I’ve brought up the issue of immigrant farm workers several times in my last few posts. (sorry! I know, immigration = touchy subject) But, it’s because I’m in Florida; where you can’t go anywhere without the issue of immigration slapping you in the face.
Companies get raided all the time. Students are getting deported left and right. And you always here people complaining about all the jobs going to immigrants – while they write a check to their Bolivian pool guy and their Haitian landscaper. We have a lot of work to do to change peoples’ thoughts on the issue here, and remind them of that little thing called “human rights”. But at least we’re not Arizona.
Some great work by coalitions here have catapulted Florida to the top of the news in winning rights for thousands of migrant farm workers, so that’s a start.
But I can’t help but want to step back for a minute and look at why we’ve come to this issue in the first place. Why are so many people from Haiti, Mexico and other Latin American and Caribbean nations flooding our borders? The obvious answer is economic opportunity. But what’s happened to the opportunity in their own countries? How is coming here to be paid nickels, mistreated and even enslaved the only other option?
The answer is hugely complex, and varies, from escaping government corruption, seeking religious or political freedoms, to fleeing from natural disasters. But how about the US straight jacking their opportunities right out from under them?
(I know that after my last inflamed post, people are going to begin thinking I’m just out to badmouth the US government or something. But that’s not true, I love this country (sometimes) and I think when you want to be proud of your country you have to criticize its flaws.)
Basically, because of our global export system (dominated by ours and other big nations), global trade agreements (lobbied by ours and other big nations), USAID and unregulated corporate practices, we are putting farmers and families out of business worldwide.
The trade off? We get to have Chiquita bananas at $.30/lb whenever we want. That totally outweighs the fact that Jamaican banana farmers are losing their businesses and Colombian plantation workers get shot at if they complain about working conditions. Right? Riggghht.
Then there’s the fact that we love dumping cheap grain on many third-world countries, especially during disasters. Thinking we’re just helping, we actually put those grain farmers out of business. Because who’s gonna turn down free USAID rice vs. dude’s $1/lb rice up the street? The only other option they have is to leave to find work elsewhere…in the exact country that screwed them in the first place – it’s a vicious cycle.
And like Food, Inc. pointed out, the food and ag corporations here are taking advantage of the fact that they put farmers in other countries out of business by turning around to recruit them to work for cheap. Yes, companies are advertising in places like Mexico with messages like “Good jobs working with XYZ food company in USA’ (except written in horribly translated Spanish), then these workers come here, work illegally for these companies, enduring close to zero wages, hard labor, and unfair treatment, only to have the Feds bust them for being here illegally, ignoring the fact that they were actively recruited by XYZ company who gets away clean. So they’ve lived here for years, working hard, paying taxes, yet we deport them back to their countries where we also own their jobs.
The solution? In the paraphrased words of the Border Agricultural Workers Project, how about we stop building walls and start building healthy rural communities in these countries so people can stay on their land and produce food? Just a thought.
Here are some great stats about immigrant farmers that are coming here and how we can harness their skills and growing numbers to improve their livelihoods and our food system>>>National Immigrant Farming Initiative.
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