NESAWG Statement on Immigration Human Rights Crisis

NESAWG staff and board strongly condemn our government’s inhumane and unjust actions against immigrants. We call for humane treatment for everyone seeking to enter this country, whether they are escaping violence, pursuing a better life, or joining family members who already live here. We acknowledge that all people except those indigenous to this land are settlers (regardless of status as immigrants or enslaved peoples) and that the legacy of land theft and racism can be traced from colonization to our present crisis.

For several decades immigrants have faced an increasingly hostile government in the United States even while our economy, in particular our food and agriculture economy remains dependent on immigrant labor. Crackdowns that began during our previous presidential administration have escalated into a widespread human rights crisis under our current president.

The impact these measures will have on the economics of farming and food in the US is devastating. The food system, from production to food service, relies heavily on immigrant labor whether documented or not. Thirty five percent of agricultural workers are undocumented. In the restaurant industry, 20% of all dishwashers and 28% of all cooks also lack legal status. The majority of these immigrants are people of color. The crackdown on immigrants, particularly in the agricultural sector, will have widespread ramifications including the loss of small-scale farms and American agriculture to other countries as farmers struggle to find an adequate labor force. Crops are already rotting in fields.

Immigrant food system workers in the US, regardless of their status, already face greater exploitation and abuse, more dangerous working conditions, fewer workplace protections, and lower wages than other workers, whether in the fields, slaughterhouses, processing facilities, or restaurant kitchens. This aspect of the food system in the US has been enabled by a racist immigration and agricultural labor policy coupled with heavy lobbying from the industries which profit from such exploitation. For undocumented workers, their tenuous status makes them ripe for this kind of inhumane treatment.  The stigma of farm work in the US, long associated with people of color and built on the unpaid labor of enslaved people, served as justification to leave farmworkers out of labor protections currently afforded to all other workers, and that stigma continues to justify their exploitation. However we cannot ignore the fact that immigrants are the backbone of our food system and important members of our communities in the United States and deserve to be treated with respect and dignity. It is well past time to recognize their humanity and provide farm and food chain workers the same protections as other workers, including a living wage.

As a farm and food organization committed to racial justice and equity, NESAWG sees the food system as a lens to examine social and economic justice and prosperity for all. Food is a basic human right. The ways in which people provide us food should be deeply considered and addressed if we want to achieve our vision of justice and sustainability. If we can succeed in making our food system truly just, we believe it will impact the rest of our society, economy, and culture as well. Or at least we hope.

We are not experts, we are still learning, but we believe it is essential for us to push ourselves and each other to call out injustice in the food system and hold ourselves accountable to those who are the most impacted.

Below are ways that you can get involved in the fight for human rights for immigrants.

Resources/Ways to Plug In

Give money or time to immigrant-led and immigrant advocacy groups like Pioneer Valley Workers Center, Migrant Justice, CATA, Worker Justice Center of NY, Food Chain Workers Alliance, Mano en Mano, Rural & Migrant Ministry, Movimiento Cosecha, United We Dream, Mijente, and Coalition of Immokalee Workers.

Contact your elected officials and ask them to:

  • Abolish and defund ICE
  • Decriminalize immigration
  • Reunite children and families
  • Reject upcoming agricultural immigration bill: House Republicans hope to introduce an agricultural immigration bill, sponsored by Representative Newhouse (R-WA), onto the floor this month. This bill is expected to replace or expand the existing H-2A visa program, which has been criticized by agricultural workers rights groups for enabling guestworker exploitation and abuse. The bill also plans to require all employers, including farms, to start using the E-Verify system to check the legal status of their workers. Tell your Representative to reject this bill when it is introduced.
  • Support the Agricultural Worker Program Act (S. 1034, H.R. 2690), introduced by Sen. Feinstein (D-CA) and Rep. Guttierez (D-IL). This bill would provide a path toward permanent residency and possible citizenship for some experienced agricultural workers and their families.  
  • Support the Green Lights NY campaign for driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants

Contact companies profiting from ICE and Department of Homeland Security activities separating families - visit Movimiento Cosecha and Sleeping Giants to get involved

Publicly demonstrate your support - attend rallies, protests, put a sign on your lawn, etc. Get trained in direct action. Now is not the time to remain silent. Here's an upcoming national call to action from Movimiento Cosecha. Follow immigrant organizations on social media and show up when they ask.

Know your rights and defend them - watch this ACLU video for how to deescalate and defend our constitutional rights.

Get educated about white supremacy - many group resources exist but this website is specifically for white people who are seeking resources to address white supremacy in their institutions, families, and culture.