By Caroline Phillips, MSW intern at NC Farmworker Health Program
On November 20, President Obama announced a series of executive actions on immigration that take steps toward reforming our broken immigration system. It’s estimated that his plan could provide relief from deportation to about 5 million immigrants.
The most significant action creates a pathway for some parents of U.S. citizen and legal permanent resident children to apply for deportation relief and employment verification. To apply, parents must have been in the U.S. since January 1, 2010 and must have children born before November 20, 2014, who are U.S. citizens or permanent residents. Applicants will have to pay a fee and undergo a criminal background check. If approved, they’ll receive deportation relief and a work permit for three years.
The plan also expands the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program to cover more people. DACA will now be available to all undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. before turning 16, regardless of their current age. This is a change from the previous policy that required DACA applicants to be under age 31. The action also extends the DACA period of deportation relief and work authorization to three years instead of two.
Other actions include modifying immigration enforcement priorities, creating a working group to improve the protection of undocumented workers under employment laws, and expanding options for U and T visas for victims of crime and human trafficking. More information can be found on the Department of Homeland Security website.
So what does this all mean for farmworkers?
Farmworker Justice estimates that about 450,000 farmworkers might be eligible for deferred action under Obama’s plan, although they stress that this is a rough calculation and more data is needed. Of the approximately 2.4 million farmworkers in the United States, 50 to 70 percent are undocumented and over 80% have lived in the U.S. for at least five years. FJ estimates that less than half - but a significant number - of these workers have children who are U.S. citizens or permanent residents.
While this action will empower hundreds of thousands of farmworkers to live without fear of deportation and exploitation, it also omits many hardworking individuals and families. Bruce Goldstein, president of Farmworker Justice, said in a press release, “Even as we celebrate with those who will be eligible for relief, we are disappointed at the limits of the program. The eligibility criteria will deny administrative relief to many deserving farmworkers and their family members, including many long-time farmworkers who do not have U.S. citizen children.”
As the executive actions are implemented in the coming year, we’ll learn more about their impact on farmworker communities. It’s important to note that no one can apply for parental deferred action yet. Applications should be available within 180 days.
For more information about Obama’s immigration actions’ impact on farmworkers, visit:
● Farmworker Justice: farmworkerjustice.org
● United Farm Workers has created an information site in Spanish, Si Se Puede: sisepuede.org/