Migrant Farm Workers – Dilemma & Controversy?

Migrant workers, especially from Mexico, are often given agricultural jobs for three main reasons:

  1. Farms and processing plants often pay workers under the table or don’t check documentation, making it easier for illegal immigrants to qualify for the jobs.
  2. Farms and processing plants often can’t find enough workers willing to take agricultural jobs at low pay rates.
  3. Migrant workers often have experience in the agricultural industry.
Agriculture Inspector Photo

The issue of migrant workers is one of major debate in the United States. Let’s look at each of the above issues a little more closely.

First, there is the issue of illegal immigrants working in the United States. Contrary to popular belief, not every Mexican farm worker is in the United States illegally. In fact, many still live in Mexico. There are a number of migrant worker programs that bus people to and from Mexican neighborhoods and help these workers apply for the proper work documentation so that they are fully legal employees in the United States. Some workers are also United States citizens who have properly emigrated from Mexico, often to join family members already in this country.

However, some of the workers in the agricultural industry are in the United States illegally. Farm owners and processing plants sometimes look the other way, knowing hiring illegal workers as a source of cheap labor. Workers are required to have proper documentation in the United States, but companies are often “fooled” by blatantly obvious fake documents. Why would companies hire these illegal workers? There are a few reasons. Agricultural companies don’t receive complaints about worker treatment or company policy when the worker is illegal, since no one wants to stir the pot. These workers are also extremely dedicated to the job, as they know it could be impossible to find another should they get fired. Companies also use this illegal labor to fill gaps in employment when they can’t find legal workers.

That brings us to point number two – the need for cheap labor. In the United States, consumers demand low food prices, and in order to meet that demand, farms and companies often rely on government subsidies to pay the bills. Even so, most can’t afford to pay general day laborers more than minimum wage, which many citizens do not consider to be a livable wage. Although the economic crisis in the United States has meant that many people are out of jobs and willing to take minimum wage positions, the fact of the matter is that some farms have reported that some of their crops go unharvested simply because they don’t have enough willing bodies to work at affordable prices. Migrant workers, both legal and illegal, are often willing to take these jobs.

This is, in part, because of the last point – many migrant workers have experience in the agricultural industry. While they may have few other skills, many of the people who once worked in Mexico were farmers forced out of work by larger corporations or seeking work at higher wages than what is offered in their home country. Agricultural companies will often hire a migrant worker simply because he or she has years of experience working the same type of job.

No matter what your feelings on migrant workers in the United States, if you want to compete for opportunities, be ready to accept low-paying jobs (at least at first) and never underestimate the power of experience. Although many farming jobs may seem extremely easy, over time, the knowledge you gather about a specific crop or animal can mean that you’re a much more valuable worker.

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