LatinaLista — When it comes to the statement: Undocumented migrants do the work Americans won’t do, there’s no industry that better exemplifies this than the agriculture industry. As a matter of fact, while all other industries struggle to prove that they hire undocumented labor because they can’t find anyone else who wants to work for them, the nation’s growers have been relatively free to hire undocumented labor without being worried about getting busted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Guest farmworkers keep American food chain g(r)owing.
It’s because of the H-2A temporary foreign agricultural worker program that allows agricultural employers to bring in foreign citizens on temporary visas to work on the nationâ€™s farms and ranches.
While the program would seem like a godsend, and it really is, because, well, who does enjoy hours in the elements doing backbreaking work, it’s a program that is not a win-win situation but rather win-abuse.
It’s long been known that some growers abuse the system, at the same time abusing their workers of whom are both citizens and immigrants. It seems these same growers have an ally in the White House.
The Bush Administration has been quietly busy getting ready to make major changes to the H-2A program:
In February of 2008, the Department of Labor (DOL) announced plans to weaken government oversight, minimize recruitment obligations inside the U.S., lower wage rates, reduce housing requirements and worker protections, and cause other harm to both domestic and foreign farmworkers. The Administration is about to finalize these changes, perhaps with some modifications, and, in doing so, will make a bad program even worse.
What happens if these changes take place?
These changes, not surprisingly, turns more control, oversight and interpretation of the law into the hands of employers who are already striving to pay low wages, house workers in unsanitary and unsafe housing, and retain a level of abusive control over their workers that dictate their movements, work productivity and earnings.
Because the Department of Labor has been reluctant to comply with its obligations the H-2A
program, farmworker advocates have had no choice but to conduct their own investigations. In
order to obtain information about available jobs and ensure that employers are offering legal
wages and working conditions, farmworker advocates have been asking the DOL to publicize the
names of employers using the H-2A guestworker program and the details of their job offers.
In the past, farmworkersâ€™ organizations have had access to such information in order to inform
US workersâ€™ about open jobs and prevent both domestic and foreign workers from being
subjected to illegal wages and other job terms. This Administration has become secretive,
however, refusing to release information or releasing it only after it is too late to prevent DOL
from approving illegal wages and working conditions and too late to help US workers obtain the
Now, the natural assumption is that these workers would fight back, and some do â€” those who are U.S. citizens. Those who are brought in as guestworkers are too afraid to lose their jobs or not be invited back the following year if they challenge the abusive practices of these employers. So, they endure it and say nothing and hope that things will change.
But with an ally in the White House, it’s highly unlikely.
The “Bush bailout” for the agricultural industry certainly invites rampant abuse of these foreign workers without them being entitled to any legal or humanitarian recourse. In other words, the changes proposed by the Bush Administration to the current H-2A program ensures that slavery will be alive, well and thriving in the 21st Century.
The farmworker advocacy group Farmworker Justice released the report, LitanyofAbuseReport12-09-08.pdf â€” detailing what Congress needs to do to stop this kind of abuse that will be legal once the Bush Administration passes them.
Yet, on this 60th anniversary of Human Rights Day, it’s time to remember that it’s everyone’s responsibility to stand up for the rights of these farmworkers and demand from the White House and our congressional representatives that just because these people work in the fields picking our food, it doesn’t mean that their labor should be considered less valued than those in other industries.
After all, if they didn’t pick it, we wouldn’t eat.