As immigrants and advocates continue to push for passage of a pathway to citizenship for millions through the budget reconciliation process, farmworkers, United Farm Workers (UFW), and UFW Foundation last month extended invitations to all 100 U.S. senators. They asked them to work beside them for just one day. “Farm labor is the hardest work in America—we invite senators to come to see for themselves,” UFW President Teresa Romero said.
Organizers announced on Tuesday that two senators who make up the Democratic majority that can pass a pathway to citizenship have accepted that invitation: New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker and California Sen. Alex Padilla.
“Day in and day out, farm workers show up to America’s hardest jobs,” Padilla said. “They face down extreme heat, injury, and illness to put food on our tables—and yet too many are denied fair wages, workplace protections, and a path to legal status.” Padilla said during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing this past July that as many as 75% of farmworkers in California lack legal status. The novel coronavirus has only exacerbated risks these workers face. Yet no pathway to citizenship currently exists for them.
“As I fight for immigration reform that recognizes the critical value of our farm workers, I’m honored to accept UFW’s invitation to spend time working alongside professional farm workers and see firsthand the reality that essential immigrant workers live every day,” Padilla said. In the same statement, Booker said farmworkers “help sustain our agricultural and food systems even while many are still denied basic legal protections and employee benefits.” UFW Foundation has previously said that some undocumented workers have been afraid of reporting workplace abuses due to fear of retaliation due to legal status.
“I’m proud to accept UFW’s invitation to join farm workers for a day at their jobs, learn firsthand about their struggles, and use the experience as a way to better advocate on their behalf in the Senate,” Booker continued.
United Farm Workers said in the statement that its “Take Our Jobs” campaign has for over a decade now “offered to link the unemployed with jobs in agriculture near their homes anywhere in America. Yet only 11 people responded to the offer to work in the fields from the UFW, which produced much national news coverage. Stephen Colbert featured Take Our Jobs in segments on his Comedy Central show and worked a day in the fields himself.” Colbert also appeared in character in front of Congress to testify on behalf of farmworkers:
A lot has changed since that House hearing back in 2010. Steve King, the white supremacist sitting to Chair Zoe Lofgren’s immediate left, is no longer in Congress. The Colbert Report ended in 2014. What hasn’t changed is that undocumented farmworkers continue to feed America, continue to remain in limbo, and will continue to do so unless Congressional Democrats make this the year to pass permanent relief through the budget reconciliation process.
“Farm worker legalization means ending the fear that farm worker communities face on a daily basis,” said Jacqueline, a Georgia farmworker who was honored as an essential worker at the White House in July. “The same fear I’m holding. The fear of not being able to see some people, or family, just for trying to earn money to have food on the table like all other households. The very food that farm worker communities pick while undergoing hazardous conditions. Enduring the unbearable heat, the cold, body aches, and the COVID pandemic among other things. This fear haunts us and leaves many with an inability to do things or receive the care we need, which is something many take for granted.”
Farmworker Justice president Bruce Goldstein said in July that farmworkers “deserve not only our thanks and respect, but they deserve immigration reform that grants them immigration status and a path to citizenship.” Amen.
“Farm labor is the hardest work in America,” Romero continued. “We commend Senators Padilla and Booker for agreeing to come to see for themselves. Undocumented immigrants make up half of our current professional farm workforce. They deserve immigration action now.” UFW Foundation Executive Director Diana Tellefson Torres said the organization applauded “Senators Padilla and Booker for accepting the invitation to work a day in the shoes of farm workers to experience the hard work and commitment it takes to feed America.”