Teresa, an undocumented farm worker from central California, knows the value and importance of her labor. She told told BuzzFeed News she feels “proud” about her work picking green onions six days a week. “I know that we are doing important work that is feeding the rest of the country. There are a lot of workers in the field. We are essential workers that this country needs.”
But despite being deemed an “essential” worker during the novel coronavirus pandemic by Homeland Security, Teresa and millions of other undocumented farm workers who feed America are mostly shut out of pandemic relief packages. Important enough to have to keep working at risk to their lives (as many of us are sheltered at home), but not important enough to get protections and relief they deserve. Several others shared their worries with BuzzFeed News.
Salvador, a mandarin picker also from central California, told BuzzFeed News’ Hamed Aleaziz and Adolfo Flores that his workload has increased, which means more added risk to illness. But he says he has no other choice. “If I don’t work, my family does not eat,” he said. “If the farmworkers don’t work, then the fruits and vegetables don’t arrive.” Another worker from the region has stopped working altogether out of health concerns for her children, one of whom has asthma.
“Leticia, who is undocumented, said that the decision costs her family upward of $600 a week, but it was the safer choice,” BuzzFeed News reported. “The family has had to cut down on expenses and rely solely on her husband, who works as a forklift driver. ‘I’m really worried. I was afraid something might happen to my son,’ Leticia said. ‘It’s been very difficult.’”
BuzzFeed News reports that the agriculture is poised to get nearly $24 billion in aid from coronavirus legislation, with a giant zero of that in relief checks going to essential workers like Teresa, Salvador, Leticia, and the at least 1.2 million farm workers nationwide who lack legal status, according to data from Farmworker Justice. “We are very worried,” Teresa continued to BuzzFeed News. “I’m scared of getting sick. I don’t have any type of health insurance, anything to help me.”
That’s why it’s vital that Congress pass newly introduced legislation seeking to ensure that these working families are no longer excluded from this vital relief, including treatment. Just as importantly, the legislation would ensure that working families who have paid their taxes using an Individual Tax Identification Number that the IRS issues to many undocumented workers would no longer be excluded from cash relief.
“As coronavirus has upended all our lives, we in Congress have rushed to provide the necessary relief to help our whole economy survive this crisis,” said co-lead sponsor Rep. Judy Chu. “But you cannot do that by excluding entire segments of the population.”
Entire segments that are already at risk due to pesticides and workplace harms, and are now at added risk due to a pandemic, and with no relief from a federal government that has also deemed them essential. “Some of us are blessed with the opportunity to work from home and maintain social distance to protect ourselves. Unfortunately not everyone is that lucky,” United Farm Workers president Teresa Romero said according to BuzzFeed News. “Unfortunately, farmworkers are uniquely vulnerable in the pandemic because they work in cramped, substandard, and unsanitary conditions.”
Let’s thank essential farm workers by protecting them in the workplace just as we protect any other worker in America—and that includes giving them green cards.