Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Florida Farmworkers and Immigration

By Nezahualcoyotl Xiuhtecutli

The Farmworker Association of Florida is rooted in an immigrant community, although we are not all immigrants. A recent report compiled by Farmworker Justice noted that 31 percent of the US farmwork labor force consists of US citizens, while 21 percent are lawful permanent residents of the US. Farmworkers who migrate to the US do so for a variety of reasons that range from economic to security reasons. We also often forget how intricately entwined are countries and economies as a result of the expansion of global markets, geopolitics, and geographic distance, as well as our own history's painful relation with agricultural labor. Although the Farmworker Association of Florida is an organization that made up of Hispanic, Haitian, and African American farmworkers and their families, in this post I would like to bring to the reader's attention a little bit of the recent history that has created the conditions for an immigrant-reliant agricultural system in the United States along with conditions that have brought brought an immigrant farm workforce to Florida.

Imported Slave Labor
Beginning with the colonization of this continent, Europeans settling in what is now the US tried to tap into the labor required to grow the fruits and vegetables needed for the colonies' economic survival. Most everyone in the world knows the role that the chattel slavery had on the economic growth of the colonies and then independent United States, forcefully importing vast amounts of labor from the African continent and then through the reproduction of that population in the US. Given the scope and breadth of the enslavement of African peoples in America, little attention is sometimes paid to the attempts at enslaving the Native-American population that preceded that of African and African-Americans. Unfortunately for the colonists, Native-Americans knew the land too well, and found escape more feasible. African-Americans were new to the land and slavery was yet to take the brutal form it did in the late eighteenth and first half of the nineteenth centuries. Without the labor of those African-American people, the US would not have been able to take its agricultural production as it did, planting rice for export, as well as cotton and indigo which in turned fueled the textile industry.

National Endowment for the Humanities (

The point I wish to make here, is that since its inception, as a colonial enterprise, the US has promoted the idea that agricultural work is stoop labor not fitting to its citizens, thence the need to either import labor or find a local marginal workforce willing to do the work. As attitudes about citizenship and race have changed in the US, the agricultural workforce has also changed. Through most of our history, farmworkers were African-Americans. In the Twentieth Century we began to see a slight shift towards importing farm labor from south of the border and across the pacific. As time passes, those workers then begin feeling the need to stand up and speak out. They demand better treatment and protections. African-Americans even demanded an end to slavery. Radicals!

on July 26, the Trump Administration introduced a series of proposed changes to the H-2A agricultural guest worker program, which in effect expands it and shifts the burden on cost to the workers and decreases accountability for protections for growers. This approach continues the patterns of importing labor ignoring the fact that there is already a ready labor force in the United States that is already experienced and acclimatized to local working conditions. For example, in Florida, summer temperatures can climb to the 90°s F with a heat index reaching into the 100° F. Efforts to import a farmworking labor force continue to place farmworkers in the longstanding tradition of seeing agricultural work as stoop labor that is beneath the dignity of its citizens. In other words, farm work is not work that American workers do. Not coincidentally, workers were imported from Africa, Asia, and Latin America at different times in history, only to give that work to citizens who were not considered full citizens (Salas 2015). These new proposed changes also reduces accountability for growers by allowing several employers to hire one worker who can them take turns working at their different farms. In this situation, when a worker suffers from any of the excesses associated with farm work, such as heat-related illness or pesticide exposure it will be harder to ascertain which farm the worker was on when he became ill and leaves little room for consideration of the role that compounded effect of working on three different farms would have on workers.

As in the case of enslaved African-Americans, their presence as a labor force is only part of the story that can only be understood in the context of historical processes taking shape over decades and centuries. Often, they lie outside the control of anyone individual, but they do stem from the accrued consequences of an economic system that in its quest for profit slowly erodes social and economic checks on a population's well-being and commodifies their labor at the expense of their humanity.

Let's skip the first two hundred years of American labor history. We can discuss some of those processes in a later post. Now I want to focus exclusively in the current farmworking population of Florida, made up mostly of immigrant worker or their descendants from Mexico, Central America, and Haiti.

The North American Free Trade Agreement was sold to American people as an opportunity to sell American goods abroad. So was it sold to the Mexican business class. Most consumers saw the opportunity to buy imported goods at a more modest price. Before NAFTA, electronic equipment was two to three times higher than in the US. Most people looked forward to a new era for consumers and job opportunities. Not everyone bought it, though. The Tzotzil and Tzetzal people of Chiapas were not fooled, and organized an armed movement as the Ejercito Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (EZLN) on the same day NAFTA went into effect, January 1, 1994. Embedded in the fine print was the provision that allowed the US to export corn to Mexico, dumping its surplus into a saturated market. The price of corn plummeted and small growers were no longer able to grow corn. So it came to be that the country that had domesticated Zea maize had to import it.

With gratitude to

As small growers were no longer able to sell thee corn they grew, they turned to the other meager economic opportunities that were becoming available. NAFTA brought a flow of US maquiladoras along the US-Mexico border. Those jobs filled quickly and easily not only with machine operators but also professionals in design, marketing, and business administration. NAFTA for its part had achieved its first goal, to create an available and vulnerable work force. Those small growers who were no longer able to grow their own corn still had a skill not many people had. They knew how to work the land, and they could do it quickly. The guest worker program for agricultural workers often referred to as H-2A for the visa number with which workers enter the US, allowed some of them to offer the last thing they could offer, the fruit of their labor. Others were not so lucky, and the Bracero program had ended in the 1960s. They could stay home and enter the informal economy, which can take many forms, but the most prominent is of course, the drug trade, fueled in large part by consumption in the US. The ones who did decide to migrate to the US, did so so they could feed their families with an honest job.

US Invasions of Haiti
The most recent wave of Haitian immigrants came as a result of the devastating earthquake that shook the country in 2010. Many Haitians who could fled the country in the face the infrastructural collapse accompanied by the health hazards that broke out. At the time, the US granted those Haitian immigrants Temporary Protection Status (TPS). However, the shared history of the US and Haiti runs deeper than that.

At the time that Haiti began its struggle for independence, two other nations of the world were likewise struggling to break off the yoke of oppression. One of them was the United States, the other one was France. Neither of the three occurred in a vacuum, and political developments in all three were influenced by events in the other two. At the same time, all three shaped future revolutions and independence movements in Latin America. Haiti's fight for independence began as a slave revolt against the French colonial occupation of the western end of the island in Saint Domingue in 1790. Out of that revolt the former slave Touissant L'Overture emerged as an astute political and military leader who was able to stave off English and Spanish invasions of the French side of the island while maneuvering France's attempts to reestablish slavery on the island. Although France invaded Saint Domingue and Touissant was finally captured and sent to a French prison in 1803, his military corp was able to fight on and secure independence for Haiti in November of that same year.

As Haiti became the first truly successful slave revolt, the rest of the Americas looked in horror to the possibility of a similar fate befalling their colonies. After passage of the Bourbon Reform Laws that relaxed some of the economic and political control the Spanish Crown held over its colonies, it ultimately became even more difficult for Spain to hold on to its colonies. However, both the United States with its slave-based economy and the Spanish colonies saw with horror Haitian independence as a future that had to be avoided at all cost in their own countries. The revulsion and disdain with which European descendants generally saw in Haiti and its citizens the triumph of a black republic, dictated how the country would be treated by its neighbors through the remainder of the 19th and 20th centuries.

US Forces in Haiti in 1919 (US National Archives)

While most of the world was embroiled in World War I, the US was busy trying to stay out of what many Americans considered to be a European problem. At the same time, throughout the Americas, the US was actively engaging in gunboat diplomacy. The US had recently successfully dethroned Spain as the colonial power of the Caribbean and acquired from the latter control over Puerto Rico and Cuba, as well as the Philippines. More recently the US had orchestrated a successful independence revolt in Panama for its independence from Colombia, gaining a foothold in the Isthmus of Panama where a canal could be built. In 1915, amid corruption and unrest maligning the Caribbean nation and the assassination of President Vilbrum Guillame Sam, US President Woodrow Wilson ordered troop mobilization to quell the unrest and stabilize the country. Unfortunately for Haiti, the US remained as an occupying force in Haiti until 1935. While the occupation was disguised as a humanitarian endeavor, US policy implementation was aimed at securing access of the nation's resources and market to US interests.

Plagued by corruption and unrest, in 1991, the democratically elected Jean Bertrand Aristide was ousted and pushed into exile by Haiti's military. With the backing of the US, Aristide returned in 1994 and again the US occupied the nation until 1997. Aristide was again deposed and exiled in 2004 to South Africa. The role of the US in both coups is disputed by Aristide and some historians claim that the US was directly involved in his ousting from Haitian politics. The US occupation of Haiti hindered the economic development of the nation by establishing a colonial relationship between the US and Haiti in which resources were extracted and Haitian's were expected to consume American goods imported to the island. When natural disasters like the 2010 earthquake strike small impoverished nations, its residents have no economic alternatives but to seek opportunities elsewhere.

Central American Destabilization
A host of small nations nestle in the waist of the continent most people in the western Hemisphere consider a single continent, America. This group of Central American nations have likewise been at the receiving end of U.S. meddling in local affairs and politics. As in the case of Mexico, Haiti, and the rest of Latin America, the U.S. has since its inception considered the rest of the continent its own back yard. The history of US intervention in the region is varied and complex. It also speaks further to the muscle with which the US has carried diplomacy. That relationship has also created a two way avenue for the inflow of American investment and the outflow of Central American resources and opportunities. Reduced opportunities at home in turn help create a climate ripe for exodus and a pipeline for the exit of any nation's most valuable resource, its people and culture. Together they create a labor and brain drain.

From the late 19th century to the early 20th century, the U.S. was held interests in the region in the form of various investments primarily with corporations like the United Fruit Company, as well as interest in building a canal in the Panama Isthmus. Panama in the late 19th century was a province of Colombia. The United States fostered an insurgent rebellion for the independence of Panama with the intent of building a canal on the isthmus. Both endeavors were successful and in 1903 Panama declared its independence from Colombia. The US offered Panama official recognition, funding, and asked in return for the right to build the canal, which was completed in 1914. As many people know, the US remained in possession of the canal until the year 1999 when a treaty signed by Presidents Jimmy Carter of the US and Panamanian President Omar Torrijos in 1977. However, the relationship between the two nations over that century was not an easy one. Occupation of the Canal Zone by the US in effect divided Panama geographically. The US continued to live by its segregation rules during its occupation of the canal, and Americans from the Canal Zone in general treated Panamanians as colonial subjects whom they employed for a variety of services but did did not treat as equals. Even though the US withdrew from the canal in 1999, through its long occupation it built ties with Panama that continued to link the two countries as individuals who had worked in the canal zone looked opportunities to work in the US. While Panamanians do not make a large percentage of US or Florida farmworking population, this case is emblematic of how US imperialism in the region and its relation to a local labor force has favored immigration to the US. 

Another case in point is the small country of El Salvador. As in much of Central America, Salvadoran workers first began participating in the US economy when in the 19th century. Later, in the 1940s, Salvadorans filled labor shortages working in American shipyards and textile factories. While most of those Salvadorans left the US and went back to El Salvador at the end of the war, during their work stint in the US they built the social networks on which later migrations from El Salvador would build their communities in the 1970s and 1980s. It was during that time that we saw the most continued and sustained immigration to the United States from Central America. The roots of that migration go beyond economic push and pull factors, but in US foreign policy that had real life consequences for people in some of the small countries of the region. 

After the end of the Cold War, the U.S. focus in Central America was to keep communism out. Communism is often used as a catch-all phrase to describe a range of sociopolitical models that include socialism, social democracy, true communism, where the state owns and controls all the means of production. Ideologically, any of those models represents a threat to the capitalist economic model. True be told, however, socialism can take many forms in which the state intervenes and provides benefits for certain segments of the population. Recent thought in the US has argued that the US operates in a corporate socialist economy, whereby the state helps with kickbacks and subsidies large corporations. US intervention in Central America aimed to prevent forms of government that would shift the flow of state benefits from going to corporations to going to individual citizens. Under that premise, the US justified intervention in small Central American countries. Especially violent was US intervention in the three nations of Guatemala, Nicaragua, and El Salvador.

Between 1980 and 1992 various leftist organizations inspired by the 1950s and 1960s insurgencies of Fidel Castro and Ernesto "Che" Guevara, sought to take over the government of El Salvador. Chief among these organizations was the Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional (FMLN). While violence escalated on both sides between the state and the FMLN, the government of El Salvador unable to effectively fight the FMLN received help from the United States in the form of money, training, and military support. The Reagan Administration recommended a war of attrition against the rebel forces, meaning that the government should fight low key battles to tire the rebels out. Over the next 12 years, as the war prolonged and neither rebels nor government were able to fully control the national territory, many Salvadorans left their country seeking refuge in the United States. By some estimates, as many as 25 percent of Salvadorans relocated to the United States. 

While other forms of immigration to the US from throughout the Americas has taken place throughout the 20th and beginning of the 21st centuries, much of this migration has resulted from US intervention in the region. Some of this intervention has been more forceful than others as in the case of El Salvador or the occupation of Haiti. However, intervention can also take a more covert form, supporting opposition groups for the sake of US business interests in certain countries as was the case in Panama in order to build the Panama Canal. A more veiled form of intervention exercised since the late 19th and beginning of 20th centuries is in the form of economic development. Economic development projects introduced into Latin America have brought with them an upsurge in wealth that unfortunately does not move through the socioeconomic hierarchy, but stays in a few hands at the top of that system, At the bottom end of that spectrum, families making low wages but relying on small family plots to sustain them with that additional income often through crop dumping practices that favor US growers not only lose their livelihood, but become dispossessed. It is those conditions that drive workers from other countries to throw their lot with the risks of migration and make an attempt at a better living elsewhere.

Ultimately those conditions create a vulnerable labor pool of workers who are willing to take on the hard toil of agricultural work. Sometimes that willingness comes from a family tradition of working the land and there is real value in knowing and working the land. That knowledge holds the keys to a sustainable future where traditional agricultural practices may open new avenues of food procurement. However, the extractive nature of our food system requires a more mechanized form of industrial food production and it is often workers who are already vulnerable, who may have already taken a dangerous journey in search of work that will allow them to offer their families more, who are willing to take on that kind of work. Today's immigrant farmworkers follow a long line of workers forced by different circumstances into the industrial agricultural system that created this state. They follow enslaved Africans who would themselves had to go through a more grueling and forced migration experience. Nonetheless, their experience and that of other immigrant groups who have had to toil the US agricultural fields, is one of dependence on vulnerable, imported labor, doing the work and creating the wealth that has given this country the political dominance it achieved at the height of the 20th century. 

The Farmworker Association of Florida is a grassroots organization working everyday on issues of labor, environmental, and health justice for Florida's farmworking population. If you can  please, consider making a donation through our GoFundMe page. Thank you!

Further Reading:

Feeser, Andrea. Red, White, and Black Make Blue: Indigo in the Fabric of Colonial South Carolina Life. University of Georgia Press, Athens (2013).

Green, Amelia Hoover. The Commander's Dilemma. Cornell University Press, Ithaca, NY, (2018).

Maurer, Noel. The Empire Trap: The Rise and Fall of US Intervention to Protect American Property Overseas, 1893-2013. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ (2013).

Minkoff-Zern, Laura-Anne. Knowing "Good Food": Immigrant Knowledge and the Racial Politics of Farmworker Food Insecurity. Antipode 46, 5 (2012).

Patel, Raj, and Jim Goodman. The Long New Deal. The Journal of Peasant Studies. 47, 3:431-463 (2020).

Rodriguez, Ana Patricia. Dividing the Isthmus: Central American Transnational Histories, Literatures, and Cultures. University of Texas Press, Austin (2009).

Schmidt, Hans. The United States Occupation of Haiti, 1915-1934, Rutgers University Press, New York, (1995).

Sommers, Jeffrey W. The US Power Elite and the Political Economy of Haiti's Occupation: Investment, Race, and World Order. The Journal of Haitian Studies 21, 2:46-67 (2015).

Spring, Ursula Oswald. Environmentally Forced Migratonn in Rural Areas: Security Risks and THreats in Mexico. In Climate Change, Human Security, and Violent Conflict: Challenges for Societal Stability, edited by Jürgen Scheffran, Michale Brzoska, Hans Günter Brauch, Peter Michael Link, and Janpeter Schilling, pp. 315-350. Springer, New York (2012),

Wilson, Thomas D. The Ashley Cooper Plan: The Founding of Carolina and the Origins of Southern Political Culture. The University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill (2016).

Monday, July 6, 2020

News Alert on DACA and LGBTQ Supreme Court Decisions!

In this news alert...
  • Reflection on Supreme Court DACA decision
  • Reflection on Supreme Court LGBTQ+ decision
  • DeLand protests against the treatment of detained children
  • Emannuel College's thank you to farmworkers!
We Celebrate Good News for Dreamers and the LGBTQ Community!
Congratulations, Dreamers and DACA Recipients! We celebrate you as we celebrate the recent Supreme Court decision that protects the DACA program from the Trump Administration’s attempts to dismantle the Obama-era effort to protect young, undocumented immigrants in this country from possible deportation. 

In the same week, the Supreme Court also ruled against discrimination in the workplace of LGBTQ+ identifying people. This is a huge victory and one that came as a very welcome surprise! And, relief to so many who awaited with apprehension to hear this decision. In these unsettling times, we take a few moments to celebrate and lift up these two recent decisions.   

We also lift up our FWAF youth. A huge Thank You to FWAF’s Danny Ramos for his statements below on the recent Supreme Court decisions.

Thursday, June 4, 2020

Farmworkers in a Pandemic: Essential with No Rights

by Nezahualcoyotl Xiuhtecutli

It is now just three months since COVID-19 cases started becoming public in Florida. There had probably been some before that went undetected and resulted in a quicker spread of the virus among Florida's population. That is the nature of the virus and the hypermobile world in which up until last March we lived. The fallout of the pandemic has revealed some of the most salient inequalities plaguing our society such as access to healthcare, disposable income, and the ability to work remotely. In an article posted in The Washington Post, and the Economic Policy Institute 37 percent of Asian Americans and 30 percent of whites reported in a survey by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the other hand, only 20 percent of African Americans and 16 percent of Hispanics reported their ability to work from home. Only 11 percent of people working in agriculture reported being able to work from home during the pandemic. 

As state after state instituted shelter in place it became apparent that some people would have to remain working. Among these were healthcare workers, of course, but also those on whom it falls that the rest of us do not starve. Many food workers form part of the essential machinery on which we rely to put food on our tables and were rightly so deemed essential workers. In a disservice to the role they play in our economy and the injustice of the system under which they make ends meet, servers were not deemed essential. Farmworkers, as part of that industrial machinery that makes sure we have food at our table, were deemed essential. However, for all the saluting and nodding that has been going on for food workers, they remain some of the most vulnerable groups of workers with the fewest rights. 

The Food Industry and Essential Workers

Farmworkers are among the workers with the fewest rights. When Congress passed the National Labor Relations Act in 1938, it excluded farmworkers along with domestic workers from protections like the right to overtime pay afforded workers in other industries, maintaining thus the racial disparity southern lawmakers sought to preserve back home even as they approved and passed other measures introduced by the FDR Administration. Passage of the Taft-Hartley Act in 1947 further weakened unions' ability to organize workers ushering in the era of right to work. Since then, organizing workers in the US South has proven difficult, as this act limits unions in their ability to approach new workers to join its rank and file until a period of 30 days has passed. States throughout the South quickly seized on the opportunity to limit the power of workers to organize and moved bills through their respective legislatures writing the right to work into law. In effect, by limiting unions in their ability to approach new workers, these laws stripped workers off their right to bargain collectively.

While food worker organizing has gained some steam in the last few years, as reported by Jaya Saxena,  farmworkers remain a largely invisible workforce. When most of us think of farm work we are more likely to think of a man (and unfortunately not a woman, although roughly over a third of farm operators in the US are women) running a family farm. He is probably white (more accurately since only two percent of farmland is run by minorities in the US).  In that idyllic image, the farmer enjoys his bounty at the end of the harvest and then sells the fruits of their labor to a distributor in the area who then takes it to the grocery store. While there are still small family farms operating in the country, most agricultural work in the United States is done in a large commercial scale and those operations need labor, lots of labor, and the cheaper the better. Family farms at the same time continue to disappear.

Programs like the Bracero program that ran between 1942 and 1964 and the current H2-A "guest worker" visa program were designed to keep a steady flow of cheap labor for US agriculture from abroad. Having an imported labor force ensures that that force remains vulnerable not knowing the language, their rights, and by granting their contractors control over their movement, the system ensures workers remain vulnerable and dependent on their employers for every aspect of their life while in the US. It also undermines a capable domestic agricultural workforce who know the work and are willing to take it on. In the middle of this pandemic, those essential workers are more frequently being put at risk. Farmwork does not lend itself to social distancing. Workers have to work close together as they harvest the food and crops we consume. Additionally, many farmworkers live in close quarters. H2-A workers live in labor camps that resemble army barracks provided by their employers. Some may eat at a table shared by the 15 other men with whom they share their living quarters. Others may eat in what truly resembles a mess hall. And unfortunately, it is not only guest workers who have to live in these cramped up conditions, The American Public Health Association reports adequate housing shortage is a nationwide problem that leads to further crowded living conditions and deteriorating health conditions for domestic and H2-A workers in the United States (see also a report on farmworker housing in the State of California by the California Institute for Rural Studies here). 

Moreover, people in government are taking advantage of this public health crisis to adopt public policy regulation that would benefit wealthy corporations at the expense of the health and safety of workers. Last month, as reported in the New York Times, the Environmental Protection Agency issued a directive allowing "power plants, factories, and other facilities" to determine for themselves whether they were meeting legal requirements on the amount of pollutants they released into the environment. While the move was praised and condemned by former EPA Directors under the previous two administrations, the move itself speaks of the priorities determining environmental protection as well as the dangers to workers and other members of the general population. Former EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy called it "an open license to pollute." The EPA is also the federal agency overseeing pesticide application and worker protection against those chemicals. Relaxing the rules on pollution enforcement opens the door for abuses committed against farmworkers, especially when it comes to pesticide exposure. While general food demand is down, growers are still under pressure to keep the stores shelves stocked, reducing their profit margin. That usually leaves only one place to cut costs, in labor. Without the safeguard of enforceable regulation workers are at the mercy of growers' time constraints, and if the grower feels like they need to have their workers pick food sooner rather than later, they may not wait till the end of the designated wait period after pesticide application to have their workers enter the fields and start picking. This is is already a problem that farmworkers face. Discarding the possibility of consequences for employers, increases the likelihood of those risks on workers on farms where toxic pesticides are applied.

Also in April, as reported on NPR, the White House began working with US Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue in finding possible ways to reduce wages for agricultural guest workers admitted into the United States with an H-2A visas. Without getting too deep into the ills that the agricultural guest worker program has created or worsened and the exploitative nature of its design (guest workers are already underpaid, they live in crowded conditions, the recruitment process is undignified, and because many of those workers have to go into debt for the spot in the roster they are especially vulnerable to labor trafficking), that kind of approach seems like an opportunistic attempt at benefiting large agricultural producers who depend most heavily in access to that labor, rather than smaller farms who rely on a domestic workforce. Bringing down wage for guest worker not only harms those workers, but has the intended effect of bringing down wages for our existing domestic workforce who already has the skills needed for agricultural work and who also depends on those jobs. 

Lastly, also during the month of April, there were several reports of meatpacking plants in the Midwest and Plains that had been assailed by a surge of COVID-19 cases. The news mobilized various worker organizations and alliances to urge operators of those meatpacking plants to halt operations or better protect workers. Finally, as the plants' becoming hot spots for the outbreak made national news, did plants start to close. Amid these news, as reported in The Atlantic, Tyson Foods CEO, John H. Tyson took to publishing a page-long editorial in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette on April 26 decrying the disruption to meat supply line if his companies facilities were to close, omitting mention of working conditions that made meatpacking houses hot spots for an outbreak. This prompted the President of  the United States to exercise his powers under the Defense Protection Act and order meatpacking houses to remain in operation, yet without offering any guidelines from his administration to mitigate the spread of the virus or workers' conditions. In defense of the meatpacking industry, DHHS Secretary Alex Azar told Politico that workers' social and home life conditions were responsible for the presence of the virus in the meat industry. His remarks were soon interpreted to mean he faulted workers for the outbreak rather than their working conditions. 

Let us for a moment give Secretary Azar the benefit of the doubt and consider the message. Yes, it is true workers often live in crowded conditions. However, we should be talking about the system that facilitated those conditions and that still exploits workers for their labor and still pays them inadequately, so that they have to resort to crowded living as a way to cope with rents beyond their means. Those comments also do not take into consideration the family ties people of scant resources often rely on to help each other out. Getting your brother and brother-in-law to help you fix your car is cheaper than taking it to a mechanic's shop, with the understanding that you will have to reciprocate in kind at some point. Getting your cousins to help you with childcare is more affordable than having to pay for their stay at a facility while you go to work. These shortcomings of the system are there by design, and they keep a workforce vulnerable and easily exploitable.

Essential, Expendable, Disposable 

A more serious problem is the attitude we see towards farm labor. The string of deregulation coming from  the White House administration, its attempt to shift blame for the spread of the virus among packinghouses to the very victims of the assembly line work organization in which meat processing plants operate, and efforts to lower wages for an already underpaid risky occupation are all symptomatic of a deeper disdain for the people who plant, tend to, and harvest our food. 

A report by the Food Chain Workers Alliance found that at 56 percent of the food system workforce, most food workers in the United States are immigrants, while in a different report, the alliance found that representing 34 percent of the general population in the US, racial minorities represent 42 percent of the food system workforce, most of them in lower-paying positions in agricultural production and meat processing. These figures suggest a racialized food system funneling workers of color to the least visible positions away from the consumers' eyes. This results in the manufactured notion of who represents our workforce and who really is at higher risk. Even white workers working in the food service industry make on average just over the poverty line of $20,000 a year. 

Policies that demean the economic power of food workers deemed essential for the continued functioning of our society in the middle of a pandemic may be perceived as tone deaf. Policies that further endanger an already vulnerable population by increasing their risk to maintain the flow of the food supply really pose a more interesting question, who is an essential worker?  Healthcare workers are essential of course, and they are putting their lives on the line. Food workers are also deemed essential, and they are also putting their lives on the line. Unfortunately, we do not always see them and hear of their plight. Our food system keeps those workers out of sight and out of mind. And we ask them to go to work every day, even without being able to provide them with protective equipment, even unable to ensure they are able to distance themselves from one another, even without paying them above poverty wages.

Farmworkers especially are at risk, and given the conditions in which they are forced to work and live, the discrimination they face, and the occupational risks they are exposed to even before the outbreak, such as heat-related illness and pesticide exposure, when we say food workers are essential, do we just mean they are disposable? Our society seems to think so.

If you would like to help the Farmworker Association of Florida provide relief to farmworkers, please visit our GoFundMe page. These funds go to providing a safety net for farmworking families, providing food, help paying their utility bills, and providing health education information. Every little bit helps. Thank you!  

Thursday, May 28, 2020

What the Farmworker Association is Doing to Support Farmworkers Through Covid-19

Distribution of Masks to Farmworkers
Thanks to an outpouring of concern for farmworkers' health, FWAF has received donations of both surgical-type and lovingly handmade masks. Taking personal precautions, FWAF staff have distributed masks and health and safety information, including videos created by FWAFat the workplaces and homes of farmworkers in five different areas of the state, each time being met with such gratitude on the part of the workers for these potentially life-protecting measures. We would like to express an incredible thank you to those who donated masks, and to those who gave their time and efforts in sewing and sending us handmade masks, including the Auntie Sewing Club women all the way from California, and to all the others too numerous to mention! You are helping to make a difference in the lives of farmworkers with this important show of support. Thank you!

Assisting Community Members with Food Stamps and Medicaid Applications
Helping community members with their Food Stamp and Medicaid applications is a high priority during this pandemic. As salaries are cut and jobs lost, concern for their health and food security increases exponentially. While, sadly, hardworking undocumented immigrants do not qualify for these programs, their citizen children often do. FWAF staff, using precautions, including wearing masks and social distancing, helps community members who may not have access to computers and may have limited literacy skills, complete online applications for SNAP and Medicaid benefits. We have continued to do this, through the shutdown, by appointment, knowing how critical this service is to the well-being of so many.
Food Donations to Community Families
The people whose work feeds the rest of the country, often do not have enough food to feed themselves and their families. Food donations are more important now than ever. Helping our community has included everything from individual assistance to needy families to larger food sharing events reaching many more people. 420 meals were distributed on each of three days to families in our community in Apopka, thanks to Chef and humanitarian, José Andrés, and Chefs of America Orlando! The Society of St. Andrew brought gleaned cucumbers, cabbage, corn and potatoes to our Apopka office which staff distributed in the community. Homestead partnered with ally organizations to reach hundreds of families for a major Saturday fresh produce giveaway on May 16th, Immokalee has had help from individual donors, area churches and the Amigos Center to provide produce and non-perishable items to their local families. Fellsmere and Pierson have received both cash and food donations from local supporters to fill a need in their community. Thanks to all the churches, individuals, ally organizations, and others who have donated food to meet this urgent need. To meet the expected long-term need, donations to our GoFundMe will help us to purchase food for families even as the instability of this time continues! Thanks to everyone for your generous support.
Community Garden Providing Fresh Produce to Farmworker Families
Through our Agroecology program and our community gardens, we continue to promote food sovereignty and the restoration of our ecosystems in rural communities. In the last two months, our Apopka area community garden distributed collard greens, kale, jalapeño peppers, everglade tomatoes, pegaon peas, papayas and herbs like oregano, rosemary and basil for 13 families. 10 pounds of sweet potatoes were just harvested, and we are taking care of our heat loving crops like ghost peppers, eggplants, okra, cucumbers, watermelon, zucchini and squash. Firebushes, beautyberries, elderberries, gaillardias and other native plants keep providing vital food and cover for native wildlife and enriching our soil. Thanks to all the community garden members and volunteers who make all this work possible. For more information about our produce and how to get involved in our program, email   or support our community gardens by donating here. You can also stay up to date on all our community gardens by following our community garden Facebook page here. Our other community gardens are also continuing to work hard to provide produce and resources for farmworker families across Florida!
Rent and Utility Payments
A huge thank you to our supporters- and all those who have made donations, including some rapid response grants from caring funders, that help us assist community members in our five areas of the state with paying their rent and utility payments. We will continue to do this as long as there is a need, and until the money runs out. In one case, we helped a family pay for their internet service, so their children could complete their online schooling. If you'd like to help support farmworker families with their rent, utility bills, health care bills, and food, please donate to and share our GoFundMe!
Access to Health Care and Covid Tests
Through the University of Florida, we were able to do coronavirus testing for the Haitian, Hispanic and African-American community in the Apopka area. The method used was the swab test, and those who wanted to, were also able to have a blood test to look for antibodies to determine if they had had the virus at some point in the past. We were able to test over 60 people who received their results within 72 hours. A huge thank you to Joan Flocks for suggesting the Farmworker Association as a location for UF to do the testing, and thank you to all those who helped organize and conduct the event!
Special Cases and Outbreaks
The Farmworker Association is working to identify, act on, and respond to outbreaks of coronavirus among farmworkers as we learn about them. So far, there have not been many reports, but FWAF expects there may be severe underreporting for many reasons, including farmworkers' fears of job loss, the specific and unique circumstances of farmworkers on H2A visas, and due to lack of official documentation of occupation of those testing positive. Understanding the scope and breadth of the impact of the virus on farmworkers in Florida is a priority for FWAF, and we will be continuing to monitor and explore what is the reality happening on the ground.
Clothing Donations
While food and housing are the most immediate needs, there will be a need for clothing and personal hygiene items as the pandemic drags on. Donations of these items, including long-sleeve shirts to help protect farmworkers from pesticide exposure and sun-burn, are being accepted at each of our area offices.

        What You Can Do to Help Farmworkers
Above is a video made by Bread for the World's Florence French. In the video, Florence explains how you can take action to demand that Congress support essential workers during the coronavirus pandemic. These are issues that FWAF supports as well! Please listen to and share her video to get more information and spread the word!

Additionally, you can share and donate to our GoFundMe for coronavirus relief for farmworkers. Every cent to this campaign goes to supporting farmworker communities in Florida!

Friday, January 3, 2020

Labor Trafficking Discussion with the World Affairs Council of Central FL

On December 19th, the Farmworker Association had the honor of hosting a group of labor trafficking professionals from Poland visiting the United States to learn more about how our country addresses and handles cases of human trafficking of workers. Collaborating with the World Affairs Council of Central Florida, FWAF conducted a presentation on labor trafficking specifically related to the issues of farmworkers, including those brought to the U.S. as H2A or guestworkers. Human trafficking occurs across the world, and the Orlando area has had some of the highest human trafficking reports in the United States. Though they are less visible than workers in other sectors, FWAF has addressed cases of labor trafficking of farmworkers in various areas around our state.

Labor trafficking is a form of human trafficking, which involves the illegal, and often forced, transportation of people, sometimes across borders. While human trafficking can lead to sexual exploitation, labor trafficking focuses on the illegal movement and treatment of people for labor or services, often being seen as a form of modern-day slavery in which people are forced or coerced into working through the accumulation of debts or threats to health and safety.

Due to the Farmworker Association's experiences with labor trafficking cases, most involving workers recruited in their home countries of Mexico and Honduras, the World Affairs Council of Central Florida brought the group to our Apopka area office so they could learn about and participate in a discussion about labor trafficking in agriculture.

The agricultural system in the United States has always involved labor trafficking. From the days when people from Africa were first brought to this country and enslaved on plantations that exploited and abused them, until the present day fraud, deception and exploitation that entraps and intimidates farmworkers, agriculture has consistently depended on a cheap, vulnerable and exploitable labor force. The majority of farmworkers are underpaid and are excluded from labor laws that cover most all other workers. Additionally, there is a complex, entrenched and advanced system of labor trafficking of farmworkers in place.  Even if one case of trafficking is brought to justice, the convoluted network of trafficking unfortunately continues to survive.

Often recruiters will target impoverished areas in Central and South America to find people desperate for work and money. Recruiters will tell these people that if they spend some time harvesting crops in the United States, they will earn money to send back to their families, and receive food and housing. Yet when these people are sent to the United States, the recruiters rack up massive, and fabricated debts for the victims, threatening the victims' families and their lives if they do not pay back what the recruiters have said they owe. These people are then forced to work for almost no compensation, and oftentimes horrible conditions, in order to pay back the recruiters that have swindled them.

The visiting group of labor trafficking experts had a lot of questions about labor trafficking in the United States, primarily focusing on the role of law enforcement in labor trafficking. They were all surprised to hear that law enforcement is not able to stop labor trafficking, because the issue is so widespread. Human rights organizations or NGOs in the U.S. work to educate the public and help victims of labor trafficking, which is especially urgent now considering the anti-immigrant sentiment that has impacted the laws in the United States.

The Farmworker Association of Florida was eager to share additional information on labor trafficking to the group. Human trafficking is a major problem throughout the world, especially in the United States. We hope that through the spread of information and education, we can continue to fight back against human trafficking.

Monday, August 19, 2019

The National Memorial for Peace and Justice, and The Legacy Museum: from slavery to mass incarceration.

Last month, members and staff traveled with a bus to Alabama to visit the National Memorial for Peace and Justice and the Legacy Museum. This photo essay relates the profound experience of that trip.


"Education about the legacy of racial inequality, truth and reconciliation, is what leads to real solutions to contemporary problems." EJI.

Last Friday July 26, in Apopka, Linda Lee, Mary Ann Robinson (organizers of Lake Apopka Farmworker  Memorial Quilt), Linda Lee’s grand-daughters and great-grandchildren: Cinnamon and Cheyanne, Pootie, Duke and Squirt, Luckner, (organizer of the Haitian community at FWAF) Leonor and Maria, (FWAF leadership group), Ana (FWAF youth group), boarded a bus that came from Miami and went to Alabama, picking up almost 60 people working in grassroots organizations with FLIC.

Together we were going to visit two physical spaces made by Equal Justice Initiative, which seeks to publicly confront the truth about our history, as a first step towards the recovery and reconciliation of our communities.

On Saturday July 27th, we all entered the first national memorial dedicated to the legacy of enslaved black people, black people terrified of lynching, black people humiliated by racial segregation and Jim Crow, black people oppressed by contemporary presumptions of guilt and police violence.

Kwame Akoto-Bamfo’s sculptures gave us a first image of slavery. Observing those faces and bodies, we began a tour of lynching and contextualized racial terror through texts, narrations, monuments, sculptures, art and design.

It was really really hot. From afar we observed 800 monuments that were shining with sunlight in a memorial square. These monuments symbolize thousands of victims of lynching, of racial terror; the names of lynching victims are engraved in the columns, as well as the counties and states where this terrorism took place.

"The monument is more than a static monument", there is a space of identical monuments, waiting to be claimed in the counties they represent. Over time, the national monument will serve as a report on which parts of the country have faced the truth of this terror and which have not.

Lynchings of racial terror were violent and public acts of torture that traumatized black people across the country and were widely tolerated by state and federal officials. Lynchings were the center of a systematic campaign of perpetual terror to promote an unjust social order. They were not isolated hate crimes; lynchings were terrorism.



EJI documented more than 4,400 lynchings of black people in the United States between 1877 and 1950.


A sculpture by Dana King dedicated to all women who sustained the boycott of Montgomery buses, took us to the era of civil rights. And writings by Toni MorrisonIda B. Wells and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. took us deep into a history of racial injustice, resistance and resilience.

True peace is not merely the absence of tension. It is the presence of JUSTICE.
EJI, through the Community Remembrance Project, is inviting counties across the country to reclaim their monuments and recognize lynching victims, collecting land from sites where they occurred. Eventually, this process will change the built environment of the Deep South and beyond to more honestly reflect our history.

In 1860, Montgomery was the capital of the domestic slave trade in Alabama, one of the two largest slave states in America.

The Legacy Museum is located where once enslaved people were imprisoned, close to the Alabama dock and train station where tens of thousands of black people were trafficked during the 19th century.

We couldn't take pictures inside the museum, and as Luckner said,”you need to come and see the museum to understand the experience”. But we were there and it was very real. The space used technology to dramatize slavery, the evolution of lynching of racial terror, legalized racial segregation and racial hierarchy in the United States. The materials explore the history of racial inequality, but also its relationship with contemporary issues, such as mass incarceration and police violence.

Ana, mentioned how in the same way, the true story of the genocide that was committed on native communities since the colonization and the oppressions in which these communities live to this day, is never told.

In a system dominated by white supremacy and its capitalist models of extraction and gentrification, it was very powerful to see Linda Lee, Mary Ann, Luckner, Leonor and Maria, organizers of the black and brown Apopka community, walking on a memorial that claims the voices of victims of a war of racial terror that has not ended yet.

In the midst of the structural racism that is impregnated as a virus in our communities, it was very powerful to listen and exalt the fighting voices of black communities, who through our new generations such as Cheyanne, Cinnamon, Ana, Pootie, Duke and Squirt, keep demanding justice and reparation today.

It is our duty to understand the history of racial injustice in America so we don’t perpetuate racism in our communities and in our social work.

Florida Farmworkers and Immigration

By Nezahualcoyotl Xiuhtecutli The Farmworker Association of Florida is rooted in an immigrant community, although we are not all immigrants....