to prevent the Goodlatte bill from coming to the House floor.”

In a letter to its members, Western Growers said,

“The proposed H-2C program would be devastating to our membership as it fails to provide adequate assurances for our current and future workforce needs. Under the Goodlatte bill, all current unauthorized farmworkers would be required to become guest workers under the H-2C program, which mandates they return to their home country before participating in the guest worker program. It also leaves their non-U.S. spouses and children deportable. Additionally, the Goodlatte bill places an arbitrary cap on the H-2C program at 410,000 visas per year for ag workers, with no emergency measure in the event labor demands exceed the cap. According to the Roll Call report, House Speaker Paul Ryan indicated that he will only bring the Goodlatte bill up for a vote if they can get the support of 218 Republicans.”

Gempler wrapped up his address to his membership at the Washington Growers League annual conference in Yakima in early February, saying,

“If ever there was a time to call your representatives, that time is now.”

In a USA Today article, Senator Jeff Flake (R-Arizona), said that "’The House may pass the Goodlatte bill, but that really doesn't contribute to the discussion at all’ because it would have no chance in the Senate.”

Many growers hope Flake’s assessment is correct. However, with Trump throwing his weight behind the Goodlatte bill after his Senate bill failed, growers may still be losing sleep over the prospect of mandatory e-verify and an unworkable guestworker program.

In just five years, the number of H2A workers nationwide has grown by 100 percent. In the first quarter of 2018, the Department of Labor certified 15 percent more positions than they did a year prior.

California Takes Measures into its own Hands

A California Farm Bureau Federation survey of 760 farm employers revealed that over half reported labor shortages, with most reporting they were 20 percent short of the workforce they needed. Acutely feeling the labor shortage and not willing to wait for Washington DC to take action, California took a small step forward to explore a solution of its own. Assembly Bill 1885, a bipartisan effort by assembly members from Salinas, Visalia and Coachella, would create a working group to create a model work permit program for undocumented workers in farming and service industries. The working group would share its recommendation with the state legislature and the governor, and then the governor would have to take it up with the federal government or the state legislature.

California also recently passed Assembly Bill 450, which limits the ability of California employers to assist Department of Homeland Security's Immigration and Customs Enforcement in immigration enforcement. AB 450 prohibits employers from allowing "immigration enforcement agents" to enter non-public areas of an employer's property without a judicial warrant and from accessing employee records without a subpoena or judicial warrant. California employers will have to post notices of impending I-9 audits, and AB 450 prohibits employers from re-verifying worker documents prior to I-9 audits. For California employers, this blog provides some guidance and interpretation of this legislation.

Amidst the immigration debates, complaints of employer retaliation for unauthorized status increased by 470% between 2016 and 2017 in California.

Ways to take action this week:

  • Call your U.S. Representative to share your thoughts on e-verify, immigration and guest workers

  • Remind your supervisors that threats of retaliation are illegal and could lead to a costly lawsuit

  • Try out Ganaz for free for 30 days (upload workers before March 10 and get an additional 30 days free):

    • Enable mass messaging to keep employees calm and informed if fear of ICE rises further

    • Keep your finger on the pulse of what employees are hearing, thinking and feeling through anonymous surveys

 

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