Not In My Name

I just read an item that states the Obama Administration’s Department of Homeland Security initiated deportations of nearly 400,000 people over the last fiscal year, the largest number in history.  I suspect many people across the country will read that information with a sense that something positive is finally being done to address the issue of the 11 million estimated undocumented people living in the United States. They will think that the deported people are serious criminals who deserve at the least deportation or maybe even worse treatment.

I would urge people to consider the fact that in the world of agricultural work, nothing could be farther from the truth. Here are some facts and impressions that may give a fuller picture of what is being done by our government in our name.

First, it is estimated that a strong majority of the people who perform farm work for a living in the United States are undocumented. In general, this million+  group has come here because they were so desperately poor in their country of origin (usually, Mexico or a Central American country) that they risked their small savings and their health and safety to illegally cross the southern border into the United States. Once here, they began to work in the only job easily open to them: the preparation and harvesting of crops, the same food we eat every day.

The work they do is incredibly hard and hazardous. Agriculture is consistently ranked by the U.S. Department of Labor as one of the three most dangerous industries in America, along with mining and construction. Farmworkers are contingent workers, that is, they work as they are needed. They seldom have employment contracts or guarantees; as soon as the crop is prepared or harvested they are let go. They only are paid for the time they work: when the weather doesn’t permit them to work, they do not get paid. There is virtually no such thing as sick or vacation days in most situations (union workers excepted).They have no federal guarantee of unemployment insurance, worker’s compensation, or extra pay for overtime.

For their work, they are often paid at the minimum wage. At times they may be compensated at a much higher rate, but usually only for the short duration of the harvest, and then they experience periods of unemployment. Frequently, they must travel long distances to get to the next harvest. Working from dawn to dusk, often in incredibly hot weather, they stoop over picking produce, hauling heavy buckets, performing all the back-breaking work necessary to feed America.  Because of the scant income they earn, their living conditions are among the worst of any rural population and they frequently can’t afford to buy the fruits and vegetables they’ve worked to pick.

Given these facts, is it surprising that few American-born people choose to work regularly in the fields? Is it surprising that more than half of our country’s agricultural workers are undocumented? No, but it is surprising that they are receiving the brunt of this country’s anger at the results of our broken immigration policies.

I have met many undocumented farmworkers. Most those I have met have lived and worked here for many years. Some came over with their families as very young children. Now they have children of their own, most of whom were born in America and are citizens of this country.

Want to know the biggest fear these hardworking people have? That they will be picked up by the Department of Homeland Security and taken to detention while their children are in school or Head Start centers and their children will be in state custody by the end of the day. Not because they were abused, neglected, or abandoned, but because their parents are considered a big enough threat to social peace that they must be immediately removed. In fact, these folks are among the most law-abiding people of this country, if for no other reason than they fear being arrested. Even the most minor offense can result in deportation proceedings.

Recently, the Obama Administration announced it would prioritize deportations so that scarce resources are devoted to those undocumented immigrants who have committed crimes. However, they made no commitment to reducing deportations or halting the detention of farmworkers and other immigrant workers. In fact, reports on the ground indicate no let-up of the harassment and targeting of rural Latino farmworkers.  According to a report that was issued yesterday, 93% of those deported are Latino, yet they make up a much smaller percentage of the undocumented.

I don’t know about you, but I cannot imagine waking up every day not knowing if I will see my children at the end of the day, or ever again. All I can think of when I hear these parents describe their fears is, “Wait a minute! This is the United States of America. We nurture families; we don’t separate them unless the children are in danger from their own parents.”

Do we really want to continue to terrorize the people who are living and working here, doing the hard work that helps us get our fresh food, at a pay rate that no American native-born will accept?

I don’t think we do, and I certainly don’t want this going on in my name.


About David Strauss, AFOP's Executive Director

David A. Strauss has actively advocated for America’s farmworkers and served AFOP member agencies as the Executive Director since 2000. In addition to his role as the Executive Director, David is also on the steering committees of the Child Labor Coalition and the National Farmworker Alliance, as well as a member of the Board of Directors of the East Coast Migrant Head Start Project. David has a Master of Arts in public administration and a B.A. in political science. He and his family live in Rockville, Maryland.
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9 Responses to Not In My Name

  1. John E. Menditto says:

    Absolutely brilliant, David. Thank you for sharing the truth migrant farm worker families must endure.

  2. David, thank you for your articulate, heartfelt and accurate depiction of the institutionalized injustice and degradation of a productive and essential workforce that has been unmercifully devalued beyond measure by the zealot nationalists who arrogantly believe they own the truth for what is best for our country.

  3. Ron Melancon says:

    i know David Strauss as a fellow Board Member of ECMHSP, but also as a fellow citizen of our country, an immigrant nation, founded by desperate immigrants, nurtured by immigrants from all parts of the world, enhanced by immigrants who developed 50% of the Fortune 500 enterprises, and now depend on immigrants to give us vegetables and other services. His advocacy for ur HeadsStart childrennd families is what I expect from my colleauge and frieng.

  4. Luis Esparza says:

    I agree with you .
    Luis Esparza

  5. Kari Hogan says:

    I would also have to add to the fact that most of the Mexican immigrants that have come to work in our country to do farm work is due the fact that the United States has put them out of business in their own country. If you do the research you will find that many of our farmworkers had their own farms in Mexico where they raised corn and hearty strains of corn. Because of big American Agri-business we have literally put them out of business, flooded the market and they can no longer make a living in their own country doing what they do best. So now they come to AMERICA to do the work that our own citizens won’t do, because of the back breaking labor and low wages.

    Unfortunately our food does not come from a Store, it comes from the many fields across this country and others, but someone has to pick it before it can be disbursed and distributed. We talk about why people come to the USA, and the American Dream, but for this population it is just to SURVIVE each day and send money back to the family that lives in even more dire situations.

    Take the time and read about the corn industry and how we took jobs away from a very viable industry in Mexico and now there are consequences, by Ann Lopez.

  6. Carby says:

    I so agree. Although we may know and understand a lot of what you say, it still needs to be brought up (and brought out) as often as possible because it seems it is the only way to instill it in some people……….Thank you…….

  7. Kari Hogan says:

    I wanted to extend information on the book by Dr. Ann Aurelia Lopez – “The Farmworkers Journey” It is the book that I referenced above in regard to putting Mexican workers out of work when NAFTA was set in place and large American Agri-business began flooding the corn market.

    This book talks about the dark side of economic globaliztion and gives an insider’s view of the migrant farmworkers circuit that stretches from the west-central Mexico country-side, all the way to California. This book give insight to the voices of farmworkers and their families, along with up-to-date research that portrays a world of inescapable proverty that is hidden from most Americans.

    It tells of the lives that are affected by agricultural and trade policies, migration, and the dehumanization of farmworkers. It is a blend of academic research and testimonials of people who have been directly affected by the powerful market forces that have been unleashed in trade liberation.

    It talks about the human instict for survival associated with placing food on the table of U.S. residents and their own tables, and how that survival has affected so many individuals and the shame we have brought on ourselves in the injustices we have caused as a nation to a people. It discusses the health issues, the trials and tribulations, and social relationships that keep people beholden to the land in both Mexico and the United States.

    Her revelation on how agribusiness is subsidized by the sacrifices of farmworker families should substantially moderate the hysterical voices that miltate against the need to address the issue of undocumented workers as behooves a democracy.

    (the above information was taken directly from Dr. Ann Lopez Book “the farmworkers journey”).

    Her message to me when she signed my book was ” Please join me in creating justice for farmworkers”. I think it about time we all did just that. Let your voice be heard.

  8. Rita Garcia McManus says:

    Rita McManus
    Thank you Dave for sharing this with the world.

  9. Patrick Martinez says:

    Very eloquent and also shows the amount of disinformation prevalent in reports to the nation but also to our legislators. Thanks David.

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