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Migrant women farmworkers toil in nation’s “crying fields” to harvest food for the American people

LatinaLista — When it’s said that undocumented immigrants do the jobs most Americans don’t want, there is one industry that is the poster child for that statement — the food industry.

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It is reported that six in ten of the nation’s farmworkers are undocumented migrants. Thanks to the work of United Farm Workers, we know the lives of migrants on farms and dairies and vineyards are far from easy and these workers are often exploited, abused, cheated and, in the case of women, sexually assaulted.

A sampling of the women interviewed for the Southern Poverty Law Center’s latest report.

A new report by the Southern Poverty Law Center sheds light on just how difficult are the lives of female migrant food industry employees.

Injustice on Our Plates: Immigrant Women in the U.S. Food Industry details the interviews of 150 undocumented women migrant farmworkers who recount their reasons for coming to the United States and their lives working to supply this nation with food.

They are economic refugees — pushed from their home countries by abject poverty, hunger and desperation. They’re pulled north by the alluring images in their heads of a bountiful country overflowing with opportunity — a meritocracy where one need only work hard to have enough food to eat and to provide decent clothes and shelter. They don’t come here expecting a handout.

Some find their American dream is little more than a mirage. Others, finding a modicum of success, are able to put their children on an upward path and help sustain their relatives back home. Many come to the U.S. for what they believe will be a temporary stay but find their plans to return home complicated by community ties, their desire to give their children the opportunity the U.S. offers and tighter border controls.

The report presents in-depth solutions to ensure the protection of these women who are knowingly hired by employers. Yet, none of these solutions will be effective unless Congress passes Comprehensive Immigration Reform.

That issue, in and of itself, is so contentious and massive that it’s not expected to be tackled anytime soon in Congress. Yet, one component that can be addressed before the year is out is the AgJOBS bill.

The AgJOBS bill brings undocumented farm labor from out of the shadows and into an arena where they can no longer be exploited, cheated or assaulted — at least, without penalty.

The women interviewed for this report tell remarkably similar stories of wage theft, sexual harassment, pesticide poisoning, unsafe working conditions and other abuses. Working for poverty wages, they’re ineligible for most government programs that benefit the poor. They typically receive no overtime pay, health care coverage, sick or vacation time, unemployment compensation, retirement plans or other job benefits that most Americans take for granted. Many farmworkers have no access to adequate water or shade to ward off heat stroke in broiling-hot fields. Many have no clean toilets or hand-washing facilities in the fields. They’re unable to complain or seek legal remedies for employer abuses. And they live in constant fear of being detected and seeing their families broken apart.


Despite our dependence on these undocumented workers, we allow this shameful exploitation to continue.

It is our responsibility to stop it.

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