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Migrant Workers Are Not Tools

Aziza Botchway,
ACLU of Florida
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May 10, 2007

When I attended the SR’s visit to Immokalee, Fla., I was particularly struck by the testimony of one worker, who spoke on behalf on the Farmworker Association of Florida in Immokalee. Speaking about migrant workers being thought of as tools, he said, “They [the farmers] don’t think about our feelings and needs because they just think of us as tools and tools don’t have feelings.” As the child of an immigrant myself, I understand the feelings of not wanting to rock the boat in new surroundings — the workers who testified demonstrated bravery by being able to “rock the boat” by coming forward to share their stories.

The same worker told about migrant field workers being told to keep picking tomatoes despite hurricane warnings. Apparently while the local news was advising everyone in the path of the storm to take shelter, the farmers were more concerned about the tomatoes being ruined during the storm than the workers surviving the storm — after all, tools don’t need to take shelter.

I’m glad that the United States extended the invitation to the SR, but the sad reality is that while U.S. often holds itself out as a model on human rights issues there are a number of human rights abuses that occur right here in Florida. Undocumented immigrants often bare the brunt of many forms of discrimination and abuse because people know that their status often prevents them publicly voicing complaints. This makes migrant workers easy targets for exploitation.

During the visit, we heard stories of workers not being paid at all, and guestworkers afraid of deportation if they complained. While some workers were not being paid, others told of having to pay over $1,800 to rent trailers that house up to four migrant workers: more than the price of a luxury apartment in Downtown Miami. Something is really wrong with this picture.

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