Undocumented Farmworkers: NOW They Are Essential?
(Lation Rebels) LOS ANGELES — In late March, American agricultural employers began distributing a curious letter to their field hands. The letter, published by the Department of Homeland Security on March 19, identified agricultural workers as “essential” to the food supply chain and affirmed their “special responsibility” during the COVID19 crisis. Indeed, field workers cultivate and harvest fruits, nuts, and vegetables all throughout this vast country, sustaining the agricultural sector and stocking markets and bodegas from East to West.
Despite their shiny new label, however, the dystopian reality hidden in the letter is that half of all agricultural workers in the U.S. are undocumented. Each resides in this country without any political rights, working to exhaustion sun up and sun down, vulnerable to detention and deportation at any given moment. Once this is grasped, the publication of the letter, which some believed would offer some sense of safety to the undocumented against detention, only seeks to prevent the collapse of this nation’s productivity, an understandable position but one which places the undocumented at center stage.
Indeed, while the letter might offer some relief to the undocumented, it is completely devoid of any serious protections. Those of us with intimate knowledge of field work and those with family in the sector can’t help be angry, frustrated, even furious with this letter. Why did it take so long to see field workers, who for decades have toiled to feed America, as essential? Why did it take a health crisis to acknowledge their work, their labor, their contribution, even their existence?
Beyond frustrating, the letter is irritatingly puzzling. The undocumented, who just yesterday were rapists and murders and criminals have been transformed, quite literally overnight, into heroes. But wonder —just wonder for a minute— what must pass through the minds of the undocumented upon learning of their new status. Despised yesterday and treasured today. There isn’t an undocumented individual in this country who has not been scarred in some way by this nation’s schizophrenic policies, often from a very young age. What will their label be tomorrow? Will they revert back to animals? Deported by the hundreds of thousands again? Will they continue to be imprisoned and separated from their children?