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The 4 million women you can thank for your last meal

They’re the backbone of our food supply. Their hands sliced the chicken breast we had for lunch. Their sweat brought the fresh tomato to our plates. Their backs bent to pick the lettuce in our salads. They are America’s undocumented workers.

Every day, on farms and factories across America, millions of women work to produce billions of dollars worth of fruit and vegetables that fill our stores and kitchens and nourish our children. At least 6 out of every 10 farm workers in this country are undocumented, and almost all of them live on the fringes of society, earning below minimum wage and facing humiliation, exploitation and sexual assault from their employers on a regular basis.

According to a new report, ‘Injustice on Our Plates,’ published by the Southern Poverty Law Center, the 4.1 million undocumented women living and working in the U.S. are among the lowest paid and most vulnerable members of our society. These women form the backbone of the agricultural system in this country, looking after their families, often working weeks without getting paid, working in unsafe and unsanitary conditions, with little or no recourse to any protection against the indignities they suffer at the workplace. They live in constant fear of being discovered and sent back to their home countries, with the looming threat of being separated from their children, many of whom are American born. It is grossly unfair that while contributing as much as $1.5 billion a year to the Medicare system and $7 billion a year to the Social Security system, undocumented immigrants will never be able to collect benefits upon retirement.

The report was compiled by SPLC researchers who conducted extensive interviews with 150 women from Mexico, Guatemala and other Latin-American countries who are or have been undocumented, and are working in the food industry, picking tomatoes, apples, green beans, lettuce, etc. in places like Arkansas, California, Florida, Iowa, New York and North Carolina. From a CNN article about the report-

Regardless of what sector of the food industry these women worked in, they all reported feeling like they were seen by their employers as disposable workers with no lasting value, to be squeezed of every last drop of sweat and labor before being cast aside.

Interviewed for the report, a woman called Maria reported being paid as little as 45 cents for each 32-pound bucket that she filled with tomatoes, and said that one employer did not allow his workers to go to the bathroom during their work-shifts. Olivia, a 46-year old meatpacker who came to the U.S. from Mexico to run away from her abusive husband and build a better life for herself, told the SPLC the horrific story of how she was raped by one of her supervisors after working a 12-hour shift. When she tried to report the incident to the senior management, her complaints were met with the retort, “What is so bad about that? He left you in one piece, didn’t he?” Despite extreme medical injuries and severe emotional trauma from the attack, Olivia was too scared to report the rape to the police out of fear that her immigrant status would be found out and she would be deported. Like countless women in similar circumstances, she was bound by the desperate need to work in order to look after her daughter and her parents who depended on her, and she had no option but to continue working for the man that beat her unconscious and raped her. The new report tells us that Olivia’s story is not the anomaly, but the norm-

Undocumented immigrant women are, in most cases, virtually powerless to protect themselves against such attacks…Some feel too much shame to report harassment or sexual violence, leaving them extremely vulnerable to exploitation by male co-workers or supervisors…Their abusers use their lack of legal status against them, knowing they are not likely to report sexual harassment or even violent attacks. Because of the many obstacles arrayed against them — fear, poverty, shame, lack of access to legal resources, language barriers, immigration status and cultural pressures — few immigrant women ever come forward to speak out against the wrongs committed against them. Too often, they are forced to compromise their dignity — to endure sexual harassment and exploitation — to obtain a better life and a measure of economic security for themselves and their families.

These women are economic refugees, running away from lives beneath the poverty line, hunger and desperation in their home countries, with the hope of working hard to provide their children with basic amenities like education, health and stability. The fact that such injustice and degradation is suffered by tens of thousands of hard-working women in this country on a regular basis is horrific and shameful on a number of levels. These women, responsible for putting food on our tables, are part of a systemic malady that is only getting worse. This is indicative of the sad irony of a world where high-level trade and capital move across borders with uncanny speed and ease, lining the pockets of nations and people in power, while the hands that build these “globalized” empires are forced to remain circumscribed within their lot, regardless of how unfair a lot it might be.

Deporting all 10.8 million undocumented immigrants would cost the economy over $2.6 trillion over the next ten years, not to mention the huge human rights violations that would occur as a result. Moreover, legalizing undocumented workers would raise the U.S. gross domestic product by $1.5 trillion over a decade. The report stresses the importance of immigration reform that would address these injustices in a way that is comprehensive, while respecting fundamental American values of dignity and justice.

Photo courtesy of the Southern Poverty Law Center

Union challenges the Colbert Report to take on immigrant farmworker jobs

Last night, talk show host Stephen Colbert took on the United Farm Workers (UFW) union offer calling on jobless citizens to replace immigrant farmworkers.

The tongue-in-cheek “Take our Jobs” campaign addresses the myth that our country’s unemployment rate is rising because undocumented immigrants are “taking jobs” away from U.S. citizens. Because of the obvious racist sentiment in such a myth, there are almost no safeguards for thousands of undocumented people that work on U.S. farms. And yet, much of the food we eat, in restaurants, stores and at home, comes to us from the hard labor of these very workers.

The Colbert Report
Arturo Rodriguez

“Take our Jobs” calls on unemployed U.S. citizens to apply for farm worker jobs and harvest the summer’s lettuce, peach and grape crops. Americans can fill out an online application form entitled “I want to be a farm worker”.

Farm workers are ready to welcome citizens and legal residents who wish to replace them in the field. We will use our knowledge and staff to help connect the unemployed with farm employers. Just fill out the form to the right and continue on to the request for job application.

Currently, about 1.8 million people work on farms in the U.S. According the the Department of Labor, about three-fourths of them are foreign-born, and approximately 50% of them are undocumented. And when it comes to working in the fields though, the proportion of undocumented workers is even greater. If all these workers were to be deported, as is the argument proposed by those opposed to immigration, the union holds that the result would be a huge increase in food prices in the country, the rotting of crops, and an increase in imports. the campaign is thus a segue into the need for immigration reform that creates a path to citizenship for these workers that form the backbone of this country’s agricultural economy. As the head of UFW’s union Arturo Rodriguez says, “If we asked all the undocumented immigrants to leave the country, the agriculture industry would die.”

Since its launch, the campaign website have received 2 million views. 5300 people have filled out the application form, but once they find out about the low pay and extremely difficult working conditions, most applicants withdraw their application. Only 3 people out of all those that applied are actually working in the fields.

Talk show host  Stephen Colbert had teamed up with the union to promote the campaign. Colbert interviewed Arturo Rodriguez last night on his popular talk show and signed on to be a farm worker, following up his commitment with the question, “It will be air-conditioned, right?” The hysterical interview addressed Arizona’s new law SB1070, growing anti-immigrant sentiment, and invited Americans to take the jobs that the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has called one of the top ten most dangerous jobs in the nation. Their exchange went like this (skip to timecode 16:41 on the video) -

Stephen Colbert- You are the 2nd President of the UFW union. What are you working on right now?

Arturo Rodriguez- We are working on improving the lives of farm workers.

SC- Why do we need to improve the rights of farm workers? Don’t get me wrong, you seem like a nice guy, but they’re mostly illegal immigrants correct?

AR- This, is true, but…

SC-So they’re taking our jobs?

AR- Not really…

SC- Yes, really.

AR- No

SC- Those jobs belong to American farm workers.

AR- Americans do not want to work in the fields. It’s very difficult work, it requires a lot of expertise and the conditions are horrid…

SC- In summer, California is the salad bowl of the country. In winter, salad is grown in Arizona. Are these workers going to go to Arizona if SB1070 gets passed?

AR- If it is enforced, it will be very difficult for them to go, yes…

SC- So is there a chance I won’t have my lettuce?!

AR- There’s a chance that lettuce prices would sky rocket….!

Colbert highlighted how unlikely it was that American workers would be lining up to pick grapes for pay as low as $8 an hour. But in an honest attempt to open up the sector to citizens, the campaign addresses the argument that American workers are harmed by immigration.

It is essential to pass immigration reform that provides due process and fairness to everyone who is crucial to the growth of our country. Because when we deny due process to some, we deny rights to all. Let President Obama and Congress know they must restore fairness to our broken immigration system NOW!

Colbert says – Always wanted a farm worker job? Now’s your chance

Unfortunately many in America consider the major issues facing our country – high unemployment and undocumented people – as interrelated, so they support inhumane immigration laws to reclaim the low-paying jobs undocumented immigrants have stolen. But, these individuals fail to realize that agriculture, a major low-paying job that gives us the food we all eat, is so dependent on an immigrant workforce that the anti-immigrant platform for economic reform is actually unrealistic and harmful to our livelihood. Farm workers are teaming up with comedian Stephen Colbert to challenge unemployed Americans in a tongue-in-cheek call for immigration reform: Come on, take our jobs.

Labor and political leaders concerned about an adequate labor supply for the crucial agricultural sector, hosted a news conference on Thursday, June 24, to launch the national “Take Our Jobs” campaign aimed at hiring U.S. citizens and legal residents to fill jobs that often go to undocumented farm workers.

This rather bold campaign, sponsored by the United Farm Workers of America (UFW) and immigrant rights advocates, challenges opponents to follow through with their platform and to mobilize unemployed American citizens to willingly walk in the poorly conditioned shoes of these immigrant farmers’ for even a day.

“Our county, our economy, rely heavily on the work of immigrant and unauthorized workers,” said Michael Rubio, supervisor in Kern County, one of the biggest agriculture producing counties in the nation. “I would encourage all our national leaders to come visit Kern County and to spend one day, or even half a day, in the shoes of these farm workers.”

Campaigners believe that they will not take up the opportunity. To highlight how unlikely the prospect of Americans lining up to pick strawberries or grapes, Comedy Central’s “Colbert Report” plans to feature the “Take Our Jobs” campaign on July 8.

“The reality is farm workers who are here today aren’t taking any American jobs away. They work in often unbearable situations,” UFW President Arturo Rodriguez said. “I don’t think there will be many takers, but the offer is being made. Let’s see what happens.”

The effort spotlights the immigrant labor issue and underscores the need for reforms without which the domestic agricultural industry could be crippled, leading to more jobs moving off shore. According to government statistics, three-quarters of all crop workers working in American agriculture were born outside the United States, and at least 50% of the crop workers have not been authorized to work legally in the United States.

“The campaign is being played for jokes, but the need to secure the right to work for immigrants who are here is serious business,” Rubio said.

In a letter to U.S. lawmakers, UFW offers farm workers who are “ready to train citizens and legal residents who wish to replace immigrants in the fields,” and encourages Members of Congress to refer their constituents to vacant farm worker positions. UFW has locations across the country where Members of Congress can direct their constituents willing to do work on large-scale farms. Employers will be on hand at each site to answer questions, meet prospective employees and assist in the application process. All who are interested or unemployed and are legal residents or U.S. citizens are encouraged to apply. Any takers?

Photo courtesy of

“Illegal alien” Halloween costume sets off firestorm

Picture 3On Friday, news started emerging about a racist and offensive ‘illegal alien’ costume being sold for Halloween on Target, Toys R Us, Walgreens, Amazon and a host of other retailers. Pressure from immigration activists including CHIRLA, United Farm Workers and LULAC helped pull some of the costumes of the shelves – while Target and Toys R Us pulled the costume off their websites, Walgreens showed it as out of stock.

There has been no official announcement from Amazon but it appears that the costumes have been pulled.

The costume, described by CHIRLA as “distasteful, mean-spirited, and ignorant of social stigmas and current debate on immigration reform” consists of “orange prison-style jumpsuit with illegal alien printed on the front, an alien mask and a green card.”

The mixed messages in the costume are mind boggling. A green card means legal status, therefore one isn’t quite sure what that’s doing as part of the costume – unless of course all immigrants are criminals. Being undocumented in the country is a civil offense – not a criminal offense – therefore why is a prison jumpsuit (which looks closely like uniforms worn by people held in Guantanamo) featured at all. Worst of all is the alien mask – clearly denoting how all outsiders are aliens. Maybe its even silly to try and break down such a costume but one can’t help it when Fox news is asking where America’s sense of humor is? And when William Gheen, president of anti-immigration group Americans for Legal Immigration PAC’s President has offered to conduct interviews wearing the costume.

In an even more disturbing and offensive twist, Fox ends their depiction of the news with, “if you’re here illegally, go to your local police station and tell them how outraged you are because you’re an illegal alien and this costume offends you!”

Perpetuating racism and discrimination, this is only one in a line of costumes, designed to provoke fear and hostility towards outsiders. Here are two more costumes from Party City and Halloween Express that do just that.


Picture 2

Keep up with UFW’s petition putting pressure on Amazon and other retailers to pull offensive costumes off their shelves.

Image courtesy of