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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

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - As we prepare the food for our holiday dinners today, immigration reform advocates are hoping citizens put the subject of immigration "on the table." According to the Florida Department of Health, there are about 200,000 farm workers in the state during the growing season, and most of them are immigrants.

Like some other work visas, the H2-A ties farm workers to a single employer. Carol Brooke, a workers' rights advocate, 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."

Farm workers, known as H2-A workers because of the designation of their visa class, normally travel to the state from Mexico. Brooke hopes the immigration reform being considered in Washington will give the 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.

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

According to the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, Florida farm workers are paid about 45 cents for every 32-pound bucket of tomatoes they pick. That means one worker would have to pick two and a half tons of tomatoes to earn minimum wage for a day of labor.

Stephanie Carroll Carson, Public News Service - FL