New Report Documents Labor Abuses Of Migrant Agricultural Workers
A new report finds that migrant workers who come to the United States on agricultural guestworker visas face systemic abuse in the workplace. And the report’s authors say the coronavirus pandemic only amplifies existing flaws in the farmworker program.
The report Ripe for Reform, from the binational organization Centro De Los Derechos Del Migrante (CDM), is based on interviews with 100 Mexican migrants working in U.S. agricultural production on H-2A visas. In 2019, a record 256,667 H-2A workers were hired as farmworkers around the country, including in Arizona. Most of them are from Mexico.
According to the report, every farmworker interviewed experienced at least one instance of abuse, including stolen wages, human trafficking and sexual harassment.
Now, poor working and housing conditions also put them at risk of exposure to the coronavirus outbreak.
“These workers are being left in serious danger during this pandemic," report author Mary Baur said during a briefing Wednesday. “The (guestworker) program in many ways creates a perfect storm of vulnerability during this pandemic for workers who put food on our table.”
The coronavirus outbreak isn’t the cause of farmworker abuse, Baur said, but it does reveal flaws in the program, which gives workers little bargaining power because of their deep reliance on individual employers.
"The findings of this report would be deeply troubling in ordinary times, and these are not ordinary times," Baur said.
Rachel Micah-Jones, CDM founder and executive director, added that the coronavirus "is presenting immediate and unconscionable risk for farmworkers in our nation. A group already at heightened risk for abuse, exploitation and trafficking, and a group deemed essential during this pandemic by the state department."
The report urges reforms that not only address the health and safety concerns posed by the ongoing pandemic but also an underlying lack of regulations and enforcement that allow widespread abuse in the first place.
"This pandemic should force policy makers to re-imagine labor migration. We need structural reforms that correct power imbalances between workers and employers," Micah-Jones said. “And migrant workers need to be at the center of conversations about worker protections in this pandemic and beyond."