January 31, 2020 Dena Jensen
On January 22, 2020, our local ecofeminist, immigration and farm labor advocacy organization, Community to Community Development, held a Migrant Justice Forum at the Localgroup Studio in Bellingham. One the presenters, Liz Darrow, who focuses on policy coordination, legislative advocacy, and media for C2C, offered a status update on the Bellingham City Council’s Immigration Advisory Board which was created by ordinance in October 2019. Ms. Darrow also brought forward a number of Washington State bills for this legislative session that merit community members calling on state representatives to provide their support.
For easy reference, below is the list of bills needing support that Ms. Darrow highlighted. There is also one federal bill to oppose. Additionally, links are provided to webpages providing the bill information and documents, along with links to pages where you can submit comments to your representatives on the bills.
Washington State bills to support:
SB 5438 “Concerning the H-2A temporary agricultural program.”
Bill information: https://app.leg.wa.gov/billsummary?BillNumber=5438&Initiative=false&Year=2019
Comment on this bill: https://app.leg.wa.gov/pbc/bill/5438
HB 2576 “Concerning private detention facilities.”
Bill information: https://app.leg.wa.gov/billsummary?BillNumber=2576&Initiative=false&Year=2019
Comment on this bill: https://app.leg.wa.gov/pbc/bill/2576
SB 6261 “Strengthening the farm labor contractor system by removing an exemption for nonprofits, prohibiting retaliation and the use of farm labor contractors in certain circumstances, and establishing liability for related violations.”
Bill information: https://app.leg.wa.gov/billsummary?BillNumber=6261&Initiative=false&Year=2019
Comment on this bill: https://app.leg.wa.gov/pbc/bill/6261
SB 6207 “Concerning the scope of collective bargaining for language access providers.”
Bill information: https://app.leg.wa.gov/billsummary?BillNumber=6207&Year=2019&Initiative=false
Comment on this bill: https://app.leg.wa.gov/pbc/bill/6207
HB 2511 “Providing labor protections for domestic workers.”
Bill information: https://app.leg.wa.gov/billsummary?BillNumber=2511&Initiative=false&Year=2019
Comment on this bill: https://app.leg.wa.gov/pbc/bill/2511
One federal bill to oppose:
HR 5038 “Farm Workforce Modernization Act of 2019” (This bill has passed in the House)
Bill information: https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/house-bill/5038
Contact Senator Patty Murray: https://www.murray.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/contactme
Contact Senator Maria Cantwell: https://www.cantwell.senate.gov/contact/email/form
Below are my notes from Liz Darrow’s presentation:
Update on COB’s Immigration Advisory Board
The Immigration Advisory Board was established by the City of Bellingham and was nearly a three year fight. It is not necessarily a go yet but there was an ordinance passed by Bellingham City Council Members, 7-0, to establish that board. The ordinance passed in October 2019 and then the election was in November when there was a shifting around of City Council Members, some of them new, and a new mayor came on board for the City.
After the ordinance passed it was said that the ordinance would be on hold until the new mayor took their seat in January, but that people could submit applications for positions on the board. One thing that was not known to C2C when the ordinance was written, was that unless there’s and exception stipulated to the City rule that a person serving on the board must be a resident of the City of Bellingham for at least one year, then they can’t be on the board.
There are 12 seats on the board that had been outlined very clearly. Much of the leadership from Community to Community Development, Familias Unidas por la Justicia, and Raid Relief to Reunite Families, do not live in the City of Bellingham, so they can’t serve on that board. This was a frustrating surprise when people who had already submitted applications started getting rejections notices. Liz Darrow, herself, has applied, but no one knows yet who will be appointed.
C2C would like for part of the process for the board to be to write in an exception in that ordinance. C2C was to be meeting with COB Mayor Seth Fleetwood the day following the forum (January 23).
After the debacle with trying to get a sanctuary ordinance, many means have been used, direct action, Dignity Vigils, meeting with people, and going to the State level with ideas and getting legislation passed there.
The vigils that Brenda Bentley led in downtown Bellingham for almost three years played a huge part in getting that ordinance for the Immigration Advisory Board passed.
C2C wants the right people to be at the table and wants meaningful legislation and policy passed.
One of the things that happens post election for the City is that they have a restructuring process. COB has space for six City Council committees and that’s all. So all of the community work they want to do is under six titles. Last year when the ordinance for the Immigration Advisory Board was being considered, there was a Justice Committee headed by Council Member Hannah Stone who worked with C2C and a civil attorney, and they worked hard on the language for the ordinance.
In January though, they scrapped the Justice Committee and lumped it in with Public Health and Safety with a different chair who doesn’t have the background or interest in the prior work. This is a frustration because not all Council Members are the same and C2C has intentionally sought to work with Council Members who understand the issues of immigrants and farmworkers. Council Member Dan Hammill is the chair of the Public Health, Safety, & Justice committee. At points in the past he has actively blocked or has avoided this process.
If there are challenges ahead in working with present Committee and Council members, downtown Dignity Vigils can always be brought back if necessary.
Regarding key Washington State legislation that supports farmworkers and labor
A lot of meaningful work has been done at the state level. When the Keep Washington Working Act passed last year, that was largely due to the failed sanctuary ordinance that community members tried to pass locally in Bellingham. WWU Blue Group’s and C2C’s name for their ordinance had been Keep Bellingham Families Working. The state used the name as a basis and for some of the meaning of that ordinance and created legislation for the state level. Currently Bellingham is not yet in compliance with the state law, but they have time to catch up. There will be a need to look at all the immigration policies (state and local) to see where they don’t match up. The Keep Washington Working Act is not a super strong piece of legislation, but it’s a start. It talks about law enforcement and what they can and can’t do. It doesn’t give a lot of leverage with the municipalities and it’s fairly vague in that area.
There is legislation that is coming up for the current legislative session going on right now (and which ends March 14th) related to immigration that it’s important to advocate for. One is Senate Bill 5438 which extends support for undocumented students that goes as far as to say that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is not allowed on school property in Washington State. If ICE wants access to student records they need a judicial warrant and have to present that to the superintendent of the school and the superintendent would make the decision as to whether they will interact with ICE or not. This is important because there is a lot of fear amongst students. During the 2018 ICE raid it was reported that kids were afraid to go to school. There are times when law enforcement officers visit the schools to have lunch with the kids and that can be really terrifying for them due to experience with ICE who has put everyone at jeopardy. The bill hasn’t had a hearing yet. This would be a good time to contact your representatives to let them know you are supportive of SB 5438.
House Bill 2576 is a bill written to end private detention centers. This legislation could be stronger because, unfortunately it allows current contracts to continue, such as the contract (until 2025) with GEO Group for the Northwest Detention Center (now rebranded as the Northwest ICE Processing Center). But the bill would not allow ICE to expand through other private facilities in Washington State. This bill is still worth calling on your legislators to support it because it will offer an incremental improvement. Hopefully other legislative sessions will prove to have strong legislative leaders who will push for a stronger prohibition.
In C2C’s estimation, the most important bill this session is Senate Bill 6261. They call it, “Modernizing the Farm Labor Contracting Act” and it was put together by leadership from Familias Unidas por las Justicia, Community to Community Development and Columbia Legal Services. It will serve toward ending retaliation against farmworkers when they ask for rights in the workplace. The bill also would end an exemption from abiding by the Farm Labor Contractor Act for non-profit farm labor contractors.
Wafla, formerly Washington Farm Labor Association, brings in 80% of Washington’s approximately 30,000 H-2A visa workers, receiving well over a thousand dollars per person and having no liability to those workers. This bill starts to dismantle some of their power over workers who are imported into our country and are contracted to only one employer with little capacity to have their grievances addressed.
As with the H-2A oversight bill from last year (SB 5438), incremental improvements in regulations for H-2A workers can lead to momentum to help eliminate an arrangement that exploits workers for the benefit of farm owners.
For federal legislation regarding farmworker issues, pay attention to HR 5038, the Farm Workforce Modernization Act. This legislation would change the face of farm labor from her on out. It isn’t moving in the Senate right now, but it can be revived in either the Senate or House. It would expand the H-2A program permanently, and makes slave labor more legal than it already is. Contact your representatives at the national level.
Using a system modeled on the E-verify system would be mandatory for H-2A employers. Employers must have all their employees submit documents verifying their eligibility to work in the United States. This can be cost-prohibitive for small family farms and there is a potential for hundreds of thousands of workers to be deported. [Here’s a link to a post with more details about HR 5038: https://noisywatersnw.com/2019/11/30/farm-workforce-modernization-act-poses-setbacks-for-workers-and-growers-noisy-waters-northwest/]
Back to other Washington State legislation, while these two bills are not related on their face to immigration, they would improve working conditions for workers in general in Washington state. Senate Bill 6207 is a measure providing the means for collective bargaining to language access providers who are defined as “any independent contractor who provides spoken language interpreter services, whether paid by a broker, language access agency, or the respective department.” These workers have not previously been granted the ability to organize.
Also, House Bill 2511, would provide labor protection for domestic workers, a measure that is desperately needed. Domestic workers have been exempt from all of Washington state’s labor laws which leads to young people, or those who are ill, or otherwise compromised, working in conditions that are very bad for them without any recourse or rights.
HB 3394 will allow for women to breastfeed or pump breast milk in the workplace when they need to.
This list of bills isn’t exhaustive. But these are ones that have stood out as worthy of support.