Vermont’s Mexican Farm Workers

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Farmers and agriculture
officials agree that Vermont’s Mexican farm workers are important to the livelihood of the state’s
agricultural economy.  But these workers live
largely in the shadows, for fear of arrest and deportation.  We’ll talk with Chris Urban and Cheryl Conner about the legal and cultural challenges
facing the state’s immigrant laborers. Urban is co-creator of an exhibit called The Golden Cage, documenting the lives of the workers.  Connor is a farmer and co-chairs the Addison County Farm Worker’s Coalition. We’ll also speak with Colonel James Baker, director of the Vermont State Police. (Listen)

Also, VPR’s John Dillion reports on The Golden Cage exhibit which combines photos of Mexican workers in Vermont with oral histories by farmers and workers. (Listen)

Photo: Caleb Kenna

Comments From Listeners:


Perhaps part of the reason farmers have difficulty in finding
individuals within our borders to work for them is that it is next to
impossible to live on the wages they pay.  A liveable wage in Vermont
in well over 13.00 per hour.  Is this what all farmers are paying all
of the help they hire?  What about the provision of health care?  These
people come to America because they want the dream of owning a home,
caring for loved ones and maybe, sending a child to college. The state
of Vermont taxpayers provide subsidies to most farmers, this being so
I would like to think that they in turn, are providing the dream to all
of these people and that can only be fulfilled on high wages. 


Christina from Cornwall:

I worked with Mexican farm workers in Addison county both as a friendly
volunteer and as a paid translator and teacher about six years ago.  At
that point in the evolution of this situation, I noticed two things
that have not yet been mentioned on the broadcast: 
1)  Many farm workers and Mexican migrants were connected through a
"middleman" or company that provided the workers with what they thought
were legal documents and the hiring farmer with supposed legal
documentations for the workers.  These middlemen made a lot of money
and seemed to get the ball rolling for this dynamic to evolve; 
2)  Because Vermont has so few people of color, Mexican migrants are
especially vulnerable to illegal racial profiling.  In recent  years, 
there were regular arrests after people were asked to prove their legal
status when spotted in public places simply because of how they


Lori from Waterville:

I am originally from Wisconsin, another dairy state, and lived in
Florida for almost 10 years.  Florida has a long history of using
migrant  workers to help harvest agricultural products, and over the
last decade, Wisconsin is also using these workers as well.
I feel fortunate that my mother had a passion for the migrant farm
workers "mission" south of Tampa.  She visited and contributed weekly
and still does.  She makes no bones about telling anyone where the food
on their tables is coming from, and the living conditions these people
endure to put the food on our tables.  The numbers in Florida are
obviously higher – due to the weather and year long growing season –
but cows need to be milked every day as well.
I wholeheartedly agree with Cheryl – the laws
MUST be changed to accomodate this integral and important workforce. 
These people aren’t criminals – and if we can provide a way for other
migrant workers to pick apples – the dairy farmers and other family
farms need to be helped to use this workforce.  Family farms are
disappearing in Wisconsin as fast as anywhere, and big corporate farms
are taking over.  This is a symbiotic relationship – and should be
protected and fostered. 
Dave from St. Johnsbury:
I’d like to applaud the State Police and Col. James Baker for their compassionate approach re: victims and witnesses of crimes. I urge them to limit their questioning generally re: whether someone has "proper" papers.

As to the question of "legality" of immigrant workers:
1. What would you do if there were a depression in the US, and you had a family to support and couldn’t get work here…. and there were hundreds of jobs in Quebec? Would some line deter you from going there to get money to send back to your family?
2. Have you read the inscription on the bottom of the Statue of Liberty lately? We invite the people of the world to come here!
3. Congress could fix the immigrant worker problem in a single afternoon if they would create a permit program (which thousands of employers are calling for!) that would simply allow people to come here for specific jobs and return to their homes after a specified time. It would solve the border problem instantly, the enforcement problem, and go a long way toward solving the social problems of Mexico and Central America. The migrant worker problem is largely a creation of a corrupt American Congress (not "illegal" workers!) 



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