Saturday, May 18, 2024

Latino Farmworkers are Frozen Out of Work After Texas Storm Iced their Crops

The Artic air that hit Texas last month put this season’s harvest on ice, leaving many farmworkers with no or very little work.

The winter storm froze many of the region’s crops mainly the citrus on the trees and blooms that would produce next year’s crops of grapefruit, oranges, lemon, and limes. Juan Anciso, a professor who is a vegetable specialist for the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service stated, “We lost the remaining fruit that was on the trees. They froze, and we also are going to lose next year’s crop, because this is the time that the blooms start to set. They need the foliage. It got interrupted, so there will be no crop next year, for sure, on the 23 to 26,000 acres of citrus.”

The storm caused a $300 million lost from crops alone which doesn’t include the ripples to the area’s economy from the impact on other jobs associated with farming to the decrease in spending by farmworkers. Elizabeth Rodriguez, a farmworker justice advocate with La Union de Pueblo Entero (LUPE) stated, “When devastation hits … they are the ones most vulnerable, and it is time for the rhetoric to change around undocumented workers. We need to recognize them as human beings and contributors to our community.”

Paulina, an undocumented Texan farmworker, expressed that her and her fellow farmworkers don’t travel across state lines because of Border Patrol checkpoints. She said farmworkers fear going out, even to work, because of the police.

Some workers can get jobs replanting and others may be able to salvage some of the watermelon crop. Some of the men can get some work in construction or yard work, but the freeze killed off plants and lawns which would have stopped landscaping work for now.

Undocumented workers didn’t qualify for stimulus checks in last year’s pandemic relief measures, however people who use tax ID numbers to file taxes could get the second check.  Under the Democrats’ immigration bill, farmworkers who pass background checks and can show that they have worked 400 days or 2,300 hours over the past five years could apply for legal permanent residence and be eligible to apply for citizenship after three years.

Representative Castro, Senator Padilla, among others, have also introduced legislation that would provide an immediate path to citizenship for 5 million essential workers including farmworkers. President Biden held a virtual meeting with Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador earlier this week, in which he was expected to discuss a guest worker program for about 600,000 to 800,000 workers per year.

Paulina stated, “I would like for them to support us with a permit so we would be able to walk around here without fear.”