Saturday, June 22, 2024

Report Details Abuse Suffered by Immigrant Women Laborers

Undocumented female immigrants, especially in the food production sector, are some of the most vulnerable and exploited group in the US labor market.  These are the findings of a new report from the  Southern Poverty Law Center released at a press conference in Washington yesterday.

Injustice On Our Plates” was based on interviews with 150 women from Latin American countries, many of whom had immigrated to the US illegally.  Most worked in the fields picking produce in states from New York to California.  They all spoke of being subject to everything from harsh working conditions and sub-standard pay to sexual harassment and abuse.

“Regardless of what sector of the food industry these women worked in, they all reported feeling like they were seen by their employers as disposable workers with no lasting value, to be squeezed of every last drop of sweat and labor before being cast aside,” the report said.

These women are viewed often times as easy targets for predators because of their reluctance to come forward and complain or report any crime to authorities.  The majority of those interviewed for the report had experienced everything from groping to rape at the hands of supervisors.

“Fear keeps these women silent,” said SPLC Legal Director Mary Bauer, co-author of the report. “So their suffering is invisible to all of us who benefit from their labor every time we sit down at the dinner table.”

Yesterday, La Plaza reported on a documentary being made about the life of civil rights and labor leader Cesar Chavez.  Cesar’s Last Fast centers around an effort in 1988 Chavez mounted to raise the awareness of the harm farmworkers were exposed to because of the use of toxic pesticides in the fields.

The new report finds that more than a decade later, this is still very much an issue.

In one South Florida case, a woman working in a tomato field gave birth to a child born with no arms or legs.  She was not the only woman to have children with severe birth defects.

The mother’s employer, Ag-Mart, settled a suit with the family only “after an expert testified that the boy’s mother had been exposed to a “witch’s brew of pesticides.”

In order to end the abuse and resolve the myriad of issues facing the women who labor to put food on our tables, the report says that Congress must enact comprehensive immigration reform that includes labor protections for immigrant workers and a path to legalization.


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