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

Could Nemtsov Threaten Putin in Death as in Life?

Dynamic and debonair opposition leader had supported liberal economic reforms, criticized Russian president's aggression in Ukraine More

Oil Smuggling Highlights Challenges in Shutting Down IS Finances

Pentagon spokesman says Islamic State 'certainly continues to get revenue from the oil industry black market' but that airstrikes have made a dent More

India Focuses on Infrastructure, Investment to Propel Economy

Government expects economy to grow at 8 to 8.5 percent in next fiscal year 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.
US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Casei
X
Katherine Gypson
February 25, 2015 11:30 PM
The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Hurt Nascent Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Industry

Falling oil prices are helping consumers purchase cheaper petroleum at the pump. But that’s made hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” less economically viable for the companies in the United States invested in the process. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports on one Midwestern town that was hoping to change its fortunes by cashing in on the next big U.S. oil boom.
Video

Video Fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan Fuels Mass Displacement

Heavy fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan state is causing hundreds of thousands to flee into uncertain conditions. Local aid organizations estimate as many as 400,000 civilians have been internally displaced since the conflict began more than three years ago, while another 250,000 have fled across the border to refugee camps in South Sudan. VOA's Adam Bailes reports.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.
Video

Video A Filmmaker Discovers Her Biracial Identity in "Little White Lie

Lacey Schwartz grew up in an upper middle-class Jewish family, in a town in upstate New York where almost everyone she knew was white. She assumed that she was, as well. Her recent documentary, Little White Lie, tells the story of how she uncovered the secret of her true racial background. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more on the film.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video US-Cuba Normalization Talks Resume Friday

Negotiations aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba resume Friday. On the table: lifting a half-century trade embargo and easing banking and travel restrictions. There's opposition in Congress, but some analysts say there may be sufficient political and economic incentives in both nations for a potential breakthrough this year. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.
Video

Video Pakistan's Deadline For SIM Registration Has Cellphone Users Scrambling

Pakistani cell phone users have until midnight Thursday to register their SIM cards, or their service will be cut off. While some privacy experts worry about government intrusion, many Pakistanis are just worried about keeping their phone lines open. VOA Deewa reporter Arshad Muhmand has more from Peshawar.
Video

Video Myanmar Warns Factory Workers to End Strikes

Outside Myanmar's main city Yangon, thousands of workers walked off their jobs earlier this month demanding a doubling of their wages, pay raises after a year and input from labor unions on industrial regulations. Since Friday, the standoff has grown more tense as police moved in to disrupt the sit-ins, resulting in clashes that injured people from both sides. VOA correspondent Steve Herman visited industrial zones which have become a focus of Myanmar's fledgling workers rights movement.
Video

Video Oscar Winners Do More Than Thank the Academy

The Academy Awards presentation is Hollywood’s night to reward the best movies from the previous year. It’s typically a lot of glitter, a lot of thank you’s, a lot of speeches. But many of this year’s speeches carried messages beyond the thank you's. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti takes a look.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More