DENVER – It’s a new year, and immigration reform advocates are hoping citizens put that subject “on the table.” They are reminding Coloradans about the contributions immigrant farm workers make to the state’s economy and food availability.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, there are about 100,000 farm workers in Colorado during the growing season, and most of them are immigrants. Like some other work visas, the H2-A type that they have ties farm workers to a single employer.
Workers’ rights advocate Carol Brooke says that has a downside.
“If there are problems with working conditions, or the amount of work, there’s a great incentive not to complain because they don’t have the opportunity to switch employers freely, as other workers do.”
Farm workers, known as H2-A workers because of the designation of their visa type, normally travel to the state from Mexico. Brooke hopes the immigration reform being considered in Washington will give the H2-A workers greater ability to seek out fair employment.
Under the H2-A visa program, farmers do not have to pay Social Security or unemployment taxes, which is an incentive, Brooke says, to avoid hiring American workers. She also points out that many of the workers are living in camps and must leave their families behind in their home country.
“I do think they’re doing a very difficult job and that they deserve to be able to do it under fair working conditions, with their families here, and to be able to participate fully in U.S. society.”
Migrant worker advocacy group Colorado Legal Services was among those sending a complaint to the United Nations last month, claiming that the United States is violating agricultural workers’ human rights by not guaranteeing that aid workers can provide health care and other services for migrants at employer-owned housing.