SARASOTA/MANATEE FARMWORKER SUPPORTERS

4517 Ascot Circle South,  Sarasota, Florida 34235

(941) 351-8726

Sarasota/Manatee Farmworker Supporters is a branch of the National Farmworker Ministry

 

Alejandro Reyes, President

Marvin Mills, Secretary and President Emeritus

 

MAY 2007 NEWSLETTER

 

Lou Dobbs: Right or Wrong?

Featuring Jimmy Delgado

Saturday, May 19, 2007, 2:00 p.m.

Selby Library, 1331 First St., Sarasota

 

Join us on May 19th when Mr. Jimmy Delgado, a community immigrant rights’ leader, will make a presentation centered on Lou Doubs political and social agenda. The presentation will be followed by a question and answer format.

 

More about Jimmy Delgado:

Mr. Jimmy Delgado, an attorney in Palmetto, is the former Chairman of the Gulf Coast Latin Chamber of Commerce; President of Manatee Educational Television; and Member of the Steering Committee for Grassroots Leadership Initiative.  He has also served as a Judge in the Teen Court Program at the Manatee County Courthouse. During May of 2006 he led efforts through the Concilio Mexicano de Florida, the "Mexican Council of Florida” to mobilize business owners to support immigrants striking for improved rights and recognition in the United States.

WALL STREET JOURNAL

May 10, 2007

 

US Immigration Overhaul May Hit Farms

 

Washington -- As immigration overhaul teeters in the Senate, the White House and lawmakers are back facing the issue that started the whole debate: the treatment of undocumented immigrant farm workers.

 

More than any other interests, Western growers and the United Farm Workers were early to put aside their differences and close ranks behind legislation that promised the industry a stable labor force and field workers a chance to begin to move toward citizenship.

 

Dubbed AgJOBS, the bill has steadily gained bipartisan support in Congress over the past six years as a pilot program of sorts for larger immigration reform. Under AgJOBS, illegal-immigrant farm workers who have cleared criminal checks would first get blue-card visas to establish temporary residency. To move up the next step to permanent residency, a worker would have to stay in agriculture, working at least 150 work days annually for three years, or 100 work days annually for five.

 

But with President Bush wanting a more comprehensive approach appealing to conservatives, workers are being asked to make concessions to help AgJOBS conform with the legislation being negotiated in the Senate.

 

At the heart of the debate is the question of how far the government should go to accept individuals who entered the country illegally but are otherwise law-abiding workers important to the economy.

 

Critics argue that any forgiveness smacks of the controversial "amnesty" granted during the 1980s. AgJOBS seeks to address this complaint by confining itself to about 1.5 million workers with a proven record of agriculture employment who are willing to remain on farms over the next three to five years to qualify for permanent residency.

 

But the emerging Senate bill covers all workers and imposes a longer waiting period of eight years before such immigrants can qualify for green cards and permanent residency. Sen. Saxby Chambliss, the former Senate Agriculture Committee chairman who comes from Georgia's cabbage patch, also wants to loosen wage protections negotiated by the union with Western growers.

 

At the same time, producers worry that the Senate legalization plan is so broad that farm workers will leave their fields for less arduous jobs in urban areas.

 

"We're not deviating from our desire to get AgJOBS," says Tom Nassif, president of the Western Growers Association, which is flying members here next week to lobby on the issue. "We have to make sure that when we get workers, they stay in agriculture. You can't apply all the rules to every industry."

 

The White House argues that AgJOBS must adjust to the more comprehensive, economy wide package. But as tensions rise in the Senate, farm workers and producers worry about their industry-specific deal being dragged aboard a sinking ship.

 

The stage was set months ago when Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) pledged two weeks of Senate floor time for a full debate on immigration, beginning Monday. But despite a huge effort, the White House will miss this deadline to produce a draft bill, and is still struggling to put together its "grand bargain" with Republican and Democratic senators.

 

"We're working, we're working," said Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff this week. But Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona, the Republican point-man in the Senate on the issue, said he is "less sanguine about the possibility of getting this done before Memorial Day."

 

An impatient Mr. Reid served notice yesterday that he instead will call up last year's Senate immigration bill as the starting point for the debate. That bill badly split Republicans a year ago, with Mr. Kyl among its chief critics, saying it lacked adequate enforcement.

 

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) urges all sides to "stay at the table" with the White House in hopes of getting an agreement. But Democrats say Mr. Bush must become more personally involved if a deal is to be salvaged.

 

"We need a workable system. That's the bottom line," says Sen. Edward Kennedy (D., Mass.) "There are some things being proposed that will make the system impossible to work."

 

Mr. Kennedy is among the lead AgJOBS sponsors, as is Rep. Howard Berman (D., Calif.). Together, the two men are pivotal if any immigration legislation is to be enacted in this Congress.

 

The intensity of the issue for both was seen last week when they left a meeting in the Capitol with Mr. Chertoff. Mr. Berman, rushing to the airport, had jumped out of his car at a traffic light to take off his jacket. Suddenly, Mr. Kennedy's van loomed alongside. The senator got out in the midst of traffic to talk some more about the immigration issues.

 

On the administration side, Mr. Chertoff is adamant that farm workers, like all other undocumented workers, wait at least eight years before qualifying for permanent residency. The administration has discussed giving a leg up to farm workers to get their green cards faster after this waiting period. Industry officials worry about whether, in a new package, the rules won't be as strong in requiring farm workers to stay in agriculture during these eight years.

 

Equally important are federal wage rates set for the H-2A temporary farm-worker program, designed to set a pay floor for immigrant workers. These have grown so high that more farmers have turned to illegal immigrants, who are paid less. To make the H-2A system more workable, labor agreed to roll back the rates to 2003 levels, then keep them frozen for three years while a new wage system is put in place.

 

This rollback is worth as much as $1 an hour in states like Georgia. But Mr. Chambliss has pressed for more long-term changes to move to a more localized "prevailing wage" standard, under which some farm workers might be paid less.

 

"It's a good deal for my guys but it's not the best deal they can get," he says of the AgJOBS wage package. "The prevailing wage allows California to pay what's appropriate for them, us pay what's appropriate for us."

 

But Arturo Rodriguez, president of the United Farm Workers, wants AgJOBS to stand. "They didn't get everything they wanted, we didn't get everything we wanted," he says. "But we're happy with what we got, and we're going to push to keep that compromise intact."

 

"You have to be realistic what you ask of farm workers," he says of the larger choices between AgJOBS and the bill being negotiated by the White House.

 

"In the end they are going to realize what we've come up with makes a lot of sense."

 

 

McCLATCHY NEWSPAPERS

May 3, 2007

 

Murder of union organizer alarms workers, activists


 

MONTERREY, Mexico - Santiago Cruz moved to this northern Mexico city to help organize Mexican farmworkers bound for the United States under a legal guest-worker program. His killers spared him no agony.

They bound his hands and feet with strips of T-shirt, strangled him using a beach towel adorned with a cartoon U.S. dollar bill and smashed his head through a wooden banister.

The slaying last month remains unsolved, alarming human rights activists on both sides of the border. Police won't talk about their investigation, but Cruz's friends say they're certain he was killed because of his efforts to stop corruption in a little-known program that provides seasonal workers legally to U.S. farms.

Cruz worked for the Ohio-based Farm Labor Organizing Committee, an affiliate of the AFL-CIO. The committee represents thousands of Mexicans who travel to the United States each year with H2A visas, which the United States grants to workers recruited abroad.

Two weeks before his death, Cruz had begun an education campaign in nearby villages aimed at stopping rogue recruiters from extorting illegal fees from farmworkers headed north.

"We were shaking up big forces," said Castulo Benavides, the union's Monterrey director.

Cruz was found murdered April 9 in his office. His possessions were undisturbed and now are packed into a lime-green suitcase with no immediate destination.

The scene was gruesome. Globs of crimson blood still dot the walls and floors.

Union supporters have blasted authorities in the state of Nuevo Leon for not solving the crime yet. The Washington-based Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has urged the state government to find the killers and protect union members.

The union has renamed its office - in a nondescript strip mall near the U.S. consulate - the Santiago Rafael Cruz Justice Center and has started a fund for his family.

The AFL-CIO has condemned the murder, as has the city council in Toledo, Ohio, where the farm labor committee is headquartered.

U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, is trying to organize a congressional delegation to visit Monterrey and investigate Cruz's death and alleged corruption among recruiters of temporary agricultural workers.

A sense of dread lingers over the Monterrey office. On a recent weekday, three workers waited inside, en route to the border town of Nuevo Laredo, then a 30-plus-hour bus ride to the farms of North Carolina.

"Of course it's hard," said worker Gregorio Ponce, 27, who's been a legal seasonal worker in the United States for seven years. "My wife is here and so is my daughter. But you can't make any money here."

The committee represents some 6,000 seasonal farmworkers, many of whom travel each year under the temporary H2A agricultural visa to the tobacco, cucumber and sweet potato fields of North Carolina.

The workers are recruited by companies that, under contract from farms in the United States, screen them in Mexico, process their U.S. visas and transport them north. Some 50,000 workers are projected to travel to the United States this year under the H2A program.

Under U.S. law, the employers must pay the costs of paperwork and transportation, but farmworkers complain that some recruiters charge them for those expenses.

Three years ago, the Farm Labor Organizing Committee opened its office in Monterrey, where most H2A visas are processed through the U.S. consulate each year.

"From the time we got there, we weren't popular with the recruiters," said committee President Baldemar Velasquez, a Texas-born Mexican-American reared as a farmworker who's now based in Ohio.

Before Cruz's death, intruders had ransacked the office twice, Velasquez said.

Last year, a U.S. federal judge ruled that companies that belong to the North Carolina Growers Association must pay the roughly $300 in visa and transportation costs for each worker it hires. The farm labor committee said that the growers association's Mexico recruiter, Manpower of the Americas, had been cooperative in making sure that the fees were paid.

But other Mexican recruiters continue to shake down non-union guest workers, and the committee fields their complaints even though it doesn't formally represent them.

Not everyone, however, thinks the motive behind Cruz's death is as clear-cut.

Manpower of the Americas President Mike Bell said his company, the largest company in Mexico that processes guest workers bound for the United States, monitors its employees carefully to make sure none is demanding money from workers.

"There is no reason to think recruiters had anything to do with this homicide," Bell said.

The spokesman for the U.S. consulate in Monterrey, Todd Huizinga, said the consulate wouldn't comment on the murder or the investigation. "Recruitment is largely a private business matter," he said. "The U.S. government has limited oversight."

Cruz, who'd arrived in Monterrey about six weeks before his death, grew up in Oaxaca state in southern Mexico. He'd begun working with the committee in Ohio after entering the United States illegally.

"He was at marches. He was at rallies. He was on staff teaching people to defend themselves," Velasquez said. "The guy was honest and respectful and everyone who met him liked him."

About a year and a half ago, Cruz quit the committee and took a job at a tomato-canning plant to earn more money. While he was working there, U.S. immigration agents detained him and sent him back to Mexico. The committee offered him a job in its Monterrey office.

Cruz, looking for permanent housing, shared a small, bare room upstairs in the office with Benavides.

April 8 was Easter. Benavides was out of town, he said, vacationing with family. He spoke with Cruz about 4 p.m. by telephone.

Two hours later, some friends passed by and invited Cruz to the nearby Bar Antigua. He declined. Minutes later, another pal, Mario Lopez, 22, walked past the office, also going to the bar. He works at a priest-run guesthouse for migrant workers a half-block away. He invited Cruz to come along. Cruz declined, saying he was going to take a shower.

Two hours later, Lopez and his buddies walked past the office on their way home. The office was dark. "We thought it was weird. He always had the light on, either in the room or in the office," Lopez said.

The next morning about 8, Jose Dimas, a union friend who also runs a guesthouse for workers, stopped by.

The door was ajar. Dimas went in. Down a short hallway past the main office, he saw blood pooled at the bottom of the stairwell. He ran to the guesthouse to roust Lopez and another pal. Rushing back, they found Cruz facedown, his head wedged into the banister. His face was severely bruised.

Benavides said he was baffled. Cruz was so new to the city that he hadn't had time to make enemies. He worries that the killers were really looking for him. "We think they tortured him wanting to know where I was," he said.

Benavides no longer sleeps in the upstairs room.

 

 

 

 

 

 

STAY UP TO DATE ON ISSUES AND NEWS AFFECTING AMERICA’S FARMWORKERS

 

For breaking news on farmworkers and their struggle, go to the Sarasota/Manatee Farm Worker Supporters webpage.  Updated daily, the web page contains the nation’s most complete listing of news items relating to farmworkers (plus several years of archives!)

 

www.SMFWS.Com

 

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