The Guardian reports that about half of the 2.5 million farm hands in the US are undocumented immigrants, according to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), though growers and labour contractors believe the figure is closer to 75 per cent.
Even before the pandemic, farms were among the most dangerous workplaces in the country, where low-paid workers have little protection from long hours, repetitive strain injuries, exposures to pesticides, dangerous machinery, extreme heat and animal waste. Food insecurity, poor housing, language barriers and discrimination also contribute to dire health outcomes for farm workers, according to research by John Hopkins Centre for a Livable Future.
Many undocumented farm workers have been toiling in the fields for years, pay taxes and have American children, yet enjoy few labour rights, have extremely limited access to occupational health services and live under the constant threat of deportation.
In truth, farm workers are never harassed while working in the fields, which advocates say suggests a tacit agreement with growers to ensure America’s food supply chain isn’t disrupted by immigration crackdowns. It’s everywhere else that these essential workers, who kept toiling throughout the pandemic, are not safe.