Organic Consumers Association

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Deporting the Hand That Feeds Us: How Anti-Immigrant Laws Are Causing a Farm Labor Shortage

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While researching her 2012 book The American Way of Eating, journalist Tracie McMillan decided to try her hand at picking grapes, sorting peaches and cutting garlic. The experience resulted in heatstroke, tendinitis and long-term damage to her right arm. In only one job - sorting peaches - was she paid minimum wage. That was also the only job where her employer was aware she was an undercover journalist. She left two jobs rather quickly, but stuck with the garlic job for six weeks until she literally could not use her right arm for anything and she became worried she might permanently damage it.

The harsh conditions and poor pay for farmwork are nothing new in American history. Before Mexicans worked on America's large farms, the U.S. used a different group of immigrants: slaves from Africa and their descendants.

In 1964, the U.S. government made a feeble attempt to replace immigrant farmworkers with U.S. citizens by paying them a guaranteed hourly rate of $2 per hour or $.32 per crate of oranges, whichever was higher. That year, Dave Secor decided to give picking oranges a try, but he lasted only a few days.

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