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CA Providing Free Legal Services for Undocumented Farmworkers

Sacramento — Today, Governor Gavin Newsom unveiled a new $4.5 million pilot program to provide free immigration legal assistance to farmworkers who are involved in state labor investigations. This new program includes case review services, legal advice and representation by an attorney – all at no cost to farmworkers seeking assistance.

What the Governor said: “Farmworkers are the backbone of our economy and we won’t stand by as bad actors use the threat of deportation as a form of exploitation. In the absence of Congress modernizing our broken, outdated immigration system, California continues our efforts to support immigrant families.”

Why it matters: An estimated 50 percent of farmworkers in California are undocumented. The fear of retaliation from bad actor employers, including the threat of deportation and difficulties obtaining other jobs without work authorization, is a common reason why many workers in the agriculture industry do not file labor claims or provide information as witnesses. This new pilot program looks to prevent the exploitation of undocumented farmworkers by providing additional tools for California labor enforcement departments to help address workers’ fears of pursuing their rights due to their immigration status.

“The time is now for us to ensure that immigrant labor rights are upheld and respected.  We commend the state for supporting this pilot, which will help ensure that legal services are available and accessible through partnerships with trusted community-based organizations across California,” said Maria Elena De La Garza, Executive Director of the Community Action Board of Santa Cruz County. “The Community Action Board of Santa Cruz County is committed to uplifting immigrant labor rights so that all families can continue to thrive.”

“Prosecutorial discretion ensures that farmworkers will be empowered to enforce their labor rights and stand up against the abuse and exploitation they often face,” said Diana Tellefson Torres, Chief Executive Officer of the UFW Foundation. “Undocumented farm workers – who form such a large and essential portion of our nation’s workforce – must be able to enforce their rights without the threat of immigration retaliation.  Additionally, it is of utmost importance that undocumented workers have access to free and low-cost legal services, so that any farmworker who has experienced workplace violations can come forward knowing they are protected from deportation. We are excited about the new pilot program and look forward to working with Governor Newsom to make it a success.”

This new program aligns with a recently announced Biden administration policy that streamlines and expedites deferred action for undocumented individuals who are victims of, or witnesses to, violations of labor rights. California is leading the way in coordinating with the Biden Administration to aid noncitizen workers with such deferred action requests. The California Labor Commissioner’s Office was the first state agency in the nation to successfully request deferred action from the Biden Administration for employees under an active investigation.

This pilot will be administered through a partnership between the California Labor & Workforce Development Agency and the California Department of Social Services that will support the enforcement of agricultural worker labor rights, particularly in worksite-wide investigations. Services will not be limited by an individual’s immigration status. To be eligible, cases must be under review by the Department of Industrial Relations’ Labor Commissioner’s Office, the Division of Occupational Safety and Health or the Agricultural Labor Relations Board. Legal service providers will be available based on farmworker population estimates and provider capacity.

California has funded free immigration legal services through qualified nonprofit organizations since 2015, including more recent efforts under Governor Newsom’s leadership to continue robust funding and expand the availability of qualified services in underserved communities. The pilot is funded by existing resources and is expected to begin later this year.

These initiatives help advance equity, inclusion and a level playing field for both workers and law-abiding employers. The pilot adds to California’s leadership in protecting immigrants and supporting immigrant talent, including increased access to health care, education, and other critical initiatives that help immigrant families be safe, thrive and grow the economy with their contributions.

Photo : Vladimir Gomez


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