Our farmworkers are essential, and immigrants

Diana Navarrete | La Red Hispana
Photo Credit: La Red Hispana

Latinos play a critical role in the US farmworker industry, from fighting and advocating for better treatment of migrant workers, to harvesting the produce that comes to our table every day. Our farmers are an underrepresented community and have faced all kinds of difficulties in their work, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Even so, they continue to get ahead and take pride in their invaluable work.

Most farmworkers are immigrants

According to the 2018 National Agricultural Workers Survey (NAWS), 77% of farmworkers identify as Hispanic and approximately 61% are of Mexican descent.

About 2 out of 3 farmworkers are citizens or legal residents of the United States. While these workers pay taxes and contribute to the economy, they are not protected by US labor laws and live under the threat of deportation and family separation every day, all while working in extremely difficult conditions.

The USDA estimates that 73% of today’s farmworkers were born outside the United States. For decades, migrant farmworkers have helped feed the country, but the industry faces a chronic labor shortage that has been made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic, further exposing that the conditions and rights of farmworkers and their families must improve.

Agricultural workers spend long hours harvesting crops in all types of weather while at risk of injury or illness from exposure to pesticides or heavy equipment. They have also faced record wildfires and heat waves.

Legal status and visas

Modernizing the temporary visa program and establishing a path to citizenship for long-term undocumented farmworkers is urgently needed to protect them and their families, and ensure the future of the agricultural industry in the United States.

Some of them are beneficiaries of immigrant worker or H-2A programs, which allow US agricultural employers to bring temporary foreign workers to the United States. However, the structure and implementation of H-2A programs can create a work environment with wages and working conditions that are not efficient.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) says that providing legal status to current undocumented workers would have a net positive effect on the federal budget, increasing tax revenue. The CBO also found that legalizing the undocumented population would boost economic output and increase employment for US-born workers.

Congress should allow undocumented farmworkers who have been present in the United States to adjust to a legal status. This would allow farmers to legally maintain their current workforce, while allowing undocumented immigrants to have freedom, earn a fair wage, be better protected from exploitation and abuse, and fully participate in the communities they have called home for years.