The changes proposed by the Administration of President Donald Trump regarding the granting of temporary visas to agricultural workers have earned the rejection of activists and the powerful union of the sector, which they fear will favor towards cheapening the workforce.
“Like many other Trump policies, this is about self-control and self-enrichment, H-2A workers work in the Trump vineyards in Virginia and what they want is to pay them less,” United Farm Workers (UFW) president Teresa Romero told Efe.
The Department of Labor (DOL) presented a series of proposals to modify the program that allows foreigners to be hired for temporary agricultural work under the H-2A visa program.
In a statement, the federal agency warned that the proposals aim to “streamline and simplify the H-2A application process, strengthen protections for US and foreign workers, and alleviate unnecessary burdens for employers.”
Before they are submitted to public comment, the UFW, founded by the late leader César Chávez and activist Dolores Huerta, warns that the suggested changes will reduce the wages of foreigners and that the plan will go against the American workers themselves.
“Employers are going to choose to hire cheap foreign labor that they can control at will,” said Romero, the first woman elected president of this union.
The executive director of Voces de la Frontera, Christine Neumann-Ortiz, joined the protests and stressed that “President Trump has a long history of exploitation of immigrant workers in their businesses.”
“The H-2A program deprives workers of the right to change jobs, puts barriers against claims to a decent job and keeps low wages, worsening the conditions for all workers,” added Neumann-Ortiz, who has led the defense of immigrants working in Wisconsin’s dairy industry.
Union groups have warned in the past of abuses under this program, which has expanded to more than 240,000 new workers, according to data from 2018, most of them from Mexico, which they consider “the most vulnerable.”
The H-2A program is granted in accordance with requests made by agricultural companies, which commit to the transfer and temporary accommodation of field workers, many of them immigrants from Mexico and Central America.
The DOL warned that the proposal also proposes to broaden the definition of agricultural work or services, to include those who participate in reforestation activities, and update procedures for work related to animal shearing and beekeeping, among others.
Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said in a statement that the regulation “will increase the application against fraud and abuse, all while maintaining protections for American workers.”
Romero alleges that “Donald Trump tries to paint these changes as a way to protect American workers, but Trump is establishing a new minimum of hypocrisy, racism and self-control, even for him.”
Se stressed the need for Congress to promote the project known as the “blue card”, which would allow undocumented workers in the agricultural sector to obtain a work permit, be able to leave the country and have a path to citizenship.
“We can not allow this new kind of slavery, all workers in the United States field should be protected in the same way,” she said.
The proposals were announced the same week in which the White House presented a rule that seeks to prevent migrants seeking political asylum on the southern border of the country without having done so before in a “safe third country”, a proposal that has already merited demands judicial.