News / USA

Aid Workers Demand Greater Access to US Migrant Workers

Aid Workers Demand Greater Access to US Migrant Labor Campsi
X
December 27, 2012 3:00 PM
Harvest season is over for this year, but a battle on America’s farmlands quietly continues. It’s between social service providers who want to help migrant farmworkers, and the farm owners who are trying to keep them apart. Mana Rabiee, of VOA's Persian News Network, has the story.
Aid Workers Demand Greater Access to US Migrant Labor Camps
Mana Rabiee
At 1.57 meters tall, Nora Rivero has to crane her neck to drive the Silver Dodge Charger she sometimes rents for work. Her petite stature doesn’t quite speak to her 19 years as a legal aid activist, much of it in defense of migrant farm workers.

The Colombian native is an attorney’s assistant with Maryland Legal Aid in Baltimore. She and her senior colleague, attorney Nathanial Norton, visit migrant crop pickers housed in farm labor camps and educate them about their rights.

“When I go to see them and they have been eight or nine hours in that terrible sun and the living conditions they have to go through, that is hard for me,” she said.

Rivero and Norton often drive through Maryland’s picturesque Caroline County, home to independent growers who plant corn, soybean and cantaloupe. But getting onto the farms isn’t always easy.

Limited access

Norton and Rivero say farm owners systematically intimidate them from doing their outreach to migrant workers. One farmer brandished a baseball bat at Rivero, they say, adding that another grower and his son threatened to shoot Norton.

“[They] got out of their trucks and came up to the window started yelling very angry,” Norton said. “One of the things the grower was yelling was, ‘You could be thieves. I’ve got the right to shoot people on my property.'”

Across the United States, outreach workers who deal with migrant farmworkers have similar stories of intimidation by growers. They say it’s designed to keep activists away from the poor farmworkers the activists hope to help.

A nurse practitioner in Maryland is among the outreach workers struggling with the problem. She provides health care to migrant farmworkers out of a makeshift clinic she sets up “beneath the trees” of the labor camps.

The nurse, who spoke on condition of anonymity to protect her work and her patients, said she routinely is intimidated to get off farm property by growers.

“I’ve been threatened with the Sheriff. They said they’d bring their gun out - their shotgun - if I entered their land without notifying them first,” she said.

Ensuring guidance

Activists who assist migrant farmworkers say growers don’t want them on their land because they don’t want their crop pickers to know if their statutory rights have been violated.

Among the rights most at risk, for example, are written notice of the amount of work promised when workers are recruited from out of state, housing conditions that meet minimum legal requirements and payment for overtime.  

If the workers understood their rights better, activists say, they might demand higher pay, better working conditions or access to healthcare, all of which would cost the growers money.

But migrant rights activists say it’s illegal to keep them off farm property.

“Farm workers are essentially like tenants, even in grower-controlled property,” said Norton, “so they have the right to receive visitors, particularly legal services, clergy and healthcare providers and the like.”

The activists say it’s not just happening to immigrant workers, but to American citizens as well.

Earlier this year, Norton and Rivero drove to a Preston farm where a migrant worker, a 54-year-old African-American woman from Florida, had died.

“They went and did an MRI and the MRI showed she had a massive stroke,” said Anthony DeMae, the dead woman’s nephew. Her family wanted help from Maryland Legal aid to send her body back to Florida.

Defending workers' rights

But shortly after Norton and Rivero arrived at the farm with a reporter, the owner told his foreman the aid workers and the reporter had to leave. The outreach community complains this denial of access extends to public spaces, as well. In August, a worker’s rights group based in Baltimore complained that one of its advocates was “blocked” from attending a public event about employee and employer rights.

Centro de los Derechos del Migrante (CDM) said in a news release that it had been invited to the event by a co-sponsor - the government of Mexico. But CDM said a representative from another co-sponsor, the Chesapeake Bay Seafood Industries Association, told the CDM advocate “she was not allowed to attend the event and directed her not to speak to any of the workers.”

CDM called the episode “another example of the way that [agricultural] employers try to isolate workers” and to “limit workers’ contact to other community members and their advocates.”

Few states have laws that mandate access to labor camps, but a few state Attorneys General have issued legal opinions which provide some guidance when balancing the various interests of the migrants, visitors and farmers.

The owners of the Maryland farms that VOA visited with Norton and Rivero did not return repeated phone calls for comment.

A spokesperson for the Maryland Farm Bureau said the industry in no way condones violations of workers’ rights and that activists have exaggerated the issue.

Paul Schlegel, who directs public policy at the American Farm Bureau Federation, said aid workers demand “unfettered” access to farm property and burden growers with nuisance lawsuits.

“My hunch is that you’re seeing people with a particular perspective in the legal aid community painting with a very broad brush and making allegations that in our experience just don’t represent the real world,” said Schlegel.

Petitioning the UN

But the situation is serious enough that a coalition of 28 rights groups, including Maryland Legal Aid, the Southern Poverty Law Center and the labor union AFL-CIO, submitted a complaint to the United Nations on December 13. The coalition argued that the lack of meaningful access to migrant labor camps “stymies” farmworkers’ access to justice and, as a result, “violates international human rights law.”

It has called on the U.N. Envoy for Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, Magdalena Sepúlveda, to pressure the U.S. government to allow aid workers better access to migrant farm camps.

For now, Norton, Rivero and other social service providers feel as if the people they want to assist remain out of reach.

The nurse practitioner in Maryland said she has to “sneak around” to hand out crucial medicines to patients. “I would like for us to be able to go there when there is a need and not have to continuously notify someone, or try to intercept the people at the local Laundromat to give them blood work results, or pass over medicines instead of being able to go to their homes,” she said.

You May Like

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs UN countermeasure More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Kathy Enyart from: Columbus, Ohio
January 05, 2013 1:02 PM
This situation is absolutely barbaric. To think that our government fights issues like these in foreign countries, yet we are blind to it within our own borders. Slavery has been outlawed in this country yet it appears some of our citizens feel they OWN their workers and that their workers have no rights. We need to wake up and stand up to the bullies. What has happened to us all that we stand by and do nothing?

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs