FJ Blog

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Several quality news articles in the past few weeks included stories that remind us of the hard work of the workers who plant, harvest and process our food. They also highlight challenges that farmworkers face as a result of poor wages and working conditions, inequality resulting from lack of immigration status and disempowerment in the political system, and structural racism.

As you plan, prepare and enjoy your Thanksgiving meal, here is some food for thought. Around 2.4 million farmworkers labor on US farms and ranches. According to 2011-12 data from the National Agricultural Workers Survey (NAWS), about 71% of farmworkers who work in crop production are immigrants. At least half, or 1.2 million farmworkers, are undocumented.

Farmworkers’ average total individual income (including farm and nonfarm work) is $15,000-$17,499. The average farmworker family’s total income is $17,500- $19,999. The federal poverty level for a family of 3 was $19,090 in 2012. Twenty-five percent of all farmworkers had a family income below the federal poverty line. However, because the survey results did not include dependents living outside of the United States, this number may not completely reflect the number of families living in poverty.

There is evidence that undocumented farmworkers make less than their documented coworkers, in part because the better jobs go to those with status, and in part due to the higher instances of wage theft that they experience. This must-read Guardian article, which profiles the US’s poorest border town, Colonia Muniz in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, describes the exploitation of undocumented workers there. The article features an undocumented farmworker, Theresa Azuara, a member of La Union del Pueblo Entero, (LUPE). Theresa describes an instance in which an agricultural employer didn’t pay her at all for two weeks of work. “She said she accepted exploitation as a part of the price of being in the US illegally until she started to attend meetings of [LUPE].”

The Desert Sun recently finished a 3 piece series titled “Death in the Sun” which profiles the large numbers of deaths and illnesses from heat stress in agriculture, the passage of the recent California heat stress legislation and advocacy to prevent heat stress illness.

On a lighter note, NPR’s morning edition is doing a series on the foods of the season and the people behind them. The first story profiles a farmworker, Jose Martinez, who migrates to pick apples in Pennsylvania. Jose’s children attend East Coast Migrant and Seasonal Head Start programs in the different locations where they live throughout the year.

This week’s story focuses on the sweet potato harvest. NPR interviewed a couple, Nabor Segundo and Rosalia Morales, who come to North Carolina from Florida for to work in sweet potatoes and tobacco. Nabor describes the arduous nature of picking sweet potatoes. Nabor and Rosalia also have children in the migrant head start programs.

There is a nice op-ed from our friends at CAUSE in Santa Barbara County, California, "Extend Gratitude to Farmworkers: The Food on our Tables is Picked by People Overworked and Underpaid."

Finally, an interview with “Eric Schlosser on the People Behind Our Food” in Civil Eats offers some solutions to people interested in supporting workers in the food system. Schlosser urges readers to support food workers by fighting for an increase in the minimum wage, support companies that are treating workers well and “fight against the demonization of immigrants in this country. Speak out against the demagogues who are trying to get votes by scapegoating some of the poorest and most hard-working people in the United States.” Farmworker Justice couldn’t agree more.

As you enjoy your Thanksgiving meal, honor all of the workers who made your meal possible. Farmworkers and other food sector workers deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. We therefore appreciate the food magazine, Bon Appétit, for encouraging its readers in its holiday giving article to assist farmworkers by donating to Farmworker Justice.

We appreciate your support for the work of Farmworker Justice. Our policy analysis, advocacy, litigation, education, training, public education and coalition-building empower farmworkers to build a brighter future.

Happy Thanksgiving!

by Megan Horn
(0 total comments)
Monday, 23 November 2015

Last week we celebrated rural health week. Keeping our rural communities healthy is key to building a stronger America. Farmworkers and their families are essential members of our rural communities, but they are among the most underserved when it comes to health care and health insurance. The men and women who harvest the fruits and vegetables that keep us healthy deserve to be healthy themselves.

Under the Affordable Care Act, gains have been made to increase health care access for farmworkers and their families. Health centers, community-based organizations, and others have undertaken vast efforts to educate and enroll farmworkers in health insurance. Most farmworkers who are eligible to purchase health insurance in the Marketplaces qualify for financial assistance to lower the cost of premiums. Some workers are newly eligible for Medicaid in states that expanded Medicaid eligibility. For those who are not eligible, education efforts provided new linkages to health care that may not have existed before. In addition, dedicated funding through the ACA enabled health centers to expand their services in rural communities.

Yet despite these gains, we must acknowledge that barriers and challenges persist. Due to various factors, including the seasonal nature of their work, the size of their workforce, and immigration status, many farmworkers do not have employer-provided health insurance or are ineligible for health insurance in the Marketplaces. Many farmworkers, the majority of whom are foreign born, receive inaccurate or confusing information about health insurance, ACA requirements, and tax credits. Further, applying for health insurance is a complicated process that requires the assistance of a navigator or in-person assister.

Open enrollment is happening now! We encourage advocates and others who work with farmworkers to connect with health centers and others providing enrollment assistance. Farmworkers and others in rural communities deserve full access to health care and health insurance. Farmworker Justice developed materials for farmworker families to help them understand the ACA and connect them to in-person assistance in their area. These materials can be downloaded from our website.  

by Alexis Guild
(0 total comments)
Friday, 20 November 2015

On One Year Anniversary of the President’s Executive Action, Immigrants Wait for Relief

On November 20, 2014, in response to strong organizing and calls for relief by the immigrants’ rights community, President Obama announced a series of administrative actions aimed at addressing our broken immigration system. Farmworker Justice is deeply disappointed that two key actions, the creation of the DAPA (Deferred Action for Parents of Americans) program and expansion of the DACA (expanded Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) program, remain in limbo. One year later, millions of potentially eligible families are still waiting for the relief that they need to live in peace, free from the fear of deportation, and to contribute more fully to their communities.

Today we moved one step closer to resolution of the Texas v. US lawsuit with the Department of Justice filing its petition for review in the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court may choose whether or not to review the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals decision upholding the district court’s injunction (order) blocking expanded DACA and DAPA. The Texas v. U.S. lawsuit against the Obama Administration’s DAPA and expanded DACA programs and the ensuing injunction reflects judicial intervention in a political dispute between the Executive Branch and states that disagree with the President’s immigration policy. Farmworker Justice believes the injunction was issued in error and that the ongoing delays perpetuate our terribly broken, inhumane immigration system and stop the federal government from exercising its proper authority. We commend the Department of Justice for its prompt action to seek review of this case in the Supreme Court and we hope the Court will swiftly accept and rule on the case. Farmworker Justice participated in an amicus curiae brief to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals and plans to do so for the Supreme Court case as well. We are optimistic that the Supreme Court will rule with the Administration.

DAPA and expanded DACA are vitally important to farmworker families, their communities and the agricultural system. Together, the programs could provide relief to an estimated 700,000 farmworkers and their family members. At least half the farm labor force is undocumented, which contributes to the low wages and labor abuses in the fields. With protection against the constant fear of deportation, farmworkers and other aspiring Americans will be empowered in their workplaces and communities.

Jaime Diaz’s story, published in a Miami Herald op-ed last year, provides just one example of a farmworker whose family could benefit from DAPA. Jaime and his wife have been cultivating and harvesting crops for some 20 years in the United States. With DAPA for Jaime and his wife, Jaime’s family would feel secure and his children would no longer have to fear the police as agents of family separation via deportation. Jaime and his wife and others like them feed us and benefit our economy; they deserve better.

Enforcement Priorities
One successful aspect of the administrative relief is the Department of Homeland Security’s memo that outlines new immigration enforcement priorities. Much work still needs to be done to make sure that the guidelines are followed by enforcement officers and careful consideration is given to exercise prosecutorial discretion in individual cases.

Administrative Action Needed to Curtail Retaliation Against Immigrant Workers

Farmworker Justice joins other allies in continuing to push for workers’ rights by supporting a roadmap to citizenship and urging the Administration to fulfill its goal of “protect[ing] all workers from exploitation and workers’ rights violations, regardless of immigration status.” To support the latter goal, President Obama’s administrative actions included the creation of the Interagency Working Group for the Consistent Enforcement of Federal Labor, Employment and Immigration Laws (“Interagency Working Group”).

The Interagency Working Group’s tasks include the important objective of “strengthen[ing] processes for staying the removal of, and providing temporary work authorization for, undocumented workers asserting workplace claims and for cases in which a workplace investigation or proceeding is ongoing.” While Farmworker Justice and other groups have participated in two stakeholder sessions, we still await concrete actions addressing these issues. Additionally, we hope that the Administration will issue memorandums of understanding between DHS and various federal and state government agencies, such as the NLRB, EEOC, and California’s ALRB.

We are disappointed at the lack of progress on these actions. Meanwhile, workers who seek to improve their working conditions continue to face threats of immigration enforcement in the workplace. In a meatpacking plant in Illinois, ICE conducted an investigation and raid while workers were in the midst of negotiating a new union contract. More about UNITE HERE!’s campaign on behalf of these workers can be found here.

Integral to democracy and human rights is the protection of all workers’ rights. And when some workers at an employer can be intimidated by threats of immigration enforcement, all workers at that employer can lose bargaining power. We urge the Obama Administration to use its remaining year in office to improve protections and establish clear procedures to encourage immigrant workers to exercise their workplace rights and ensure that they are protected from retaliation when they do so. This is extremely important in agriculture where the majority of workers are undocumented.

On this one-year anniversary of President Obama’s executive action on immigration groups across the country are engaged in actions to call for immigration relief and to make clear this is a battle that will continue until we have won immigration reform with a path to citizenship for the 11 million aspiring Americans. For more information on events in your area, please check the Alliance for Citizenship webpage:


by Megan Horn
(0 total comments)