Since 2014, June has been recognized as National Immigrant Heritage Month, a time to celebrate our immigrant community members and their contributions to our country. At the National Young Farmers Coalition (Young Farmers), we recognize the valuable and essential contributions immigrant workers make to our food system.
Immigrants have traveled to this country since its founding, contributing to our food system, economy, and strengthening our agrarian communities, yet many immigrant workers, particularly undocumented workers, face discrimination and unsafe working conditions and lack access to basic worker protections.
The U.S. has been and continues to be dependent on immigrant workers, and it is imperative that we recognize the knowledge, labor, and time immigrant workers contribute to our food system. Although we are taking some time this month to highlight the stories of immigrant food systems workers, our responsibility is to advocate year-round for immigration reform, full labor protections, and other resources that support immigrants in their communities and workplaces. We want to celebrate National Immigrant Heritage Month by showing appreciation for immigrants in our communities and amplifying resources that will further support them.
Many immigrant workers in the U.S. face inhumane working and living conditions. Undocumented workers are forced to navigate a car-dependent country without access to driver’s licenses, making transportation to work or to the grocery store immensely challenging. Undocumented workers also fear deportation and being separated from their loved ones. Lack of citizenship status makes undocumented workers particularly vulnerable to workplace abuse and unsafe working conditions where they may experience injuries or causalities and be afraid to seek treatment. The conditions many migrant farmworkers face on farms put themselves and their families at risk of harmful pesticide exposure, and many farmworkers do not have access to healthcare should they become ill.
Immigrants should not have to live in fear or work in a violent system that thrives on their exploited labor. No one should have to sacrifice basic human necessities and rights in order to provide for themselves and their families.
A future where immigrants are treated with respect and live with dignity is possible, as shown by legislation introduced and passed in some states. Senate Bill 87 in Colorado, also known as the Farmworker Bill of Rights, grants farmworkers the ability to organize, set a minimum wage, and the right to overtime pay, access to healthcare, and so much more. Our Pennsylvania farmers and organizers supported legislation in the Commonwealth to allow driver’s licenses to be issued to undocumented immigrants, and this type of legislation should be embraced on the federal level. We need federal policy that promotes a humane society for all workers, including immigrants, in this country.
Young Farmers must amplify the voices of immigrant workers and center their experiences, especially as an advocacy organization working to change policy for an equitable farm future. During this National Immigrant Heritage Month, we will be sharing three stories from immigrant workers addressing the urgent need for pro-immigrant protections and legislation. Addressing existing policy successes and failures will help us ensure immigrants are treated with dignity and respect. We should all strive to reimagine a future where policies exist to protect all workers so that no one fears having their rights infringed upon while trying to make a living. We hope you will read the stories we share this month and join us in celebrating immigrants in our country.