By: Vashti Kelly, Programs Manager
According to Migrant Clinicians Network, there are between 1 and 2.5 million hired farm workers in the United States. And although there are no exact numbers, it is estimated that one-fourth of hired crop farm workers are migrants. Migrant farm workers are farm workers that travel at minimum 75 miles from their permanent residences to work as they follow the crops they are harvesting. Often labeled “our nation’s invisible population,” an abhorring term, because all anyone need do is look, perhaps a more appropriate nomenclature would be “our nation’s disregarded population” since hand labor remains a necessity to maintain America’s need for blemish-free produce.
In 2000, the Department of Labor’s National Agricultural Workers Survey showed that migrant workers in the United States followed three general streams. In the East, workers originated in Florida and traveled north through Ohio, New York and Maine following the crops. The Midwest stream starting in South Texas has workers traveling up into the Midwest states. And the Western stream, migrant workers begin their season in California following the coastline to Washington State.
However, in recent years not only have migration patterns changed but so have those who migrate. No longer are the streams neatly defined, nor are they whole families migrating from state to state. As a result of current immigration reform (or lack thereof) it has created an accusatory climate that migrant farm workers are not eager to inflict upon their loved ones. Not to mention budget cuts that have caused migrant rest centers to shrink in capacity if not shutdown altogether. The current migrating stream patterns resemble those depicted in the map above.
There are also migrant farm workers that cross the border daily from Mexico into the border states of California, Arizona and Texas to work and return home at the end of the day, not to be confused with migrant farm workers looking to make the United States their permanent residence. And, although migrant farm workers are predominantly Mexican-born men, there are migrants originating from countries in the Caribbean, South America and Asia, and from states in the United States. And while there are common characteristics among migrant farm workers the greatest is the drive to earn a living, a living wage, enough to support their families back home; to be able to eat; or to create a life of their own.
Despite what is published and reported in the media, many farm workers migrate not so much by choice but out of necessity for survival and a better life, a direct result of U.S. foreign policies, like the North American Free Trade Agreement. Even though, the United States is known as the land of opportunity, the challenges for farm workers whether migrant or seasonal are numerous. It is because of those challenges that the Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs, is working to improve the quality of life farm workers and their families face through advocacy, education, and training.