US Catholic Faith in Real Life

AgJobs: An essential part of immigration reform

By Father Tom Joyce, CMF | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

Most people when they hear proposals for immigration reform think about doing something about the 11 million “illegals” in this country. Solutions run from sending them back along with their U.S.-born kids to extending amnesty or “a pathway to citizenships” to the hard-working families. If you're with the church, you might extend reform to include a more generous admission process for family relatives of legal immigrant

That would not be “comprehensive” reform in my eyes. The third part of a sweeping package is jobs – especially during the Great Recession! I cut my baby teeth in the 1950s agitating against the “bracero” program that oppressed Mexican farmworkers. This issue gained some national attention in the struggles of Cesar Chavez in farmworker organizing in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. As a consequence reforms were enacted to provide protections to all farmworkers, including the H-2A or temporary foreign workers program in agriculture. These protections were undermined in the last days of the Bush administration by revised and softened standards and relaxed enforcement. The Obama administration has restored the Reagan standards and promised vigorous enforcement.

This only points up the need to include the temporary worker – both agricultural worker (H-1A) and other industrial and service workers (H-1B) – in a comprehensive immigration reform. This is a touchy issue, especially for the H-1B workers, in a time of recession. But the United Farm Workers Union and many growers have long agreed on proposals packaged in an AgJobs bill. This would extend the protections of farmworkers while providing for the labor needs of growers. The bill is still controversial in that it would free workers to move from job to job – the hold growers have over H-1A workers is that they must stay with one employer – and a promise of a path to permanent residence.

Expect some demagoguing on the jobs issue. It’s already being done, and it's a red herring. But there are agricultural interests that will use every device to defeat an AgJobs bill or whittle it back to where it is of no protection to farmworkers. But justice to the hard working people who help put food on our tables is long over due (see Los Angeles Times editorial).


Border Patrol in joint effort with Mexican federal police


The U.S. Border Patrol has been conducting joint maneuvers and operations with the Mexican federal police in the desert border of south Arizona. The experiment has been considered a success by both U.S. and Mexican officials, so much so that they are proposing to extend it to other border areas. The intent is to stop the flow of drugs and migrants northward and guns southward. The U.S. provides equipment and training to the Mexican federal police, who are usually outgunned by the smugglers. Critics are skeptical, since such cooperation has been tried in the past, only to flounder on the rocks of Mexican police corruption or U.S. indifference. Notwithstanding past experience, Homeland Security is optimistic about this new effort (see Los Angeles Times).