Farmworkers Justice report

… [T]he Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights — these are not simply words written into aging parchment.  They are the foundation of liberty and justice in this country, and a light that shines for all who seek freedom, fairness, equality, and dignity around the world.

So said President Obama in a national security speech in 2009.

But apparently these foundational promises often do ring hollow for America’s “guest workers,” the people who do 10% of the backbreaking field work on our farms.  You might think that official guest worker status would confer greater protection or a path to citizenship for those invited to come to America to work.  Unfortunately, the current system seems to cause as many problems as it’s intended to solve.

From America’s Voice online (americasvoiceonline.org), a group dedicated to promoting comprehensive, humane immigration reform:

A new report released today by Farmworker Justice and United Farm Workers probes into the federal H-2A agricultural guest worker program designed to provide farmers and harvesters with a legal workforce. The report uncovers that the program has grown rife with abuse and is sorely lacking in legal protections for these guest workers.

The report, entitled “No Way to Treat a Guest: Why the H-2A Agricultural Visa Program Fails U.S. and Foreign Workers,” is based on interviews with former and current guest workers.  It exposes how the program keeps U.S. wages low for both immigrant and native-born laborers.

Because guest workers are “non-immigrants,” their status robs them of the power to bargain with and confront employers, which leads to abuses such as debt bondage, human trafficking, forced labor, and wage theft.  Roughly 10% of the U.S. agricultural labor force are guest workers, while 50-70% of it are undocumented workers.

BTW, here’s what America’s Voice is advocating:

We believe sensible immigration reform legislation should combine the following elements to secure the border and reduce illegal immigration:

  • A program that requires those here illegally to get on the right side of the law by passing background checks, studying English, paying taxes, and working towards full U.S. citizenship.
  • Reunification of families separated by outdated immigration laws.
  • A commission to regulate the future flow of employment-based immigration so that workers’ rights are protected and honest businesses can compete.
  • A crackdown on unscrupulous employers who hire undocumented workers and break labor laws to undermine their law-abiding competitors.
  • Smart and professional border enforcement, conducted in consultation with border communities.
  • Reform of current immigration enforcement practices, including the right to fair proceedings, humane treatment of immigration detainees, and respect for community policing.
  • Reduction of migration pressures in “sending countries” over time.

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