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New Farm Worker Rules, Debating the Immigration Dip, and Old Healthcare Myths (Die Hard)

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As the week draws to a close, and Washington digs itself out of Snomageddon 2010, here are a couple of key developments on immigration.

Yesterday, U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis announced a set of new farm worker rules, including the rollback of a 2008 Bush-era reversal in labor oversight for agricultural workers in the United States. The measure was promptly heralded as a victory by many farmworker advocates, including the United Farm Workers (UFW):

The new rules would also remedy cutbacks in labor protections and restore the requirement that U.S. workers be hired before foreign laborers are imported, a protection weakened under the Bush regulations.

As reported by the New York Times:

Many of the new measures restore previous procedures for the program, known as H-2A for the type of visa that foreign workers receive, after the rules were changed in the last days of the Bush administration. Farm worker organizations strongly objected to those changes, arguing they had rapidly lowered wages for American agricultural laborers.

It’s clear that these new rules are a step in the right direction toward protecting vulnerable workers. More is needed, however, which is why farm worker advocates continue to push for comprehensive immigration reform. To that effect, UFW’s President, Arturo S. Rodriguez, cautions:

“We now must focus on addressing the nation’s agricultural labor supply through legislation, such as the bipartisan, broadly-backed AgJOBS bill, that would let farm workers currently laboring in the United States legally stay by continuing to work in agriculture.”

The Wall Street Journal quotes growers’ associations that believe “the new rules didn’t address the problems farmers face finding seasonal help.” According to the New York Times:

While sharply divided over the new rules, growers and farm workers agreed that the Obama administration should press Congress to pass legislation overhauling the immigration system. Most versions of that legislation include a bill that creates a new guest worker program that all sides in agriculture have long supported.

“AGJobs” is a key component of comprehensive immigration reform that both farm worker advocates and growers insist cannot wait any longer. 

In other news, according to a new study released by the Department of Homeland Security this week, the unauthorized immigrant population in the U.S. has dropped sharply (about 7 percent) over the past two years, for the first time in three decades. It has gone from approximately 11.6 to about 10.8 million.