FJ Blog

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

"When we began our first interview, Demetrio seemed a little detached. He answered yes or no to most of our questions; however, when we began asking more about his family, we saw his eyes tell a different story. Demetrio told us that his wife was expecting his third child. The baby was due in two weeks so he wouldn’t be able to be there for his son’s birth and in fact wouldn’t be able to meet his son until November when his son would already be 5 months old. 

During our second interview, Demetrio showed us pictures of his newborn son who still doesn’t have a name. He seemed proud and sad at the same time. We asked about what he wondered and at first, he said he didn’t ask himself or wonder anything, but after we explained the prompt again and gave a few examples, he said he wondered everyday if the rest of his life would be like this, separated and away from his family. The room felt dense, almost like you could feel the weight that he carries. It’s not just that he has to miss big and important family moments like the birth of a child, but it’s knowing everyday his children are growing up, trying new things and learning about themselves and the people that they want to become, while he’s not there to see or influence it."

Excerpt from Student Action with Farmworkers’ (SAF) blog on the theme separation of families by Catherine Crowe, 2015 SAF Fellow.

When we talk about separation of families in the immigration context we often mean the harsh immigration enforcement machine that deports one parent and leave the rest of the family behind. Or the fact that millions of undocumented immigrants in the US are unable to return to their country of origin to visit their loved ones. This fear is a daily reality for the majority of farmworkers who are undocumented. But Demetrio’s story illustrates another type of family separation. Demetrio has an H-2A visa for temporary agricultural workers. Many H-2A workers spend up to 10 months in the US every year away from their families. Sheepherders on H-2A visas stay for 3 years before returning home for a short duration.

H-2A workers typically come to the United States without their families. Although technically H-2A workers may bring their spouse and/or minor children with them, in reality it doesn’t happen. H-2A workers live in employer-provided housing that is usually dormitory style and not appropriate for families, and it is unlikely that employers would allow workers to bring their families. Plus, for an H-2A worker to bring their spouse, he (it’s usually a he) would have to show that he can financially support her while they are in the US. Farmworkers wages aren’t high enough to meet this standard. Under the H-2A program, employers can and do discriminate based on a person’s age and gender and the result is that is a workforce composed almost exclusively of young men. (In the rare instances where there are crews of women, they are exclusively women as well.) As a result, even if a male and female couple wanted to work together on H-2A visas, it would be extremely challenging; and it is highly unlikely their children would be able to join them.

The H-2A program exploits economically desperate individuals. People should not have to choose between living with their family or feeding their family. In public discourse on policy proposals for the future flow for immigration reform, some people believe that many Mexican farmworkers just want to come here and work and then go home. But no one wants to be separated from his or her family. Proposals for harsh guestworker programs that treat workers as commodities should be rejected as inconsistent with America’s economic and democratic freedoms. Any needed future workers from abroad must be afforded the same legal rights as U.S. workers and should be given the opportunity to earn citizenship. Whether they chose to settle here or return to their country of origin at some point should be their choice. Immigration reform should be a stepping stone toward modernizing agricultural labor practices and treating farmworkers with the respect they deserve.

by Megan Horn
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Tuesday, 29 March 2016

The following is a guest blog by John Menditto, General Counsel and Director of Risk Management, East Coast Migrant Head Start Project.

For more than forty years, East Coast Migrant Head Start Project  has been celebrating and educating the farmworker child. What we have observed during these four decades of mission-driven work has remained remarkably consistent:

  • Farmworker parents deeply committed to the education of their young children;
  • Classroom teachers ready, willing, and able to prepare their young charges for success in the public school system;
  • School bus transportation staff with the skill and knowledge to safely navigate school buses down rural roads and into migrant labor camps to ensure children arrive at school on time;
  • Cooks able to prepare nutritious and delicious breakfasts and lunches for as many as 100 children each day; and
  • Collaborative partners who provide health, dental and nutritional services to help ensure that each child is able to do their best learning.

The consistency we have seen in our own program on the United States’ East Coast is a vision shared by Head Start agencies that serve farmworker families all across the nation. I have the privilege to work with many of these Head Start agencies through my Board service to the National Migrant & Seasonal Head Start Association and I can attest to the fact that the 30,000 farmworker children served through the Head Start program are receiving education and care of the highest quality.

But threats abound for farmworker families. Large agribusinesses and small family farmers have taken advantage of the agricultural temporary guestworker program (also known as the H-2A program) to displace farmworker parents working in the fields. Farmworker parents like Irma M. of Okeechobee, Florida, have shared with us that their employer now provides the best opportunities to harvest fresh fruits and vegetables to H-2A guestworkers. According to Irma, her employer has explained that he’s required by the H-2A guestworker program to keep his guestworkers busy, so her opportunities to work are limited to the months during the peak harvest season.

Other farmworker parents like William P. of Wauchula, Florida, have shared that they are unable to be involved in the Head Start program in the way they would like because they cannot afford to miss work for fear of appearing less dedicated than the temporary guestworkers who they work alongside. Temporary H-2A guestworkers leave their families behind when they come to the United States – they reside in the United States for one purpose: to work. This, of course, can be a boon to the agriculture industry, but it’s a bust for the farmworker parent who must choose between attending a Head Start parent engagement activity or his or her job working in the fields.

The other threat facing farmworker families is the threat of family separation. Farmworker parents came to the United States with the same hopes and dreams of all immigrants – but many of these farmworkers brought their hopes and dreams on the only path available to them: one that was not sanctioned by the United States government. As a result of our broken immigration system, thousands of farmworker parents entrust their United States citizen children to our care and head to their work in the fields, carrying with them the fear that this could be the day they were separated from their young children. Despite these looming threats, farmworker parents persevere. The farmworkers that I know tend to be my most generous and most gracious of friends. They are willing to take great risks and make great sacrifices so that their children will have opportunities in life that were never available to the farmworker. Lazaro S., a farmworker parent who migrates each year from Plant City, Florida to Faison, North Carolina, explained his motivation and the importance of education:

“It’s important for children to be able to learn, because they are just starting to grow. And we don’t want them to end up like us because we haven’t learned anything since we were very little. If children can start learning when they are little . . . that is the future of this country”

During National Farmworker Awareness Week, we celebrate farmworkers like Lazaro, Irma, and William, and we celebrate their young children: the future of this country.

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Sunday, 27 March 2016

On this day of National Farmworker Awareness Week we celebrate women in farmworker communities by showcasing the work of one of our community partners. Lideres Campesinas, a community organization founded and run by women, is based in Oxnard, CA. Lideres organizes committees of women and girls in farmworker communities across the state of California, harnessing the power of women to educate and advocate within their communities for fair and safe workplaces, women’s health, and youth programs, among other priority issues.

For the past two years, Farmworker Justice has partnered with Lideres Campesinas to engage the members of three committees as promotores de salud (community health workers) dedicated to the health and safety of farmworkers exposed to hazards on the job. As promotores de salud, the women share information about pesticides, heat illness, and field sanitation with others in their community. They explain how farmworkers can take simple steps to prevent injuries and illnesses. They also become resources within their communities, disseminating information about the right to a safe workplace and where and how workers can ask questions or report violations of their rights. Many of these women have become fixtures at community-wide and governmental meetings representing the interests of farmworkers.

We, at Farmworker Justice, are inspired by the amount of time and energy the founders, board members, staff, and volunteer members devote to the organization and their communities.

by Chelly Richards
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