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5 Outrageously Cruel Proposals for Immigrant Workers in the U.S. by Members of Congress

These congressional proposals will make employer-employee relations even worse than they already are.

Photo Credit: flickr: CIAT


Immigration reform has been one of the biggest political fireworks displays in Washington D.C. this year, with no end in sight. A filibuster-proof majority in the Senate voted a much-celebrated bill through last month, which includes a 13-year path to citizenship and includes numerous onerous provisions that will be hard for low-income workers to bear. In the House Republicans are planning to vote piecemeal legislation through the Judiciary Committee and have already passed one bill that would make it a federal crime to illegally immigrate to the U.S., and an utterly barbaric bill regarding farmworkers. No Democrats voted for either one.

These bills, especially the monstrous bill passed by the Republicans on the Judiciary committee, would make life significantly harder for hundreds of thousands of people. We’ve collected a list of the policies included in the Judiciary Committee’s little noticed farmworker bill and the Senate’s comprehensive plan that will make employer-employee relations even worse than they already are.

On June 19, House Judiciary Committee, chaired by Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) passed the Agricultural Guestworker Act to relatively little fanfare. Politico and the Huffington Post have commented on Chairman Goodlatte’s political strategy regarding immigration reform, not to mention his taste in ties. But there was little reporting on the actual content of the farmworker bill he steered through his committee, which is a shame because it’s absolutely heinous. Like so many other Republican proposals of recent years, the bill would set the clock back by over half a century. Pretty much every element of the bill is awful, but here are three of the worst.

1. Status: uncertain and unprotected. The Goodlatte bill would replace the H-2A agricultural guestworker visa with a new program, H-2C. Currently workers with an H-2A visa are dependent upon their employer, who must provide some amount of transportation and shelter but can force them to return to their home country at will. This powerfully disincentivizes speaking out about abuses (which are rife). They must also pay a recruitment fee, so many arrive stateside already in debt, putting them at an even greater disadvantage in their relationship with their employer. Representative Goodlatte and the other Republicans on his committee would essentially replace the H-2A program with an even worse alternative.

“The Agricultural Guestworker Act strips almost all of the protections out of the current H-2A program,” says Adrienne DerVartanian, director of Immigration and Labor Rights with the advocacy group Farmworker Justice.It’s a bill that has even fewer protections than the Bracero program, a World War II-era policy that ended because of notorious abuses. [Goodlatte’s bill] doesn’t offer a solution to the problem in agriculture, which is that the workforce needs to be legalized and stabilized. Instead he essentially allows the undocumented workers to remain in the U.S. for up to two years but doesn’t really give them any kind of status.”

Under the bill, workers will only be allowed to stay in the United States for two years as temporary guest workers and then they would be required to return to their country of origin (regardless of the political or economic climate there). Even if they can get a sponsor to continuously employ them, the employer is no longer required to provide transportation or housing. Workers would potentially have to find housing for themselves, which could be difficult for non-English speakers. It virtually guarantees homelessness, especially because these new costs will be borne by workers being paid even less than the poverty wages already common throughout the industry. The Goodlatte bill would also eliminate the requirement for travel reimbursements H-2A workers are eligible for, which could push workers even further into indentured servitude. There are no measures ensuring increased wages to compensate for these added costs.

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