What do food banks, food chain workers, and Dreamers all have in common? The answer, when it comes to immigration, is just about everything.

Today, our misguided immigration policies prevent us from providing healthy and sustainable food for all families, from upholding basic standards of human and labor rights within our food systems, and from creating opportunities for healthy communities for all children. In fact, America’s food system cannot thrive without fair, just, and humane immigration reform. Read more

Not even a decade has passed since Sergio Arau filmed A Day Without a Mexican, but 2012 may go down in history as the Year of No Meals Without a Mexican because of labor shortages in American fields and orchards. Since mid-year, there have been a growing number of state and nation-wide reports indicating that hand-picked vegetables and fruits produced in the United States will be unusually scarce this year.

This is not merely because of widespread drought but also because of a paucity of Mexican-born farm laborers remaining in the U.S. Earlier this season, the American Farm Bureau Federation predicted a $5 to 9 billion dollar loss in this year’s harvest of annual vegetable crops requiring hand-picking, largely due to a shortage of farmworkers.

In fact, many states—from California to Ohio—have suffered severe reductions in planted and harvested acreages over the last five years as the economic downturn and heated nation-wide debate over immigration have sent many farmhands back to Latin America. Compared to other harvest seasons, a 30 to 40 percent shortage of skilled harvesters this year has been confirmed by California farming organizations, which note that peaches, cherries and other premium crops are going unpicked.

But now a new report—Hungry for Change: Borderlands Food and Water in the Balance—reminds Americans just how much of their entire food supply is dependent upon labor, expertise, ingenuity, seeds, seafood, and water originating in Mexico. The report, released last week by the University of Arizona’s Southwest Center, was prepared for discussion at the first-ever Border Food Summit to be held September 16-18 near Nogales, Arizona, the most important inland food port-of-entry in the world. Read more

When then-governor Bush ran for president under the banner of “compassionate conservatism,” it seemed to me then (as it does now) that he did not know the meaning of either word.  I was reminded of this on Friday during Stephen Colbert’s congressional testimony before a House subcommittee on immigration, a gig he got because of his support for the UFW’s Take Our Jobs campaign.  The campaign’s purpose is to point out how vital migrant farm workers are to our food system, and how difficult the work is, while also demonstrating that they are not “taking jobs from Americans.”  Fact is most Americans won’t take those jobs for one (or both) of two reasons:  The hard work and the low pay. Read more

A few years back I was in a church basement in Oklahoma City preparing a meal for a busload of Florida farm workers on their way home from California.  They had gone there to stage a protest at Taco Bell parent corporation Yum! Brands HQ.  Their humble request? Two cents more per pound of tomatoes picked by their compatriots in and around Immokalee, Florida, so that they might be lifted out of near-and-actual slavery.

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers eventually won that fight and many others like it, but their lives in the tomato fields there are still by no means easy.  It’s backbreaking work in the hot Southwest Florida sun, with long hours, poor housing and little to no free time.

Recognizing though that there are unemployment and immigration problems in this country, the Godfather of a farm worker movements – The United Farm Workers – has come up with an innovative solution.  Their suggestion: Take Our Jobs!  That’s right, all the folks who are out of work and feel that undocumented workers are taking jobs that should go to American citizens like themselves are invited to apply online and join the exciting field of manual farm labor!  Apply now! Read more

At any given point over the last several years, David Retsky of County Line Harvest has hosted between one and three interns on his farm. Interns have staffed booths at farmers markets, supported his core crew of farm laborers, and they’ve had the opportunity to learn about the inner workings of the business. In return, he’s provided them with room and board and $300 per week.

“It’s a resume builder and they get to find out if they really like agriculture,” says Retsky. “It’s been a win-win.” A win-win, that is, until he had a visit from a California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE) official. The DLSE audited County Line and fined Retsky $18,000 for payroll violations. Now he turns down all of the two to three requests he gets a week from young people hoping to come to the farm.

A number of small-scale farms have been fined for similar offenses, and there’s a growing consensus among farmers that interns — who, by nature, are compensated in nontraditional ways, with some combination of education, food, housing, and payment — aren’t worth the risk.

Read more

If you’ve ever wanted a look inside the lives of the invisible men and women, many immigrants, who toil at the hidden jobs that are essential to our economy, I’d recommend reading Gabriel Thompson’s Working in the Shadows (Nation Books 2010). These are the jobs all around us: in rural areas on roads rarely visited, and in large cities in the back rooms of the service industry. And they are crushingly hard on both the body and the spirit.

Author Gabriel Thompson spent a year working alongside these individuals and documenting his experiences doing the jobs they spend their lives doing. Writing the book was his attempt to open a door on these workers’ hopes, dreams, and daily trials. Along the way, he has illuminated the darkest corners of our economy, including our poultry processing plants, lettuce fields, restaurant kitchens, and luxury floral shops. Read more