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

Jihadist Assassin says Goal of Tunisia Murders Was Chaos

Abu Muqatil at-Tunusi’s remarks in a propaganda interview also cast light on attack on Bardo Museum More

Russia Denies License to Tatar-Language TV Station in Crimea

OSCE official says denial shows 'politically selective censorship of free and independent voices in Crimea is continuing' More

Kenyan Startups Tackle Expensive Remittances Through Bitcoin

Some think services could give Western Union a run for its money, though others say it’s still got a long way to go 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.
For Obama, It's More Business Than Friendships With World Leadersi
X
Aru Pande
April 01, 2015 9:09 PM
The rift between President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has put a spotlight on the importance of the American leader’s personal relationships with other world leaders and what role such friendships play in foreign policy. VOA's Aru Pande reports.
Video

Video For Obama, It's More Business Than Friendships With World Leaders

The rift between President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has put a spotlight on the importance of the American leader’s personal relationships with other world leaders and what role such friendships play in foreign policy. VOA's Aru Pande reports.
Video

Video Buhari: Nigeria Has ‘Embraced Democracy’

Nigeria woke up to a new president-elect Wednesday, Muhammadu Buhari. But people say democracy is the real winner as the country embarks on its first peaceful handover of power since the end of military rule in 1999. VOA’s Anne Look reports from Abuja.
Video

Video Tiny Camera Sees Inside Blood Vessels

Ahead of any surgical procedure, doctors try to learn as much as possible about the state of the organs they plan to operate on. A new camera developed in the Netherlands can now make that easier - giving surgeons an incredibly detailed look inside blood vessels, all the way to the patient’s heart. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Latin American Groups Seek Fans at Texas Music Festival

Latin American music groups played all over Austin, Texas, during the recent South by Southwest festival, and some made fans out of locals as well as people from around the world who had come to hear music. Such exposure can boost such groups' image back home. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Stockton Community, Police, Work to Improve Relations

Relations are tense between minority communities and police departments around the United States following police shootings that have generated widely-publicized protests. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Stockton, California, where police and community groups are working toward solutions, with backing from Washington.
Video

Video Indiana Controversy Highlights Divergent Meanings of Religious Freedom

Indiana’s state government has triggered a nationwide controversy by approving a law that critics say is aimed at allowing discrimination against gays and lesbians. The controversy stems from divergent notions of religious freedom in America. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Report: State of Black America a 'Tale of Two Nations'

The National Urban League has described this year's "State of Black America" report as a "tale of two nations." The group's annual report, released earlier this month (March), found that under an equality index African Americans had only 72% parity compared to whites in areas such as education, economics, health, social justice and civic engagement. It’s a gap that educators and students at Brooklyn’s Medgar Evers College are looking to close. VOA's Daniela Schrier reports from the school.
Video

Video Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadists

At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials Underway in West Africa

Ebola has claimed the lives of more than 10,000 people in West Africa. Since last summer, researchers have rushed to get anti-Ebola vaccines into clinical trials. While it's too early to say that any of the potential vaccines work, some scientists say they are seeing strong results from some of the studies. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Tourism is a multi-billion dollar industry in the Philippines. Close to five million foreign visitors traveled there last year, perhaps lured by the country’s tropical beaches. But Jason Strother reports from Manila that the country hopes to entice more travelers to stay indoors and spend money inside new casinos.
Video

Video Civilian Casualties Push Men to Join Rebels in Ukraine

The continued fighting in eastern Ukraine and the shelling of civilian neighborhoods seem to be pushing more men to join the separatist fighters. Many of the new recruits are residents of Ukraine made bitter by new grievances, as well as old. VOA's Patrick Wells reports.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.

VOA Blogs

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