Legal Aid Criticizes Department of Labor for Not Protecting Rights of Farmworkers

PDF Version Available for Download 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                    
January 11, 2008             

Contact: Javier Riojas, Attorney
830.773.6151
jriojas@trla.org
Cynthia Martinez, Communications Director
512.374.2764
cmartinez@trla.org

WASHINGTON, DC – Texas RioGrande Legal Aid (TRLA), the leading provider of legal aid in Texas, has joined more than a dozen farmworker advocacy groups in criticizing the Department of Labor (DOL) for its recent changes to the H-2A agricultural guestworker program.

The H-2A agricultural guestworker program establishes the guidelines under which employers can hire foreign workers.  Recent changes to the program have weakened protections for farmworkers by removing requirements that employers recruit migrant workers outside their local area and that the state inspect migrant housing.  The new policy also discourages state workforce agencies from referring U.S. workers to H-2A employers once foreign workers have arrived in the United States. 

According to TRLA attorney Javier Riojas, “The Department of Labor’s new policies violate current law, encourage employers to avoid U.S. workers, and allow businesses to exploit foreign workers under harsh working conditions.”

The advocacy groups believe that the new policies are only the first step in a series of major changes to the guestworker program.  The Department of Labor is expected to initiate a new round of changes that could further erode worker protections in the coming months.

“These changes remove protections given to both U.S. and foreign workers in the agricultural sector,” added Riojas.  “While it may be financially convenient for employers, it’s dangerous for farmworkers.”

The advocacy groups involved in criticizing the Department of Labor include: Advocates for Basic Legal Equality, Inc. (ABLE); AFL-CIO; California Human Development Corporation; California Rural Legal Assistance, Inc.; California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation; Colorado Legal Services Migrant Farm Worker Division; Eastern Alliance of Farmworker Advocates (New York); Farmworker Justice; Farmworker Legal Services, Bangor, Michigan; Farm Labor Organizing Committee, AFL-CIO; Florida Legal Services, Inc.; Legal Aid of North Carolina Farmworker Unit; MAFO; Michigan Migrant Legal Assistance Project, Inc.; North Carolina Justice Center; Northwest Justice Project; Northwest Workers’ Justice Project; PCUN (Oregon’s farmworker union); Rural Opportunities, Inc; Southern Poverty Law Center; Texas RioGrande Legal Aid; United Farm Workers; Virginia Justice Center for Farm and Immigrant Workers; Workers’ Rights Law Center of New York, Inc.

Established in 1970, Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, Inc. (TRLA) is a nonprofit organization that provides free civil legal services to low-income and disadvantaged clients in a 68-county service area. TRLA’s mission is to promote the dignity, self-sufficiency, safety and stability of low-income Texas residents by providing high-quality civil legal assistance and related educational services.

 
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