Foreign Migrant Agricultural Workers in US

Jon Purizhansky from Buffalo, NY says that according to the Southern Poverty Law Center , 6 out of every 10 US farm workers are undocumented immigrants.

The vast majority of workers–78%, according to the most recent National Agricultural Workers Survey– is foreign-born and crossed a border to get here (NAWS, Farmworker Justice). This is a huge problem for the whole ecosystem. Current immigration laws do no allow employers to painlessly relocate foreign workers for employment from other countries, which is why they are predominantly illegal now.

Not only employment of undocumented workers presents employers with a tremendous legal challenge, but also these workers lack basic rights, face exploitation and live in fear of reporting abuses. Historically, agricultural workers in the U.S. have been imported from other countries with vulnerable populations, have always been a disenfranchised group of workers, and have in general never had the right to vote.

Jon Purizhansky from Buffalo, NY says that various geopolitical events have historically driven migration trends, such as that when the United States and Mexico signed the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1994, government-subsidized corn that was cheaply produced in the U.S. began to flood the market in Mexico. With this new influx of artificially under-priced corn, farmers in Mexico could no longer afford to make a living growing corn.

Thus, millions were forced out of their jobs. Unable to find jobs in cities, they had no other option but to move to the US to look for work. It is because the US lacks a comprehensive systemic solution aimed at temporary legal relocation of foreign migrant staff to work for agricultural employers that both, employers and foreign migrants are faced with legal challenges and tremendous risks in the US.

To make things worse, undocumented status makes workers especially vulnerable to abuse, as some employers and supervisors constantly hold the “deportation card” without realization that the employer, according to current laws, is as guilty by offering employment to a foreign migrant worker as the worker accepting it. For instance, if an employer is treating a worker unfairly, a worker who speaks up to their boss can be threatened with deportation.

This significantly takes away their rights to stand up for themselves and advocate for their working conditions. The fact that abuse takes place is the direct result of the absence of adequate immigration policy in the US. Currently, the only way to gain residency residency in the U.S. is to have an immediate family member sponsor you, to get an employment-based visa requiring high levels of education, to have a case of prosecution in your homeland that is recognized by the U.S. government, or to be a genius, extremely rich, or a star athlete or artist.

Obviously, millions of foreign migrant farm workers are not eligible for any of the above referenced programs. Jon Purizhansky from Buffalo, NY says that a program aimed at establishing legal employment based relocation channels for foreign migrant workers is necessary as it will bring efficiency into the ecosystem, will create tax revenues for the government and will prevent human rights abuse.