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Ag workers fear falling in immigration limbo

By   /   February 22, 2013  /   News  /   1 Comment

By Marianela Toledo | Florida Watchdog

MIAMI — It’s estimated that more than 11 million undocumented immigrants are living and working in the U.S.  While some of them believe that the proposed visa program being hashed out in the White House could inch them a little closer to the American dream, others are not so sure.

“It’s a hope for the people who have been living here in the shadows. But it’s all up in the air, because it hasn’t been mentioned whether it (the reform) will apply to farm workers,” Lucas Benitez, a member and leader of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), told Florida Watchdog.

DANGEROUS JOB: Center for Progressive Reform says one farm worker dies on the job every day in the United States. (Photo by Coalition of Immokalee Workers)

CIW is a nonprofit organization recognized worldwide for its work in defense of agricultural workers.

“We hope that the reform will also apply to workers in the field, but we don’t know if they will put us in a different category,” Benitez said.

The CIW activists said he fears field workers will be forever stuck in mindless, repetitive work that taxes them physically and offers little to no opportunity for advancement.

Benitez said farm workers earn between $ 13,000 and $ $16,000 annually for full-time work. He said working conditions and low pay largely are to blame for the dwindling numbers of farm workers willing to come to the U.S.

“I think it’s fair to ask why there are shortages of field workers when there is a very high unemployment rate in the country,” he said. “If there are jobs in agriculture, why is the unemployment rate so high?

“A lot of people who are unemployed don´t want to work in a job that requires such physical demands,  40 hours a week, and yet still live below poverty level,” he said.

A study by the Migration Policy Institute brings to light the problem. According its research, the growth of the middle class and the declining birth rate in Mexico are decreasing the stock of workers willing to accept the demanding and low-paying jobs, both in their own country and the U.S.  In fact, Mexico is in the transitional phase of being both an exporter and an importer of agricultural labor, which makes the country heavily dependent on Guatemalan agricultural workers.

The study also showed that 70 percent of agricultural workers across the U.S. (excluding temporary workers with H-2A visas) were born in Mexico, and 55 percent don’t have legal documents.

REFORM NOW: “It’s all up in the air, because it hasn’t been mentioned whether it will apply to farm workers,” says Lucas Benitez, of the Coalition of Immokalee Worker. (Photo by CIW)

Benitez said that in Florida there are about 100,000 farm workers, but that it’s difficult to know the exact number and how many are undocumented because there are no official figures tracking them.

Rick Roth, owner of 5,000 acres of sugar cane, vegetables and rice in the Everglades agricultural area, also favors farm-worker reform.

Roth, along with the Florida Farm Bureau and the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association, will be heading to Washington, D.C. in the coming months to push immigration reform.

“We want them to know that it’s very important to us that they find a way to make our workers legal,” Roth told the Palm Beach Post in a recent interview.

FFVA said that despite the decline in the construction sector, agricultural producers are concerned about having a suitable workforce.

According to FFVA‘s website, the nonprofit supports immigration policies that strengthen national security while facilitating farmers’ access to a stable and legal workforce, including helping them obtain guest worker visas (H2-A visas) for their employees.

The H2-A visa program allows U.S. employers to hire immigrants to work temporarily in the agricultural industry.

To apply, employers have to prove to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service that the job is temporary and that there aren’t enough eligible workers in the United States willing to do the work. They also must provide transportation to and from work, housing, three meals a day and the same net wages as U.S. workers. On completion, the employer must return the workers to their home country. It’s an expensive, complex and confusing proces.

RUBIO: The immigration reform plan being discussed in the Senate suggests that agricultural workers be “treated differently than the rest of the undocumented population” because of their importance in maintaining the American “food supply.”

The website Immigrationdirect shows that since 2008 the number of H2-A visas issued has declined —  64,404 were issued in 2008;  60,112 in 2009; and 55,921 in 2010.

“I’m not totally opposed to guest worker program. But I don’t like how they can buy your freedom with it,” Benitez said.

“This program means that you can only work for the company that recruits and employs you.  If the crop is damaged and they don’t use you, you can’t work in another industry. They can just ship you back to your country whenever they please without having fulfilled the contract.”

He also said that he knew of cases where workers hired in northern Florida under the H2-A program work under conditions akin to slavery.

That’s exactly what Benitez and the folks at Coalition of Immokalee Workers aim to stop.  The CIW, founded in 1993, launched the Campaign for Fair Food in the early 2000s. It succeeded in reaching agreements with major food retailers like McDonald’s, Subway, Taco Bell and Burger King to improve the working conditions and wages of tomato farm workers.

“Right now the industry is embarking on a new day. These agreements ensure that workers are guaranteed at least minimum wage throughout their contracted employment period. We are also doing audits of the participating companies with industry specialists,” Benitez said.

Publix super market chain and Wendy’s are among the holdouts that still refuse to sign,” he said.

As reported by Watchdog.org on Feb. 7, the immigration reform plan being discussed in the Senate suggests that agricultural workers be “treated differently than the rest of the undocumented population” because of their importance in maintaining the American “food supply.”

“Unfortunately we can’t predict the outcome of the Senate vote due to all the games they play in Washington,” Benitez said. “Let’s hope that in this case, the interest is genuine and that legislators support it.”

Contact Marianela Toledo at [email protected].


Marianela formerly served as staff reporter for Watchdog.org.


    Ignoramuses is the only way to describe both political parties, who are endeavoring to pass an immigration pardon for truly unknown numbers of illegal aliens, when somewhat more than 23 million Americans remain jobless. I have never seen so many people standing with signs at exits of highway ramps, displaying signs saying, “They will work for food.” When so many Americans of all races, whether Anglo, Black, Hispanic, Asian are these Democrats, Liberals or Republicans pushing for another insane immigration Policy, WHEN WE CANNOT EVEN ESSENTIALLY FEED OUR OWN PEOPLE? The underlying principle is simple, that illegal aliens, whether migrants sweeping across a sparsely enforced border, illegal immigrants who flew across the oceans or even Canadians, is not beneficial to the present dark recession when Americans are having a very hard time, with either being jobless, in temporary or part time work or just plainly given up looking, while business nationwide are scamming our nation by using underpaid cheap labor. Why is Washington waiting to enact THE LEGAL WORKFORCE ACT, when U.S. citizens/residents are living in a state of misery; some without hope. Bring the Legal Workforce Act into the light and pass it, with the mandatory E-Verify provision that examines electronically every man or women who has a right to work, but prohibits unauthorized employees. The 1986 Simpson/Mazzoli immigration amnesty dismally failed, because the business world didn’t like it and leaned hard on Congress.


    The Immigration Reform and Control act (IRCA) was created with huge loopholes and a quagmire of fraudulent applications that was authorized, rewarding everybody with no reservations. The biggest mistake has been the Trillion dollars outcome of illegal alien children given automatic citizenship that must be amended, so only children of a U.S. citizen can be eligible. The BIRTHRIGHT CITIZENSHIP has provided from taxpayers free education, free health care and other welcoming entitlements. The illegal parents are able to collect huge benefits for every baby born and a nice tidy welfare payment in the form of a cash card; that’s why these parents are seen with two to six progeny, who benefit financially from a monthly stipend that can add up to thousands of taxpayers’ dollars. Also squeeze in the CHAIN MIGRATION bill, which ends up another expensive payout for us all, if the financial sponsor of immediate family ignores his promise to support them. All promises stated to us by the Congress, ends up as a pack of lies. Americans always gets short change. The newspapers like to name us as Nativists, TEA BAGGERS or something ugly and obnoxious, but the money I earn only goes so far, so I don’t think I or anybody else should be fiscally supporting the rest of the world. The 2006 Secure Fence Act needs to be reinstated, immediately—no matter the cost. Two fences separated by an open area for the ICE transportation activity, adorned with razor wire, cameras, sensors and other detection equipment. Unless these laws are met, its predicted thousands or nameless numbers will try to reach this country, before Obama signs it into law.

    AMERICANS BY COMING TOGETHER still have a chance to make ourselves known to the Gang of 8 immigration legislators, as there is admission to free faxes at NumbersUSA, to petition Washington. YOU CAN ALSO PHONE YOUR TARNISHED POLITICIANS THROUGH THE CORE GOVERNMENT PHONE SWITCHBOARD AT (202) 224-3121. The Immigration debates are going on now and we should demand no more Paths to Citizenship, construct the real fencing; that illegal aliens should return to their home country and go through the scrupulous process that honest immigrants must take. EVERY CITIZEN HAS A RIGHT TO PETITION HIS STATE OR FEDERAL REPRESENTATIVE AND ESSENTIALLY OFFER HIS OBJECTIONS ABOUT ANYTHING, INCLUDING ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION.

    Incidentally: If you think that the 2012 Presidential election was all above board, I’ll sell you the London Bridge for a dollar? As for the re-engineered polls that are suspiciously worded to fit a positive criteria. Being retired, I have time to read thousands of comments spread out nationwide in all forms of media. Do yourself a favor and absorb the facts yourself? The American people are aggravated and furious in having their taxes taken and their lives disrupted by illegal aliens, just being here. Not the propaganda spread by the daily dose inside the Liberal one-sided press.