Established by Congress in the Immigration and Nationality Act, the H-2A visa program allows employers to hire foreign workers to perform agricultural labor when there are not enough qualified and available U.S. workers to fill open jobs. The program is primarily administered by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) and affects a substantial number of workers. For example, in Fiscal Year 2018, DOL approved 242,000 H-2A jobs.
In 2017, the White House established an Interagency Working Group to identify issues under the H-2A program. The Interagency Working Group appears to have included the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of State, and DOL, and apparently was led by the Secretary of Agriculture—Sonny Perdue. The Interagency Working Group appears to have primarily spoken with farm owners, with the help of agricultural business trade associations, in reviewing the H-2A program.
On April 20, 2018, Farmworker Justice submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to USDA for records related to this Interagency Working Group. Farmworker Justice repeatedly followed up with the agency about the status of the FOIA request and the production of responsive records but did not receive a determination or any records from USDA.
With Public Citizen Litigation Group as co-counsel, Farmworker Justice filed a lawsuit in June 2019 challenging USDA’s failure to respond to its FOIA request in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. After the lawsuit was filed, USDA agreed to a production schedule and began producing responsive records each month.