LOS ANGELES (FinalCall.com) – Several days after Northern California farmers declared that the U.S. government’s crackdown on “illegal” immigration or undocumented residents has forced a reduction in labor and threatens a spike in grocery prices, a federal judge ruled against a program designed to punish undocumented workers by sanctioning companies that employ them.
On Oct. 10, San Francisco Judge Charles Brewer issued a preliminary order prohibiting the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) from implementing the “Safe Harbor” program, which it proposed would make it easier for employers to verify employment eligibility while continuing to hold them accountable for their hires.
Judge Brewer’s decision is part of a lawsuit filed by the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other local labor movements. They charge that, among other things, lawfully employed workers would suffer due to errors in the government’s inaccurate social security earnings databases.
“This is a significant step towards overturning this unlawful rule, which would give employers an even stronger way to keep workers from freely forming unions,” said John Sweeney, president of the AFL-CIO in a written press statement. “More than 70 percent of SSA discrepancies refer to U.S. citizens, and as Judge Breyer found, the mailing of the new ‘no match’ letters would result in irreparable harm to innocent workers and employers,” he continued.
For many primarily industrialized farmers, that irreparable harm seems to have already begun.
One cabbage farmer from Palo Alto, Calif. told a reporter that workers are toiling longer hours as a result of reduced immigrant labor, and that the H-2A temporary agricultural visa offers little help to alleviate the problem.
Specifically, the nonimmigrant visa allows foreign nationals to enter the U.S. to perform agricultural labor or services of a temporary or seasonal nature. In return for their labor through this visa, the worker is to share all benefits of a regular employee; be permitted to have dependents stay with them in the U.S.; travel in and out of the U.S. freely during the validity of the visa; and change jobs with proof of new job offers. But by the time the 2-3 month application process is complete, the farmer said, half of the harvest season is gone.
Not just farm crops are rotting due to the increased absence of undocumented migrant workers who are either lying low, or have been deported, immigrants’ rights activists insist. They warn that federal police raids and deportations of thousands of men and women will have a major crippling effect on the U.S. economy overall, not just agribusiness.
“It is true. All evidence seems to underscore beyond any reasonable doubt that we’re having significant losses in agriculture. Some people have put the loss well over $3 billion this year alone. Multiply that with other states with significant agriculture investments, and you see that a culture is looming that will hit the American people in the pocket,” warned Juan Jose Gutierrez, National Coordinator for Latino Movement USA, an immigrants’ rights organization.
For Black farmers, however, the U.S. government’s review of its H-2A visa to increase assistance to provide undocumented immigrant farm labor would do little to positively impact the presence of and challenges they are facing. Black farmers, according to Gary Grant, president of the Black Farmers & Agriculturalists Association, are still being jeopardized because immigrant workers labor on large industrial farms.
“The food chain has not been compromised because of the workers, but because of the industrialization of agribusiness and that industrialization and the United States Department of Agriculture’s policy has caused Black farmers to be targeted and put out of business,” Mr. Grant told The Final Call.
They have been forced to go into urban areas where they cannot grow food or into low-wage factory jobs where they cannot sustain their families. As a result, Mr. Grant asserted, “welfare woes” have increased, along with emergency room visits and the poisoning of foods from E-Coli bacteria due to the industrialized farms direct spraying of irrigation onto crops to cut corners.
Mr. Grant continued, “Ultimately Black farmers will lose their farm land because you can’t pay a farm mortgage on a minimum wage job. Farmers have anywhere from $3,000 to $7,000 a year mortgage on their farms. Then there is an equipment loan that can run anywhere from $7,000 to $10,000 a year, and an operating loan (which includes family living expenses), which has to be paid back in 12 months.”