Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Economist on Migrant Farmworkers

The Economist has an interesting piece on migrant farmworkers. Here is an excerpt:

Fields of tears: They came to America illegally, for the best of reasons . . .Often they take the same roads on which the “Okies” travelled en masse in the 1930s as they fled the depressed dust bowl of Oklahoma, Texas and Arkansas to seek a living in California. These Okies are for ever etched into America’s psyche as the Joad family in “The Grapes of Wrath”. Comparing the Mexicans who toil California’s fields to the Okies in John Steinbeck’s classic novel is a staple of the Latino left. That does not make it any less accurate. Joads then and Vegas now are pushed by the same need, pulled by the same promise. Now as then, there is no clearing house for jobs in the fields, so the migrants follow tips and rumours. Often, like the Joads, they end up in the right places at the wrong times. Felix Vega and three of his group, including his wife, were dropped off in Oxnard, famous for its strawberries. But they arrived out of season, so they slept on the streets, then in a doghouse, then in somebody’s car. For two months they did not bathe and barely ate. Finally, they found jobs picking strawberries and made their first money in America.

And thus they joined the vast undocumented workforce that undergirds America’s food supply. The government estimates that more than 80% of America’s crop workers are Hispanic (mostly Mexican), and more than half are illegal aliens. But Rob Williams, the director of the Migrant Farmworker Justice Project (which represents farmworkers in court), considers those numbers grossly misleading because they rely on self-reporting. He estimates that more than 90% of farmworkers are sin papeles (without papers), just as the Vegas are.  Read more....


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