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The True Cost of Food: Immigration and Agriculture Workers

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Fair Trade & Social Justice page  and our California News page.

When Modesto Hernandez, 35, walks these days, he grips the curved handle of a brown metal cane to steady himself.

In 2008, Hernandez was pruning rows of raspberry canes in Whatcom County along the northern border. Red raspberries, as a commodity, are valued at $44 million in Washington state. The fields that day were covered with shin-high snow, and Hernandez was wearing rubber boots.

After he complained of losing feeling in his feet, the farmer he was working for provided no real or long-term assistance, he said. A week later, a doctor removed half of both of Hernandez's feet.

At one point, as thoughts of survival swirled in his head, he told one person: "If you cut your feet off, I'll put your feet in mine and I'll go work."

In 2008, Hernandez was one of an estimated 1 million undocumented immigrants who planted, pruned and picked crops in the United States. He helped ensure that U.S. agriculture - worth $297.2 billion as an industry - made it to homes worldwide. But Hernandez had little, if any, health and worker protection.

For more than 25 years, the United States has not addressed immigration policy, at least comprehensively, and the people that policy affects. But this year could bring significant change to a system that many dub as "broken."

President Obama and federal lawmakers are considering various aspects of immigration policy, including U.S.-Mexico border security and a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented people in the country. 
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