Farm Laborers: Injustice in the Fields Immigrant workers come to America in search of a better life. However, when they arrive they are faced with numerous hardships: inability to speak English, discrimination, and unfair wages in the worst jobs available. Due to earning low wages, immigrants live in unacceptable housing conditions. Because of their illegal status in the United States, immigrants are constantly taken advantage of. In spite of the pain and suffering, field workers still work very hard to pick the fruits and vegetables American shoppers demand.
The legal status of farm laborers should not justify the unfair way they are treated; therefore, illegal laborers should receive fair wages and safer working conditions. The majority of migrant field workers are undocumented people who come from other countries illegally to work in the United States. The fact that they are undocumented makes them more vulnerable to be exploited by employers. Farm laborers fear deportation therefore making the, vulnerable to report abuse and exploitation by employers: they will tolerate abuse such as violence, harassment, rape, and underpayment.
They work very hard in America’s fields and at the end of the day, these migrant laborers do not receive the benefits they deserve because they were not born in this country. Professor of Economics in the University of Puerto Rico Maria Enchautegui reports that “the unauthorized are less likely to have health insurance, paid vacations, and paid sick days than any other immigrant group. They also have the highest portion earnings below $6 per hour” (111). Laborers are undercompensated, yet they are harvesting the fields that feed American families.
They are the unprotected workforce of the ation and they have no rights because they do not have legal status in the United States. Many people are opposed to migrant workers coming to America because they claim that they hurt the economy; however, the reality is that immigrants contribute greatly to our economy. Assistant Professor of Anthropology, Ruth Gomberg-Munoz argues that illegal workers are taxpayers as well as documented workers and they contribute millions of dollars annually to public services”(127). The government takes money out of their paychecks whether they are illegal or not.
Gomberg-Munoz also claims that illegal workers “are barred from using almost all government services including Social Security, Medicare, unemployment, federal housing programs, food stamps, Supplemental Security Income, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, most Medicaid Services, and the Earned Income Credit” (127). These people are paying for services inaccessible to them because they were not born in this country. The money is being taken out of their paychecks, so they should be allowed to utilize the public services they are paying for.
If the government does not allow immigrants to take advantage of the public assistance, money should not be taken out of their paychecks to pay for ir. Farmers, not wanting to deal with the growing cost of providing field workers with improved working conditions, argue that machinery will eventually replace workers in the fields that way production cost will be even lower and productivity will be higher. Replacing farm laborers is not realistic because machinery will damage the food and cost farmers a loss of profit.
Machinery will not do the delicate work laborers day-today. Farmers actually benefit from migrant farm workers to keep wages low. Anti-migrant workers also argue that immigrants take the jobs of American citizens. Yes, they do take jobs but they take the jobs that Americas do not desire because the pay is too little and the work is too intense. Migrant workers taking natives job is a benefit to natives because it pushes natives to pursue higher education therefore they are able to find better paying jobs with better working conditions.
Working conditions for migrant farm workers are inhumane. Field workers are exposed to hot climates and are forced to work without breaks even though the laws entitles workers to have ten minute breaks for every four hours worked. Farmers take advantage of the fact that immigrant field workers will not report the injustices for fear of deportation. When discussing farm labor, photojournalist, author, political activist and union organizer, David Bacon emphasizes “farm labor is very dangerous, with one of the highest rates of occupational injury” (32).
For the reason that farm labor is so dangerous, farmers must provide a safe environment for the workers because they are human beings and they deserve no less. Farmers must provide breaks that are more frequent when the weather is too hot and they must provide field workers with proper equipment when spraying fields with pesticides to avoid possible poisoning from exposure to harmful chemicals. The United States Government must enforce stricter laws to inspect agricultural businesses to make sure they are treating workers right.
When discussing change for the unprotected workforce Associate Professor of Chicano Studies and Urban Planning Abel Valenzuela Jr asserts that, “fair and humane immigration reform must include a path toward legalization, a policy shift and especially the immigrant rights movement. Without this employers will continue to exploit and abuse with impunity” (Valenzuela 29). In order to cause change, migrant workers must unite and rebel against the government. Farm workers must follow the footsteps of the Latino community’s hero Cesar Chavez.
Undocumented farm workers must unite to demand fair working conditions for the undocumented population. Migrant field workers will overcome adversities and demand fair wages through education. Natives must learn the English language in order to fight back for the injustices that they are put through by farmers. Children of farm workers often miss school because they are obligated to work with their parents to help make money to support the family. Situations like this must not happen because a child’s only obligation should be school.
It is very important that children of farm laborers become educated so they will break the cycle and strive for a better life. Patrick Belton, former aide to House Assistant Minority Leader Rose DeLauro and graduate student in International Relations at Yale, reports that “public education likely represents the only chance these children will ever have to move out of migrant life” (464). Nevertheless, educating parents on the importance of school for children can change this. Since illegal immigrants’ children are part of this country and our future, the education system must help them become educated.
Since illegal migrant workers are desperate to earn money to support their family, they are willing to work for almost any wage in any job available. Farmers are taking advantage of them because they realize that they will work for little money. The wages that farm workers are paid is little for the work they perform. Working in the fields requires strength and skill because the majority of the work they perform requires carrying heavy loads of produce and repetitive motions cutting the fruits and vegetables. Such hard work should pay more as “The median family income is $13,000 for an indigenous family.
Migrants who have just arrived earn about $7. 50 an hour, but even workers with many years in the fields still often earn less than $9. 00 (Bacon 32). Since migrant workers have no right to public housing, they are forced to live in inhumane living conditions. They often share homes with multiple families in order to save money. Multiple families are crowded into one house. Men, women, and children are forced to sleep on the floor, utilize the same kitchen, and use the same restroom. These living conditions are not sanitary. Some laborers live in their vehicles because they cannot afford any other place to live.
Others live in shacks without running water, electricity, and bathrooms. No human should be faced with the need to live in these types of conditions. Acceptable housing must be provided to immigrants. Discrimination is a hardship undocumented workers must face day-to-day. Illegal immigrants are not treated with respect because they were not born in this country. They are verbally abused often called ‘wetbacks’ and continually told to go back to Mexico and in worse case scenarios physically abused. Each person in this country deserves respect regardless of his or her citizenship or occupation.
Working in the fields is not a job to be ashamed of on the contrary a fieldworker should feel proud that because of their hard work the nation is being fed. The fact that a person was not born in the United States and does not have legal citizenship does not justify the unfair treatment undocumented workers experience of a daily basis. The undocumented community accepts this kind of treatment because they do not have a voice. Change must come for this community because they work hard and have the right to public services they are paying for.
This country attracts immigrants because they believe they will have ‘a better life’, but the reality is immigrants are at the bottom of population. Low wages, inhumane housing, and dangerous working conditions do not allow these people to make lives that are more suitable for themselves and their families. Undocumented migrant workers must have a fair chance of trying to succeed in this country, yet they are treated unfairly. Every person living in this country has the right to live the American dream, but instead undocumented migrant farm workers are living the American nightmare.