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Immigration assistance for impacted California farmworkers, a statewide win!

Posted by Sara Cooper | Aug 11, 2023 | 0 Comments

The state of California will be required to be of financial assistance towards legal help at no cost for undocumented farmworkers whom are wanting immigration services. This is in application to the state's investigations of wage theft and other labor violations, with response to the governor's office making this implementation immediately.

According to Visalia Times Delta, “The $4.5 million pilot program will provide qualifying farmworkers with referrals for legal help with their immigration status.”

More than 50 percent of California's farmworkers are believed to be undocumented, with the state's produce being highly depended on throughout the nation. The fear of deportation and barriers withing finding jobs without severe eligibility qualifications can prevent workers from filing labor complaints or serving as witnesses for cases regarding the allegations of wage theft, employer retaliation in unionizing, and unsafe working conditions with high temperatures and proper shading areas.

“Farmworkers are the backbone of our economy, and we won't stand by as bad actors use the threat of deportation as a form of exploitation,” Newsom said in a press release. “In the absence of Congress modernizing our broken, outdated immigration system, California continues our efforts to support immigrant families.”State labor investigations into wage theft and other violations often take years to resolve, a CalMatters investigation revealed last year. Sometimes workers give up the battle.

This pilot program will include workers receiving a direct referral to legal services organizations that already offer assistance for immigration, such as the Community Action Board of Santa Cruz County and the United Farm Workers Foundation, groups that have highly spoken of the program push.

The assistance will compose of legal advice, case review, attorney representation, and other steps regarding the judicial process, according to the governor's office.

“The time is now for us to ensure that immigrant labor rights are upheld and respected,” said Maria Elena De La Garza, executive director of the Community Action Board of Santa Cruz County. “We commend the state for supporting this pilot, which will help ensure that legal services are available and accessible through partnerships with trusted community-based organizations across California.”

Unfortunately, there has not been disclosure on which organizations will be offering legal assistance as well as how many cases the pilot program is expected to process.

The funding will derive from the annual budget allocation for immigration services under the California Department of Social Services, said Eric Hickey, spokesperson of the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency.

“The state is still completing contracts with selected immigration service providers,” she said.

According to the Visalia Times Delta, the pilot program aligns with the new Biden Administration policy, making the process of applying for deferred action from deportation for undocumented workers that are victims of labor rights violations. The Department of Homeland Security uses “prosecutional discretion” on whom to deport due to their ordeal with the surplus of “immigration violations.”

Immigration status for this program will not be asked by state officials, but work authorization can be offered possibly to those who were granted deferred action.

Prosecutorial discretion and deferred action has been highly approved this year by the state's labor department, including when employers intimidate workers with threats to report them to immigration enforcement that would discourage workers from collaboration with investigators on labor complaints.

“The Department of Industrial Relations' Labor Commissioner's Office … was the first state agency to request deferred action from DHS for employees in an active investigation, and that request was successful,” Hickey said. “This is an important process for undocumented workers to be aware of.” 

Personnel of the program will assist farmworkers in being connect with legal service providers, at no charge. Labor agencies in the state have already supplied staff members cooperating with federal immigration officials on cases about prosecutorial discretion.

Assemblymember Esmerelda Soria from Merced and now chairperson of the Assembly Agriculture Committee, responded about the program that this is great start to ensure that Central Valley farmworkers will not be exploited and have secure legal support. She continues to say that even though there is legal aid for farmworkers that is provided by community organizations, this funding is upon like nothing seen before for the farmworker community.

“I think that in the absence of comprehensive immigration reform, California acknowledges that we have a broken system,” said Soria in a CalMatters interview. “Especially in the region that I represent, farmworkers are really the backbone of one of the largest agricultural economies in the country.”

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