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
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

TEXT SIZE - +
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

Abuja Blast Impacts Lives, Livelihoods

Officials say they are looking at ways to help bombing victims and boosting security More

Cambodia Technology Adviser Criticizes Cybercrime Draft Law

Phu Leewood says current criminal code can be used to prosecute offenders and that there is no need for a separate law More

Photogallery A Year Later, Boston Remembers Deadly Marathon Bombings

City pauses to honor victims and salute emergency workers who came to their assistance in frantic moments after blasts 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.
Google Buys Drone Companyi
|| 0:00:00
...
 
🔇
X
George Putic
April 15, 2014
In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Ray Bonneville Sings the Blues and More on New CD

Singer/songwriter Ray Bonneville has released a new CD called “Easy Gone” with music that reflects his musical and personal journey from French-speaking Canada to his current home in Austin,Texas. The eclectic artist’s fan base extends from Texas to various parts of North America and Europe. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin.
Video

Video Millions Labor in Pakistan's Informal Economy

The World Bank says that in Pakistan, roughly 70 percent work in the so-called informal sector, a part of the economy that is unregulated and untaxed. VOA's Sharon Behn reports from Islamabad on how the informal sector impact's the Pakistani economy.
Video

Video Passover Celebrates Liberation from Bondage

Jewish people around the world are celebrating Passover, a commemoration of their liberation from slavery in Egypt more than 3,300 years ago. According to scripture, God helped the Jews, led by Moses, escape bondage in Egypt and cross the Red Sea into the desert. Zlatica Hoke reports that the story of the Jewish Exodus resonates with other people trying to escape slave-like conditions.
Video

Video Police Pursue Hate Crime Charges Against Kansas Shooting Suspect

Prosecutors are sifting through the evidence in the wake of Sunday’s shootings in a suburb of Kansas City, Missouri that left three people dead. A suspect in the shootings taken into custody is a white supremacist. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, he was well-known to law enforcement agencies and human rights groups alike.
Video

Video In Eastern Ukraine, Pro-unity Activists Emerge from Shadows

Amid the pro-Russian uprisings in eastern Ukraine, there is a large body of activists who support Ukrainian unity and reject Russian intervention. Their activities have remained largely underground, but they are preparing to take on their pro-Moscow opponents, as Henry Ridgwell reports from the eastern city of Donetsk.
Video

Video Basket Maker’s Skills Have World Reach

A prestigious craft show in the U.S. capital offers one-of-a-kind creations by more than 120 artists working in a variety of media. As VOA’s Julie Taboh reports from Washington, one artist lucky enough to be selected says sharing her skills with women overseas is just as significant.
Video

Video UN Report Urges Speedier Action to Avoid Climate Disaster

A new United Nations report says the world must switch from fossil fuels to cleaner energy sources to control the effects of climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released the report (Sunday) following a meeting of scientists and government representatives in Berlin. The comprehensive review follows two recent IPCC reports that detail the certainty of climate change, its impacts and in this most recent report what to do about it. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble has the details.
AppleAndroid