Dear Friends and Supporters,
The past two years have been filled with unprecedented challenges raised by a global pandemic that has turned every aspect of our normal lives upside down and wildfires that continue to push low-wage workers into greater economic insecurity. At the same time, CRLAF has stepped up to do what is needed to protect the rights of rural Californians.
Amagda Pérez, Executive Director
CRLAF advocates have worked around the clock developing timely and culturally responsive information on COVID resources and fighting for worker and tenant protections, safe living conditions for H2-A workers, adequate lighting for night-time work, wildfire protections, heat illness prevention, health for all, and access to legal and other lifeline services for rural communities. We have provided legal assistance to aggrieved workers, families seeking education equity, and immigrants seeking to regularize their immigration status. We also secured release of individuals from ICE detention, defended migrants in removal proceedings, and assisted hundreds to apply for benefits that protect family unity.
As we continue to respond to statewide emergencies and ensure that the most vulnerable in our communities have the protections and support that they need, we thank you for your support and shared commitment to ensuring that farm workers, other low-wage workers and their families have access to high-quality legal representation and access to equal justice. Our work has brought hope and improved the working and living conditions of countless rural families. Thank you for standing with us in our fight for justice, equity, dignity, and respect for our clients. We are proud to carry forward Justice Cruz Reynoso's legacy of service and ensure that every person has access to justice, regardless of their socioeconomic and immigration status.
2022 IMPACT REPORT
California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation
LABOR + EMPLOYMENT PROJECT
CRLAF engages in policy advocacy at the local, state, and federal levels. In 2022, we tracked more than 60 state and federal bills, and sponsored and supported legislation seeking to expand labor law protections for H-2A farm workers and other rural low-wage workers, and opposed bills which eroded or eliminated those protections. We provided written or oral communication to committees; signed on to support/opposition letters; and held conversations with key political staff. We also monitored all new H-2A applications for large numbers of guest workers in key counties, and advocated for H-2A and US farm workers with the US Department of Labor (DOL) and California Employment Development Department (EDD). Specifically, CRLAF supported SJR 11, AB 2183, AB 2300, SB 951, and] HR 1603.
H-2A Monitoring and Advocacy: CRLAF sponsored AB 857, the "California Legal Rights Disclosure Act for H-2A Farm Workers,” that would mandate employers’ single required written notice with information on roughly two dozen California laws/regulatory protections be in Spanish. We are working with the Labor Commissioner on another draft of AB 857, to ensure farm workers are provided clear, concrete, and straightforward information on their rights prior to their start of employment. The original text would have also codified for the first time in California law H-2A workers’ right to be paid for time spent in employers' vehicles while traveling between employers' housing and field worksites. CRLAF and other advocates have pending actions to recover these stolen wages; the estimated unpaid travel time for the 25,000+ H-2A workforce in 2021 was between $50-60 million dollars.
In 2022, CRLAF helped review and analyze more than 200 California H-2A job orders seeking approval for over 20,000 workers, and found that a very high percentage contain false or misleading information about housing, transportation pay, and other key H-2A job terms that violate California law. We regularly collaborate with DOL, EDD, California's Housing and Community Development agency, and other regulatory bodies to protect and prioritize the housing and labor rights of farm workers across the state.
PAGA Defense: CRLAF and CRLA were the original sponsors of the Private Attorney General Act (PAGA), a unique statute providing a mechanism for enforcement of basic labor law protections. We continue to collaborate with the legislature, labor unions, and trial lawyers to defend PAGA.
RURAL HOUSING PROJECT
CRLAF educates rural, low-income tenants and home-owners on their rights, brings impact litigation cases, and engages in housing advocacy at the state and national levels to maintain access to affordable housing and keep our most vulnerable residents housed.
In 2022, CRLAF and the California Coalition for Rural Housing successfully expanded state funding for farm worker housing through the Joe Serna Farm Worker Housing Grant Program. We also co-sponsored and supported AB 1654, Funding for Farm Worker Housing, which increases farm worker housing funds by automatically setting-aside a percentage whenever the state augments the main tax credit; and AB 2339 Emergency Shelters, which closes loopholes in cities and counties’ meeting low-income households’ housing needs, including the unsheltered, and the identification of real sites for shelters.
In October 2022, CRLAF and Western Center on Law and Poverty held a biennial Housing Summit, connecting legal services advocates and local groups to discuss issues impacting our shared communities, develop solutions, and define priorities for the upcoming two-year legislative session.
PESTICIDE + WORKER SAFETY
CRLAF works with various partners to improve enforcement of existing pesticide and work health and safety protections and advocate for greater health protective policies to reduce exposure to pesticides and work hazards including heat, wildfire smoke, and other climate conditions threatening rural health.
Legislative + Regulatory Updates: Over the past year, CRLAF supported AB 1787, which enhances lab test reporting requirements to better protect agricultural pesticide applicators; SB 1044, which prohibits retaliation against employees (with exceptions for certain job types) for refusing to work inside an evacuation zone and requires employees’ access to communication devices for emergency use; and AB 211, which increases fines for pesticide safety violations.
CRLAF joined other labor advocates in successfully opposing Monarch Tractor's petition to revise Cal-OSHA regulations to allow autonomous tractor use, including on farm roads and in fields where workers are on the ground harvesting. The petition was denied because driverless vehicle technology does not yet have a proven record of reliability. Though Cal-OSHA’s COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard will expire at the end of 2022, CRLAF helped assure the proposal of a non-emergency, two-year regulation preserving key protections in indoor worksites and employer-provided housing to take its place. CRLAF also worked to help develop a Cal-OSHA date palm work platform safety standard, and will participate in an advisory committee over the coming year to help draft a workplace violence prevention standard and finalize an Indoor Heat Illness Prevention Standard. Preventing agricultural work inside wildfire evacuation zones also remains a CRLAF priority. In September, 2022, Sonoma County adopted an Agriculture Pass program allowing some entry into evacuation zones for animal care and irrigation, but not harvest work. Sacramento County is now developing their own program with our input.
Protection from pesticide exposure: CRLAF is a plaintiff in an Earthjustice challenge regarding the use of the extremely toxic herbicide paraquat. We actively participate in the Californians for Pesticide Reform Coalition to compel the Department of Pesticide Regulation and County Agricultural Commissioners to improve pesticide regulation enforcement and language access. CRLAF has also advocated for years to tighten restrictions on use of the carcinogenic soil fumigant 1,3 dichloropropene.
SUSTAINABLE RURAL COMMUNITIES PROJECT (SRCP)
SRCP works with partners and communities to develop and implement policies addressing systemic issues of poverty, poor health faced by disadvantaged migrant farm worker and immigrants.
Legislation: SRCP supported three dozen bills during the final legislative session of 2022, and sponsored SB 558, Farm Worker Climate Resilience and Adaptation Program, which would have established a farm worker task force and granting program to farm worker-serving organizations. CRLAF helped win $1.5 million to update 20-year old data through a Farm Worker Health Study. CRLAF collaborated with author UC Merced on the advisory steering committee to ensure the study’s completion in June, 2022.
CRLAF prioritized the Health4All campaign, which successfully expanded Medi-Cal coverage to eligible undocumented immigrants ages 26-49. We continue to celebrate this historic win granting California’s immigrant community access to care and health coverage. This expansion will go into effect on January 1, 2024, and is in addition to the May 1, 2022 expansion for undocumented residents over 50 years of age. We look forward to continuing to provide eligibility-related education to increase immigrant enrollment.
Health + Immigration Work: To prepare residents for advocacy engagements, CRLAF hosted quarterly trainings and policy briefings, as well as sent regular alert updates on shelter-in-place ordinances, housing protections, nutrition programs, DACA public charge, and state vs. federal, and other privately funded COVID-19 economic relief programs. When possible, we provided direct application assistance, since many forms must be completed online and in English.
Environmental Work: Since 2015, SRCP has administered the Interim Emergency Bottled Water Project for Fresno County’s unincorporated communities of Cantua Creek and El Porvenir, providing safe drinking water to 166 rural households (over 700 residents). We work with the Water Resources Control Board to ensure uninterrupted water delivery until the County completes a permanent water system.
SRCP Leadership Roles: CRLAF organizes trainings and townhalls to educate partners and stakeholders on all proposed and or realized changes in policies, the critical role of affordable and expanded healthcare access, and the health and economic injuries resulting from inequitable vaccine access and discriminatory COVID 19 relief initiatives. We participate in various education campaigns on these topics as well as provide interviews for local newspapers, and on Spanish radio and television.
Over the past year, SRCP led a coalition of 12 local organizations to prioritize farm workers as essential workers, which resulted in the vaccination of thousands of individuals. CRLAF has recently served as fiscal agent for two statewide regranting programs addressing equitable access to COVID-19 care and workplace safety, and chronic drought issues faced by farm worker communities. We continue to convene the COVID-19 Farm Worker and Rural Immigrant Community Advocacy Coalition, composed of 12 farm worker and immigrant-serving organizations, and the Central Valley Legal Defense Fund (CVLDF), a group of attorneys, and local community and faith leaders dedicated to raising and providing funding for residents placed in immigration removal proceedings. CRLAF also leads and will once again draft the annual policy platform for the San Joaquin Valley Health Fund’s IHHEEL (Immigration, Health, Housing, Education, Environmental Justice and Land Use and Planning) Health and Immigration Policy Subcommittees, involving over 30 immigrant and refugee-serving Central Valley organizations.
LABOR + CIVIL RIGHTS LITIGATION UNIT
The Labor and Civil Rights Litigation Unit provides legal representation to farm workers and low-income workers in rural California ineligible for (Legal Services Corporation) LSC-program services, and who may be best represented in a class action. In 2022, the Unit handled a variety of issues and cases, including defeating a Sheriff’s motion to dismiss on a forceful eviction; filing appellate briefs with the Ninth Circuit on the issue of client employer; defending tenants in unlawful detainer cases; assisting tenants assert their rights to habitable housing; co authoring two amicus briefs and participating on a third amicus brief; litigating cases in federal and bankruptcy courts; and collaborating with partners to co-host housing clinics and address education issues affecting migrant farm worker families.
Outreach Efforts: In our third round of the statewide COVID Worker Outreach Program (CWOP), CRLAF has conducted field observations, door-to-door outreach, and participated in community events to protect access to rural health and other supportive safety-net services. Advocates traveled thousands of miles to provide information on workplace protections under COVID-19, sick leave, access to testing and vaccines, housing and other related labor rights, and distributed personal protection equipment to prevent COVID-19 contagion, and wildfire smoke and pesticide related illness. We partnered with local agencies, health providers, and religious organizations to organize and host vaccination clinics. Through this project, CRLAF reached more than 20,000 Sacramento and San Joaquin Valley residents.
We are currently providing financial assistance information to prevent foreclosures to low-income residents in the Sacramento Valley behind on their mortgage. In the past year, CRLAF attorneys offered training for families and local organizations on housing and employment, and co-hosted three housing and tenants’ rights clinics.
Amicus Brief + Support: CRLAF co-authored an amicus brief with CRLA, Inc. on a PAGA case before the U.S. Supreme Court in Viking River Cruises v. Mariana, and partnered with CRLA, Inc. to write an amicus brief to the Agricultural Labor Relations Board in Cinagro Farms, Inc., involving a group of farm workers misclassified as independent contractors. CRLAF also participated in the drafting of an amicus brief with CRLA, Inc. on a PAGA case before the California Supreme Court in Adolph v. Uber Technologies.
Current Cases: CRLAF has been grateful for the opportunity to expand our housing work by recently bringing on a Housing Law Attorney and Legal Fellow, and training new attorneys. We continue prioritizing class actions that QLSPs are unable to take, and serving workers and tenants who do not qualify for QLSP services. These cases involve farm workers experiencing labor violations such as unpaid overtime or full hours worked, failure to provide meals, rest periods, and legal documents including leases, paystubs, and letters of employment. Cases also include tenants experiencing inhumane housing conditions in apartments, migrant labor camps, or mobile home parks, unlawful detainers, and improper evictions. Most cases are overshadowed by threats to our clients’ immigration status as a way of forcing compliance.
Last winter, CRLAF joined the Sacramento Environmental Justice Coalition. As the only legal aid in this coalition, we provide information on tenant rights and how to assert them, with particular focus on the eviction process and the right to remain in one's home. We are excited about additional opportunities this partnership will bring, including identifying impact housing and employment cases.
CRLAF is currently investigating two housing cases involving housing provided to migrant farm worker families, and a landlord who failed to provide habitable housing and threatened their tenant with deportation, based on their perception of the tenant’s immigration status.
Finally, CRLAF is investigating serious education inequities faced by migrant students and English learners, looking into possible redress with a few partners, and considering litigation.
The Unit aims to file 2-3 class actions or impact litigation cases in 2023.
CITIZENSHIP + IMMlGRATION PROJECT
CRLAF’s team of DOJ accredited representatives, attorneys, paralegals, and advocates worked tirelessly over the past year to provide education and outreach, consultations, applications for affirmative immigration relief, and technical assistance for service providers. We continued to support community college students and educators by offering legal services, presentations, and trainings, and have recently taken a regional administrator role, working with community-based organizations to provide DACA and Naturalization application filing fee assistance to community members throughout the Central Valley.
Removal Defense Project: The need for removal defense services has grown exponentially, due to pro se hearings being scheduled for the first time since the beginning of the pandemic. In addition to full-scope representation, many of our services over the past year were focused on developing and providing pro se assistance, such as covering dockets through the Attorney of the Day program, staffing detained consultation sessions, and providing limited-scope assistance.
The new Immigrant Health Equity Project manages CRLAF’s Public Charge hotline, providing individualized legal counsel on health access, as well as legal and education services on immigrant access to healthcare and public benefits, with a focus on pandemic relief programs, Public Charge policies, and Medi-Cal expansions.
Sacramento Family, Unity, Education, + Legal (FUEL) Network for Immigrants: The City Council of Sacramento established the Sacramento Family Unity, Education, and Legal (FUEL) Network for Immigrants in 2017, for which CRLAF continues to serve as fiscal lead. The FUEL Network is a robust collaborative of over 80 Sacramento community-based organizations, legal services providers, volunteer attorney groups, labor unions, faith-based groups, and educational institutions providing critical informational and legal services to immigrant communities.
COMMUNITY ADVOCACY + SPECIAL PROJECTS
CRLAF reinforced its commitment to protecting the health and well-being of low-income, essential workers and their families, as one of the few organizations conducting outreach and field monitoring throughout the pandemic. Our regular community presence encouraged workers’ confidence to reveal various civil rights violations, which were brought to our Immigration and Litigation Units to assess eligibility for benefits and representation.
Over the past year, CRLAF uncovered a number of education inequities exacerbated under pandemic conditions, which impact the education of immigrant and/or English Learners, especially the children of migrant farm workers. CRLAF has seen districts discontinue transportation for rural areas; while California law does not guarantee the right to school transportation, it has greatly affected farm worker parents who start work before sunrise, and are unable to take their children to school on time. This has resulted in students being transported to and from school in overcrowded and unsafe vehicles and/or missing school. Migrant farm worker families living in labor camps must also leave every winter due to mandatory camp closures. These migrant students face being dis-enrolled from their schools as they are unable to return before the start of the spring semester; final exam dates that are scheduled a day before their move out date from the camps; and not obtaining all of the appropriate credits when they leave the state.
CRLAF has also recently encountered major habitability problems, including entire apartment complexes, mobile homes parks, and labor camps with infestations of cockroaches, mice, mold, broken windows, torn screens, unsafe plumbing, and dirt floors. Residents have expressed concern about racist landlords and housing managers. We continue to hold Know Your Rights presentations and distribute informational flyers to labor camps, work crews, housing projects, churches, and local events to educate and work with our communities toward greater legal justice.
This past year brought both exciting opportunities and challenges for the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation. We launched several ambitious statewide projects, while pivoting to address emerging needs in the face of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, wildfires, other natural disasters, and policies that do not prioritize, nor consider our rural, underserved communities. In 2023, we will build upon the accomplishments of our past 41 years to continue protecting California’s farm workers, rural low-wage workers, and migrant families’ rights and access to legal justice.
Please join us in assisting rural Californians access equal justice. Support like yours expands civic participation and helps to create a more just future for all Californians, regardless of their immigration and socioeconomic status.
THANK YOU DONORS + SUPPORTERS
CRLAF is ever grateful to our grantors, as well as individual supporters, without whom our work would not be possible. From the bottom of our hearts, thank you to all of those who gave throughout 2022. All gifts are directly invested into the communities we serve, expanding rural, migrant and mixed-status families' access to services and justice through legal action, advocacy, and education.