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Immigration Reform for Farmworkers is on the Table this Holiday

Photo: North Carolina farmworker. Courtesy: NC Justice Center
Photo: North Carolina farmworker. Courtesy: NC Justice Center
December 24, 2012

RALEIGH, N.C. - As Americans prepare the food for holiday dinners today, immigration reform advocates are hoping they put the subject of immigration "on the table." According to the North Carolina Farmworker Institute, about 150,000 farmworkers are in the state during the growing season, and most of them are immigrants. Like some other work visas, the H2-A ties farmworkers to a single employer.

Carol Brooke, who heads the Workers' Rights Project of the North Carolina Justice Center, says that has a downside.

"If there are problems with working conditions, or the amount of work, there's a great incentive not to complain, because they don't have the opportunity to switch employers freely, as other workers do."

Farmworkers, known as H2-A workers because of the name of their visa, normally travel to the state from Mexico. Brooke hopes the immigration reform being considered in Washington, D.C., will give H2-A workers greater ability to seek out fair employment.

Under the H2-A visa program, farmers do not have to pay Social Security or unemployment taxes, which is an incentive, Brooke says, to avoid hiring American workers. She also points out that many of the workers are living in camps and must leave their families behind in their home country.

"They're doing a very difficult job, and they deserve to be able to do it under fair working conditions, with their families here and with the ability to participate fully in U.S. society."

Farmworkers in North Carolina are paid a little over $9 an hour.

Reporting for this story by North Carolina News Connection in association with Media in the Public Interest. Media in the Public Interest is funded in part by Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation.

Stephanie Carson/Stephanie Carroll Carson, Public News Service - NC