Farmworker Justice Statement: Our Dedication to Helping Farmworker Families Confront the Challenges of COVID-19

Farmworker Justice is collaborating with farmworker-serving organizations and many other organizations to help farmworker families confront the very serious challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.  We are gathering information and devising strategies to help farmworkers and their organizations advance solutions for the health and well-being of farmworkers, their children and their communities.

FJ has a long history of working on health, occupational safety, labor and immigration issues using a diverse set of tools.  These tools include collecting, analyzing and disseminating information for farmworker-serving organizations and farmworkers themselves; policy and legal analysis and advocacy; training and technical assistance; corporate social responsibility initiatives; public education; and coalition-building.  All these tools and more are needed now.

There are about 2.5 million farmworkers in the U.S., not including their spouses and children.  Farmworkers are not alone in the threats they face from the COVID-19, but they are among the most vulnerable.  Farmworkers often are in unique circumstances that cause them to be especially vulnerable during public health crises.

Farm work ranks among the most dangerous jobs in terms of deaths and injuries, while also remaining among the lowest-paid occupations in the nation.  Fringe benefits such as paid sick leave or health insurance are rarely offered.  Federal and state labor laws often discriminatorily exclude agricultural workers from basic protections.  Farmworkers often live in crowded, unsafe housing in isolated geographic areas.  And a majority of farmworkers are undocumented immigrants. All of these factors exacerbate the potential impact of public health crises on the farmworker community.

The current COVID-19 crisis highlights the inadequacies and the inextricable links between our broken health care and immigration systems.  In addition, the nature of farm work means that telecommuting is not an option and there are serious limits to social distancing and other mitigation measures.

The many concerns farmworker families face regarding COVID-19 include the following:

•          Lost work and lost wages and the serious consequences that follow

•          Lack of unemployment compensation

•          Lack of health insurance/ inability to become insured

•          Lack of access to health care

•          Lack of childcare

•          Lack of adequate education and nutrition programs when schools close

•          Unsanitary, crowded housing and the risk of losing housing due to job loss

•          Lack of paid sick leave

•          Impacts of the broken immigration system

•         lack of immigration status for a majority of farmworkers

•         threats of immigration enforcement

•         uncertainty regarding the H-2A agricultural guestworker program

•         closing of U.S. consulates’ visa processing

•          Lack of access to accurate, timely, information in appropriate languages

•         Stress and anxiety and lack of mental health resources

Farmworker Justice will continue its efforts to help farmworkers confront these and many other challenges.  As this crisis evolves, we will also provide updated information and resources.

Our staff is following CDC guidelines to keep themselves, families and co-workers safe; we are all telecommuting.  We are thinking of all the farmworker families we serve, our many collaborators and our supporters, at this difficult time.

Thank you for your support.

Read moreFarmworker Justice Statement: Our Dedication to Helping Farmworker Families Confront the Challenges of COVID-19

Statement by Farmworker Advocates on COVID-19 and the Risks to Farmworkers

Statement on COVID-19 and the Risks to Farmworkers

The undersigned organizations represent the interests of the estimated two to three million farmworkers who are employed throughout the United States. Farmworkers feed the world through their labor, bringing fruits, vegetables and other crops to homes across the nation. Their work is critical, yet they and their work have not been properly valued. Farmworkers earn poverty wages, work under substandard conditions and face a myriad of health and other issues due to their living and employment conditions.

Given this reality and the onset of the global COVID-19 pandemic, we are gravely concerned about the health and welfare of the farmworker community, their families and the security of our entire food supply. While political leaders are swiftly taking measures in order to contain the outbreak, slow the spread of the virus and save lives, decisions are being made that have an impact on the lives and livelihoods of workers, including farmworkers.

Among these, measures have been taken to close schools, businesses and international borders to address this health crisis. We are grateful for all of those who are addressing this issue at all levels of government, not to mention those who are on the frontlines battling it. It is our hope that as these plans are being devised, farmworkers are not forgotten or left behind. To this end, we seek to raise concerns around some of the risks to the farmworker community should sweeping policies be enacted or procedures adopted without care to the unique concerns of differing communities.

We feel that it is urgent to raise some of the pressing issues here.


While farmworkers are susceptible to the COVID-19, as with the general population, there are unique health considerations to account for, including:

● Many farmworkers often lack access to handwashing facilities with soap and water at work, making it difficult for them to routinely wash their hands as is necessary to prevent contracting or spreading of the virus.

● Farmworkers often move and work in groups, and travel in vehicles with large numbers of workers, making the social distancing requirements difficult, if not impossible, to comply with.

Access to Medical Care

Farmworkers often lack access to preventative medical assistance, health insurance and medical treatment:
● If farmworkers become ill with the COVID-19, there is concern that there are insufficient funds to provide the necessary treatment.

● Farmworkers may not have the financial resources to seek medical attention or insurance to cover the costs of their care.

● Farmworkers may not live near or have access to transportation to get them to a medical facility.

● If they are able to seek medical attention, farmworker community members may confront language barriers that make it difficult for them to get the care they need.


Farmworker housing conditions pose another concern and risk factor for potential transmission and spread of the COVID-19 within the farmworker community, especially for workers who are living in farmworker labor camps, shared dwellings and for those who are homeless. The close proximity of individuals in overcrowded dwellings is of deep concern:

● Despite the fact that there are existing housing regulations that dictate the dwelling conditions for farmworkers, particularly migratory workers, farmworkers across the nation live in homes that are overcrowded, sometimes with multiple inhabitants sleeping and living in one room.

● Many farmworkers share bathing, restroom and cooking facilities among multiple, unrelated workers.

● Some farmworkers even lack potable water, bathing facilities and soap in camp housing.

These conditions could easily give way to the spread of the COVID-19 and could potentially result in transmission to dozens and, potentially, hundreds of workers at one camp or facility. While we are concerned about the health risks to farmworkers and their families, farmworkers also play an important role in food safety and seek the education, training and protections needed to assure the safety of our food supply.


Layoffs due to business disruptions, quarantines, illness, and stay-at-home or isolation orders from city, state or federal officials could have immense financial consequences for the farmworker community:

● Farmworkers, unlike other professionals, are not afforded the same safety nets that would permit them to miss a day, let alone multiple weeks, of work.

● Most farmworkers are not entitled to unemployment benefits, and therefore, unemployment insurance is an unrealistic option for workers whose employers may be forced to shut down on a short- or long-term basis.

● Where state or local governments issue orders to stay at home but contain exceptions for agricultural workers to produce our food, there should be special consideration of the risks that such decisions of the government pose to farmworkers and their family members.

● Workers who become sick or have to care for a sick relative do not have paid leave to allow them to care for themselves or their loved ones.

● Even where paid leave laws are in place, there is concern that these laws will not be enforced.

● Workers lack guarantees that will help ensure that they maintain their jobs if they are forced to take time off for illness or to care for sick family members.

● Some farmworker-serving programs receive funds to run employment centers for workers. Federal funding guidelines require them to stay open and in operation, which poses a risk to the workers applying for jobs, as well as those who work at the employment centers.

● Farmworkers who receive Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) financial benefits for their families are required to show that they are applying for jobs, which means that many of them regularly visit employment centers in person to apply. Large numbers of workers visit these centers daily, placing the job applicants, as well as the job center employees at potential risk.

For farmworkers, missing a day of work or an entire paycheck could mean the difference between being able to feed their families or go hungry, despite the fact that their work brings food to family tables across our nation.

Education and Childcare

Like families across the nation, farmworker parents are concerned about school and childcare closures:

● If schools and childcare centers are closed, there is a strong possibility there will be no childcare available to support working parents. Migrant and Seasonal Head Start (MSHS) centers, a federally-funded program established in 1969 across 38 states, are being asked to close their doors despite parents’ continued need to work in the fields. Program closures leave nearly 20,000 families and 30,000 children without guaranteed access to educational early care, important nutritional needs, and healthcare needs.

● Few families have the financial means to pay for quality, alternative childcare, which may be limited in rural communities.

● Failure to have viable childcare options will require parents to miss work in order to care for their children, which will result in less income for the family.

● If one parent is forced to stay home from work, this will likely result in an unbalanced negative impact on farmworker women, who are likely to bear the brunt of these childcare responsibilities.

● Single parents may be at a loss for childcare options altogether, either resulting in forced time away from work or making the decision to choose alternative, unregulated child care arrangements that may be inferior and dangerous.

● A particular concern is that parents might feel compelled to take their children to work with them in the fields, which could result in exposure to the virus, pesticides and other treacherous conditions.

Immigration and Migration

The large majority of America’s farmworkers are immigrants; they work hard to achieve the American Dream but are often living and working in difficult circumstances. More than half of farmworkers in our nation are undocumented, and many live in mixed-status families and communities. Our broken immigration system presents a threat to farmworkers’ health and safety:

● Undocumented or farmworkers living in mixed-status families may be afraid to seek medical attention if they become ill for fear of immigration action against them and their families.

● There is a risk that undocumented farmworkers or workers who are working in the US on an H-2A guestworker visa may not qualify for stimulus aid, health or other kinds of insurance that may become available to aid those who are impacted by this illness.

● At present time, it is unclear as to whether guest worker visas may be revoked and workers returned to their countries of origin prior to the end of their contract, not to mention whether incoming workers will be permitted to fulfill contracts that they have been recruited for given the current situation.

● There are concerns that restrictions might be placed on ground travel, either through the potential for a state or national quarantine, which would make it impossible and, potentially even unlawful, for farmworkers to migrate to follow the agricultural stream for work.

Violence and Exploitation

Farmworkers already face high rates of violence and exploitation at work, including gender-based violence and labor exploitation:

● The existing circumstances related to the pandemic are ripe for both violence and exploitation against farmworkers due to the increased levels of stress, anxiety and feelings of helplessness, coupled with the overall vulnerability of this population.

● Domestic violence, sexual violence and human trafficking are all real threats against farmworkers during this time of instability.

● Labor recruiters or contractors might feel more empowered to cheat workers out of their wages or commit other violations against them because they know that workers are desperate to keep their jobs, particularly when so much financial instability exists.

While the list of concerns related to the COVID-19 and its potential impact on the farmworker community is lengthy, there are also solutions that exist to limit the impact that this virus could have on farmworkers, their families, consumers and other community members. Even though farmworkers have been denied many of the basic protections afforded to other workers and workforces in the past,1 political leaders must take into account the ongoing and emerging needs of the farmworker community. These priorities must be considered as protocols, policies and programs are being developed to create an all-community plan to address, curb and end the COVID-19 pandemic.


Justice for Migrant Women

Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs

Farmworker Justice

League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC)

MAFO, A National Partnership of Farmworker & Rural Organizations

Migrant Legal Action Program

National Farmworker Ministry

National Migrant & Seasonal Head Start Association

PCUN, Oregon’s Farmworker Union

United Farm Workers Foundation


1 The exclusion of farmworkers from labor protections is a shameful, racist legacy of the Jim Crow era. Because of a compromise made by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1938 to get Southern segregationist legislators to support his New Deal, agricultural and domestic workers – who at the time were primarily black workers – were intentionally carved out of federal labor laws. Today, decades later, the only thing that has changed is the demography of our nation’s farmworkers. They are now primarily Hispanic (83%), but, like the primarily black farmwokers of the 1930s, they are still marginalized people of color.



Read moreStatement by Farmworker Advocates on COVID-19 and the Risks to Farmworkers

Farmworker Justice Statement on Vote to Approve Agricultural Worker Immigration Bill by House Judiciary Committee


Farmworker Justice Statement on Vote to Approve Agricultural Worker Immigration Bill by House Judiciary Committee

Farmworker Justice appreciates the markup and the vote by the House Committee on the Judiciary on November 21 to support passage of the Farm Workforce Modernization Act of 2019, HR 5038.  We thank the Committee Chair, Rep. Nadler, for the markup of this important bill regarding our agriculture and food system.

Farmworker Justice is grateful to Rep. Lofgren, Chair of the Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship, and Rep. Newhouse, as well as additional colleagues, for the extensive efforts they made to engage with Farmworker Justice, the United Farm Workers, the UFW Foundation, major agricultural employer organizations and other stakeholders to arrive at a compromise that garnered widespread support.  As the diverse viewpoints expressed during the markup demonstrated, achieving agreement required extraordinary effort and skill.

This legislation recognizes the important contributions of farmworkers to our nation’s food and agriculture systems.  An estimated 2.4 million people labor on our farms and ranches to provide us with fruits, vegetables, milk and other food.  Roughly half of farmworkers lack authorized immigration status.  Undocumented farmworkers and their family members live in fear of arrest, deportation and the breakup of their families. In these circumstances, many farmworkers are reluctant to challenge illegal or unfair treatment.  At times, they cannot go to work due to the presence of immigration enforcement agents.  The country’s farms and our food system depend on immigrants, both documented and undocumented, and reform is long overdue.

The Farm Workforce Modernization Act bill provides a path to lawful permanent residency for undocumented farmworkers and their family members.  Removing the threat of immigration enforcement would reduce the stress on farmworker families and the disruptions of farming businesses. Legal status would help  farmworkers improve their wages and working conditions.  These improvements would result in a more stable farm labor force and greater food safety and security. The earned legalization program’s requirements are more rigorous and expensive than we would have preferred, but are acceptable to achieve a realistic compromise,

The bill also would revise the existing H-2A agricultural guestworker program to address farmworker and employer concerns with the program.  The bill includes important new protections for farmworkers, as well as numerous changes to address agricultural employers’ concerns.  Compromise was necessary to achieve legislation that could become law and address serious harms imposed on farmworker families by our broken immigration system.

Farmworker Justice appreciates the Judiciary Committee’s vote in favor of the Farm Workforce Modernization Act of 2019 because the bill, if passed, would enable hundreds of thousands of farmworker families to improve their living and working conditions and their participation in our economy and democracy.

Farmworker Justice   November 21, 2019

Farmworker Justice Statement on Dream and Promise Act

For Immediate Release                                       Contact: Bruce Goldstein, Farmworker Justice

May 21, 2019                                                          202-800-2521

Farmworker Justice Statement on Mark-up of “Dream” and “Promise” Legislation

(Washington, DC)   Tomorrow (May 22), the House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to mark-up two important pieces of legislation:  H.R. 2820, the “Dream Act of 2019” and H.R. 2821, the “American Promise Act of 2019.” These two bills are based on the “Dream and Promise Act of 2019,” H.R. 6.

Together, they would provide immigration protections and a pathway to citizenship for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) recipients.

Farmworker Justice President Bruce Goldstein stated: “It is imperative that Congress pass legislation securing permanent protections for Dreamers, TPS holders, and DED recipients. By eliminating the constant fear of deportation, this legislation would reduce the stress placed on them and their families and empower them in their workplaces, including our nation’s farms and ranches.”

Farmworker Justice has endorsed this important legislation as one step toward fixing our broken immigration system. Farmworker Justice will continue its efforts to win a path to citizenship for all aspiring Americans, including undocumented farmworkers and their family members.  A majority of farmworkers are undocumented immigrants.

Farmworker Justice is a national advocacy organization for farmworkers with over thirty-five years of experience serving the farmworker community regarding immigration and labor policy.

For more information, contact Bruce Goldstein at 202-800-2521 or

Read moreFarmworker Justice Statement on Dream and Promise Act