Immigration policy greatly impacts farm workers. Over half of the current farm worker labor are immigrants and the majority are undocumented. Current immigration policy is inadequate and leaves many farm workers vulnerable to abuse, substandard working conditions and depressed wages. Criminalizing immigrants leaves many farm workers living in constant fear of detention, deportation and being separated from their families. Immigration reform must include pathways to citizenship for workers.
Guest worker programs like H-2A are not new to U.S. policy and practice. The Bracero Program (bracero is one who works with their arms – manual labor) (1942-1964) invited workers from Mexico to come work in the fields to fulfill the demand of agriculture work during WWII and beyond. The guest worker programs allow immigrants to enter the country with limited documentation for 10 months or less and ties the worker to that particular employer. The Bracero Program became known for abuse and exploitation. A U.S. Department of Labor officer in charge described the Bracero program as a system of “legalized slavery”. Even when Congress and other federal agencies have tried to protect workers through labor law requirements they have not had any impact. Workers are often afraid to report as their invitation to work the next season is dependent upon that employer.
During the 1986 immigration reform 1.1 million Mexican farm workers gained legal status. The expectation was that authorized farm workers would force growers to improve wages and working conditions. Yet the Agricultural Industry did not change and many workers moved out of farm labor. Growers needed a continuous source of cheap labor so they turned to farm labor contractors to provide mostly undocumented immigrant labor.
1994 The U.S., Canada and Mexico entered into the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The flood of cheap subsidized U.S. corn caused the price of the crop to fall 70% in Mexico. This had a significant impact on Mexicans as corn in a staple of the Mexican diet many Mexican farmers grow corn. Many Mexican small farmers were unable to compete the with subsidized imports and over 200 million small farmers in Mexico lost their livelihoods. During this period there was an increase in immigration from Mexico for economic needs.
The culmination of criminalizing immigrants and lack of pathways to citizenship for immigrants have left farm workers with fear of migrating and fear of detention, deportation and separation from their families.There are fewer immigrants to do the work and agriculture labor shortage is becoming a reality.
The Agricultural Workers Program Act (“Blue Card” Bill) would help address the current immigration crisis in agriculture by providing experienced farm workers with a path to temporary immigration status, followed by an opportunity to earn lawful permanent residency through continued work in agriculture. The bill is important for farm workers because it alleviates the constant fear of detention and deportation and allows families to stay together. This bill would also ensure a stable workforce for employers and a secure and safe food system for consumers.
As people of faith and conscience who believe in the idea of caring for your neighbor, whoever that is, farm workers are our neighbors and community members and their work should be honored because they literally feed us.
- Immigration Reform
- Agricultural Workers Program Act “Blue Card” Bill
- “Blue Card” Bill Infographic in English from United Farmworkers
- “Blue Card” Bill Infographic in Spanish from United Farmworkers
- Farm Workers & Dreamers
Join United Farmworkers in supporting the Agricultural Workers Program Act