Guest Worker Program, H-1B, H-2A, Legislation, Undocumented Workers

Farmworker Justice Immigration Policy Update, March 11, 2011: Utah Legislature Passes Immigration Policy Proposals

From HarvestingJustice.org, “Farmworker Justice Immigration Policy Update, March 11, 2011: Utah Legislature Passes Immigration Policy Proposals” By Bruce Goldstein, Executive Director, Farmworker Justice, 10 Mar 2011.

In the past week, Utah’s legislature has passed three immigration-related bills, two of which attempt to establish guestworker programs and one of which is an enforcement bill similar to Arizona’s law. Utah Governor Gary Herbert has not yet signed the measures but is expected to do so. Brief summaries of some of the bills’ key provisions that would affect farmworkers follow:

The “Migrant Workers and Related Commission Amendments,” HB 466, would establish a pilot project for guestworkers with the state government of Nuevo Leon, a highly-industrialized state in northeastern Mexico. The Utah state government would act as a “gatekeeper,” according to the sponsor, to enable Mexican citizens and Utah employers to participate in the program. The statute lacks meaningful details about what the pilot project would look like. After one year, the Governor would be permitted to establish a second pilot project. The legislation does say that it would need to be in compliance with federal immigration law and provides for studies on the program. The bill defines migrant workers in the program as those coming to perform temporary or seasonal work. The visas would be issued by the U.S. State Department, presumably under the current H-2A (seasonal agricultural jobs) and H-2B (non-agricultural temporary jobs) and perhaps other programs. The sponsor emphasized that there would be no path to citizenship.

Farmworker Justice believes that any attempt to address labor needs in agriculture by promoting or expanding the use of the H-2A program without a realistic path to legalization does not solve issues facing the agricultural sector, where more than one-half the labor force is undocumented. In addition, the purpose of the pilot project is not clear, as the states already play a significant role under the H-2A agricultural guestworker program. We do not know the meaning or consequences of the state’s role as “gatekeeper” under the proposed agreement with a Mexican state government; nor do we know how workers will be protected from abuses endemic to guestworker programs. The bill is at http://le.utah.gov/~2011/bills/hbillamd/hb0466.pdf

Guest Worker Program Act, HB116. This bill would essentially create a new guestworker program by establishing in the Utah Department of Public Safety a program for undocumented immigrants to obtain a work permit in Utah. If signed by the governor, the law would go into effect on July 1, 2012, or 120 days after the state receives a federal waiver, exemption, or authorization necessary to implement the program, whichever is sooner. The law would enable undocumented workers in the state prior to May 11, 2011 to apply for a work permit for employment within Utah. Workers would have to meet a number of requirements, including payment of fines, a criminal background check, meeting public health admissibility requirements, and health insurance coverage.

It is unclear how this law, which may be an unconstitutional invasion of the federal government’s role, would be implemented. Under immigration law, there is currently no waiver or exemption process available to states. Further, details regarding the program are scarce, but it does not appear to have any worker protections. Finally, the bill only creates a temporary guestworker status and does not lead to an actual immigration status. Undocumented workers could incur significant debt and expose themselves to risk of deportation by coming forward to apply for a visa which has no basis in law.

Utah Illegal Immigration Enforcement Act, HB497. Modeled after the Arizona SB1070 bill, this bill mandates that state and local law enforcement verify the immigration status of those they stop or arrest. It also allows local police to detain people if they have “reasonable cause” to believe that an immigrant is subject to a removal order. For more detail, read the National Immigration Law Center’s: http://www.nilc.org/immlawpolicy/LocalLaw/utah-bills-analysis-2011-03.pdf.

Status

The Governor has not yet signed the bills. Some immigration-restrictionists are demanding veto of HB116 because it would grant “amnesty” to undocumented workers. The ACLU of Utah issued a statement calling on Governor Herbert to veto HB 497 (Immigration Enforcement) and HB 116 (Guest Worker Program) because they are “contrary both to federal immigration laws and to the principles set forth in the Utah Compact.” (The Utah Compact is a statement of principles about immigration reform developed by a coalition in November 2010. It was praised as a reasonable, compassionate effort: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/05/opinion/05sun1.html.)

Read more at: HarvestingJustice.org, “Farmworker Justice Immigration Policy Update, March 11, 2011: Utah Legislature Passes Immigration Policy Proposals” By Bruce Goldstein, Executive Director, Farmworker Justice, 10 Mar 2011.

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