Republicans Push Bill to Strip Migrant Workers of Their Few Rights, Undercut US Workers

Migrant laborers works in California's strawberry fields outside of Salinas in Monterey County on July 30, 1997. (Photo: Andrew Lichtenstein / Corbis via Getty Images)Migrant laborers work in California’s strawberry fields outside of Salinas in Monterey County on July 30, 1997. (Photo: Andrew Lichtenstein / Corbis via Getty Images)

Immigration arrests have surged (up 43 percent) under Trump, but deportations have dropped. That means detentions are on the rise. Meanwhile, a creeping labor shortage is reaching fever pitch as US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) continues its crackdown on employers.

Catalyzed by the agricultural labor shortage — which has been years in the making, thanks to low wages, new requirements that employers comply with E-Verify immigration reforms and the crackdown on non-citizens in general — significant immigration reform that could reshape the labor market is now being pushed in Congress. The bill, which is currently awaiting action after it was passed by the House Judiciary Committee in late October, proposes a massive overhaul and expansion of the federal government’s decades-old H-2A agricultural visa program. Critics say that if passed, the reform could lead to millions of virtually indentured workers.

The ability for workers to take employers to court would be hampered by the reform, which prohibits workers from bringing “civil actions for damages against their employers.”

Under the current H-2A program, which itself has produced conditions akin to modern-day slavery, employers pay for foreign workers to be transported to their farms and then send them back home (often to Mexico) once the job — such as seasonal berry-picking — is done.

This legal migration route — used by Trump at Mar-a-Lago — has exploded under his administration. The American Farm Bureau Federation, a top agriculture lobby, calculates that the number of H-2A workers for berry and apple farms spiked 43 and 30 percent respectively in 2017, compared to 2016.

A massive expansion of the program is now on the table. The proposed reform, known as the Agricultural Guestworker Act (H.R. 4092), represents a…

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