The kind of comprehensive immigration reform some in agriculture have been clamoring for did not happen with President Obama’s recent executive order, nor did it occur when California decided to give driver’s licenses to those who cannot legally prove their immigration status.
In some ways it got worse.
Now, California-based agricultural organizations, the Mexican Consul in Fresno, Calif., local law enforcement and a school of law are warning illegal immigrants to be wary of scams that claim to help people with their immigration status and right to work.
Nisei Farmers League President Manuel Cunha says the executive order recently signed by President Obama paves the way for fraud and other illegal activity while purportedly seeking to prevent deportations when workers are unable to prove their immigration status.
At the heart of the issue are yet-to-be-written rules that some in agriculture say spell out the intent of and practical actions behind the President’s action. Applications to start legal immigration proceedings based on the President’s order will not be accepted until May, yet already people claim that workers are being contacted to submit applications and money now to begin the process.
Agricultural organizations recently joined with the Mexican Consul in Fresno to warn workers and employers of scams aimed at convincing undocumented workers that for a price immigration paperwork and work authorizations can be secured.
That price, according to Cunha, is not just in American dollars, but in the costs associated with human trafficking when family members are held as collateral until these fees can be paid.
Still, some see the President’s action as positive.
“I am really honored and pleased that President Obama signed this executive order,” said Orange Cove Mayor Victor Lopez, himself the product of a migrant family.
Not comprehensive reform
Yet it’s what the executive action by the President does not do that has agricultural organizations like Nisei Farmers League concerned for farmworkers.
“Mexican nationals should not confuse President Obama’s executive order with immigration reform because it’s not,” Cunha said.
Neither is the recent approval by California to issue drivers licenses to undocumented aliens.
While a California Driver’s License is one of several forms authorized by the Internal Revenue Service to prove the right to work in the United States, the licenses being issued by California expressly prohibit their use as work authorizations, according to Cunha.
More worrisome to Cunha and others is the misinformation related to the issuance of these license coupled with the President’s executive order.
“There will be a lot of people out there trying to take advantage of our people,” Lopez said.
Some say that is beginning to happen now in the Central Valley as migrant farmworkers are being contacted and asked to submit paperwork and money to start the legal immigration process. Those applications won’t be accepted until at least May, Cunha said.
The only organization Mexican nationals should be dealing with at this point is the Mexican Consulate in Fresno, said Mexican Consul Vicente Sanchez Ventura. Some of this work is also being handled through the San Joaquin College of Law in concert with the Mexican Consul.
Cunha said Ag organizations in California are working to inform farm labor contractors, which employ about 80 percent of agriculture’s migrant workforce, about these scams and misinformation efforts in hopes of preventing the tragedies related to this fraud.
Cunha remains frustrated that the recent executive action is only good for three years and does nothing to solve the larger immigration issues in America.
“We all want comprehensive immigration reform,” said Steve Spate, grower representative with the Raisin Bargaining Association. “That’s not what the President did.”
Efforts are also under way to work with local churches and civic organizations to help spread the word and reduce the human trafficking problems that Cunha says can come with these kinds of activities.