November 12, 2019
United States House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515
On behalf of the Committee on Migration and the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, we write to urge you to support H.R. 5038, the Farm Workforce Modernization Act. This bipartisan legislation, introduced on October 30, 2019, by Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) and several Republican and Democratic sponsors, would create an earned legal status program for agricultural workers and would improve the existing H-2A system.
Recognizing the dignity of work of farmworkers and their families is a central concern of the Catholic Church. In his 1981 encyclical, Laborem Exercems, Pope John Paul II spoke of the importance of agricultural workers and the need to protect those working in the fields. Farmworkers produce the food that we eat and contribute to the care of our community. Regarding immigrant farmworkers, the bishops in the U.S. have long advocated for reforms of the existing system, including a “legalization program that would help stabilize the workforce, protect migrant workers, and their families from discrimination and exploitation and ensure that these workers are able to continue to make contributions to society.”
H.R. 5038 proposes a meaningful way for migrant agricultural workers to earn legal status through continued agricultural employment and contributions to the U.S. agricultural economy. It also improves labor protections while producing employment flexibility that is needed to aid our agricultural industries. H.R. 5038 creates more accessible and predictable worker programs while ensuring more worker protections, such as improving the availability of farmworker housing and providing better health protections.
As currently written, H.R. 5038 is a step in the right direction and reflects genuine bipartisan engagement. We encourage you to consider co-sponsoring this current version of the bill and to move it forward to help ensure a more stable workforce for our farming economy, as well as a tailored earned legalization program and greater worker protections.
Most Reverend Joe Vasquez, Bishop of Austin, Chairman, USCCB Committee on Migration
Reverend Frank J. Dewane, Bishop of Venice, USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development
 Pope John Paul II, Laborem Exercems (On Human Work), 1981, par. 23. available at http://w2.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_jp-ii_enc_14091981_laborem-exercens.html
 See For I Was Hungry & You Gave Me Food: A Catholic Agenda for Action- Pursuing a More Just Agricultural System- Part 2 available at http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/agriculture-nutrition-rural-issues/for-i-was-hungry.cfm
We write on behalf of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committees on Migration and International Justice and Peace, and Catholic Relief Services (CRS) to express support for the bi-partisan Venezuela Temporary Protected Status (TPS) Act of 2019, S. 636.1 It mandates the designation of TPS for qualified Venezuelans present in the United States, pursuant to Section 244(b) of the Immigration and Nationality Act. It also authorizes U.S. funding to help build regional and national capacity of the protection systems in host nations in Latin America and the Caribbean to respond more adequately to the large numbers of forcibly displaced Venezuelans. Given the unprecedented humanitarian crisis facing displaced Venezuelans, the U.S. must not only provide humanitarian assistance in the region, but also support humanitarian protection in the U.S. for those who cannot return home.
The ongoing political unrest, violence, and food and medicine shortages in Venezuela have caused over four million citizens to flee the country.2 The Justice and Peace Commission of the Venezuelan Bishops Conference has recently noted the numerous violations of fundamental human rights inflicted by the police and threats to citizens’ access to health and medicine.3 While stability in Venezuela has been tenuous since 2015, it is continuing to deteriorate at an alarming rate.
On March 11, 2019, the U.S. Department of State (DOS) temporarily suspended operations of the U.S. Embassy in Caracas and withdrew diplomatic personnel from the country.4 On March 12, 2019, the DOS issued a Level Four “Do Not Travel” advisory for Venezuela.5 In issuing a subsequent travel advisory on April 9, 2019, DOS explained that in addition to violent political demonstrations and shortages in basic necessities (food, water, electricity, and medical care), the country suffers from high rates of violent crime, such as homicide, armed robbery, and kidnapping.6 Moreover, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights reported on July 4, 2019, that there have been an estimated 6,856 extrajudicial killings of government opponents between January 2018 and May 2019.7
These well-documented conditions have also been seen firsthand by our Catholic partners on the ground. Catholic Relief Services supports partners who report that of 15,000 children under age 5 being monitored, 76 percent show signs of nutritional deficit, and another 13 percent are living with acute malnutrition.8
Granting TPS will provide qualified Venezuelans in the United States safety for a period of 18 months. The distressing conditions discussed above show that humanitarian assistance is much needed. The protection designation is appropriate under the TPS statute based on at least two grounds: (1) that Venezuela is suffering from “ongoing armed conflict within the state” and, consequently, return of nationals to the country would “pose a serious threat to their personal safety,”9 or (2) that it is facing “extraordinary and temporary conditions” that prevent nationals “from returning to the state in safety.”10
We believe mandating TPS for Venezuelans is also a moral, compassionate and necessary response. TPS would ensure that an estimated 150,000 qualifying Venezuelans here in the United States are not returned to dangerous and life-threatening situations,11 and TPS would give them an opportunity to live with dignity, work lawfully, and provide for their families’ well-being until they can safely return home. For these reasons, we urge you to immediately pass the bi-partisan Venezuela TPS Act of 2019, S. 636.
We appreciate your consideration of this request. We continue to pray for Venezuela’s swift recovery and for the day when those who have fled to the safety of other countries may return home.
Most Rev. Joe S. Vásquez, Chairman Committee on Migration, Bishop of Austin, Texas
Most Rev. Timothy P. Broglio, Committee Intl. Justice & Peace, Archbishop of the Military, USA
Sean Callahan, President/CEO, Catholic Relief Services