Comments on: Make immigration a campaign issue Fri, 31 Jul 2015 03:37:49 +0000 hourly 1 By: mariacuerda Thu, 01 Nov 2012 13:32:10 +0000 Thank you for writing about this. First, I’d like to tell you that your book Endgame was amazing. Thank you for telling that story.

I was a legal services advocate for farmworkers in Massachusetts for 10 years and I have been working with undocumented immigrants in Western MA for 6 years. In 2000, when there was real hope that a comprehensive immigration reform would pass I travelled around the state to almost every farm (about 90) that employed H2A guestworkers to talk to the workers, mostly Jamaican, and many employers. The reform would’ve allowed the Jamaican workers to get work permits and they were very hopeful that they would finally have a choice about where they work and who they work for. Employers were hopeful, too, because the H2A program is expensive.

Expanding the guestworker program is not a solution to the farm labor problem. Workers in that program have no choice who to work for and in many cases the workers are treated badly. Your friend in Maine says the program is bureaucratic but the truth is that there is very little enforcement and government agencies do almost nothing to make sure that abuses don’t occur. It is a program that allows employers to retaliate against workers who complain by never inviting them back and within the program on the Jamaican side (and Mexican side for most H2A’s) massive retaliation occurs when a worker speaks up in reaction to bad treatment. Expanding that program will only cost employers more and continue the exploitation of workers desperate for work in other countries.

The AgJobs bill that died after 9/11 would have given work permits to all agricultural workers in the H2A program so that employers could hire them without all the red tape and would have allowed workers to choose which employers they worked for. It also would have given work permits to undocumented workers in the country working in agriculture.

I now work with undocumented workers who make up the labor force at Western Mass. and CT tobacco farms, nurseries, landscaping companies and vegetable farms. The employers want these workers because they work hard for very little pay, just like your friend wants his Jamaican workers. These men and women are the backbone of agriculture here and without them these businesses would not survive.

The stories I hear from workers about their conditions and about what they put up with to support their families would turn your stomach. They come from Chiapas and from Guatemala and they are clearly used to suffering. During the months of the year when they have work they often work six or seven days a week at minimum wage and they are happy for the work. In the winter, they clean snow and hope for bad weather. They, and millions of other undocumented workers around the country are here to stay and are willing to work and if they were given work permits your friend would spend less on paperwork and on proving that there are no US workers available (which is not true, by the way, because if the system worked as it should, instead of importing workers from abroad they would import workers from other states where there is a surplus of under-employed agricultural workers).

A massive expansion of the guestworker program only perpetuates the horrible conditions of farmworkers and is not the solution for farmers or for workers. Most employers already employ undocumented workers and rely on them.


Maria Cuerda