No Human is Illegal
No Human is Illegal: The Migrant Farmworkers' Project
Immigration reform is needed, especially for those who have a history of law abiding life in the U.S., according to Suzanne Gladney, immigration attorney and founder of the Migrant Farmworkers Project.
While working at Legal Aid of Western Missouri, Gladney represented many immigrants who worked in apple orchards throughout rural western Missouri. Concerned about the needs and futures of migrant families, she began the Migrant Farmworkers Project (MFP) in 1984. She was especially concerned about the children, who constantly moved from place to place, were food insecure, in poor health and had very little access to quality health care.
The MFP is a small non-profit organization working to provide health care, education, legal advice and meaningful participation to migrant and seasonal farmworkers. The nonprofit strongly believes that no human is illegal, a belief-system that drives their efforts to support the fundamental rights of migrant workers.
In Lafayette County, more than 70 percent of migrant workers return each apple season. Some travel to three or four different picking locations throughout the year. Many sacrifice relationships with their families and loved ones in order to travel and find work. Workers who leave behind their families may only be reunited with them once or twice a year.
After apple season, most of the workers head to their next picking location, usually in Florida or Texas. If they made enough money, some will see their families for a short time before their next picking contract begins.
Although it may be more difficult than traveling alone, some of the workers are fortunate enough to bring their families as they travel and work in many different locations throughout the year.
Migrant labor camps house the workers and their families during the picking season. The housing quarters consist of small, concrete barracks or trailers. Some house two to three workers, while others house a family and sometimes extended family.
The women and older men work in the packing shed to sort, type, polish and pack apples for bagging and shipping. Most of the apple pickers are men, who work long, hard days.
During the heavy part of the season, when apples need to be picked immediately, pickers work as many as eight to ten hour shifts, six days a week, with only Sundays off. Work schedules are also contingent upon the weather. If bad weather cancels work, it is made up over the weekend.
Pickers climb up and down ladders picking fruit all day—a job that is laborious and physically exhausting. Pickers carry fruit baskets that can weigh up to 80 pounds, making it difficult to stay balanced while climbing to pick apples. “Most of the workers are experienced and pick fruit wherever they go, so they know what they have to do to keep balanced,” Gladney said.
Migrant workers are susceptible to injuries as a result of their work environments. Getting hit with branches and being in the sun for many hours are dangers that commonly causes eye injuries. Many workers also experience neck, back and hip problems.
“Working in perishable crops makes it difficult for migrant workers to schedule and attend health care appointments during the day,” Gladney said. Migrant farmworkers face long working hours, poor health and little access to care and services. These conditions affect migrant children, as some work in the packing shed after school or on weekends to help make money for their families. “The children often picture no future beyond life in the fields and orchards,” Gladney said.
Migrant children, often referred to as the “invisible children,” sometimes require education assistance and support that their parents can’t provide. Language barriers and frequent moves often hold children back when it comes to education and socializing with peers. Children who have been coming to the same place each year from an early age make friends and have an easier time adjusting to their environment.
“They are lucky here in Lafayette County because they arrive right when the school year is starting,” Gladney said. The migrant children attend local schools in the Lexington, Santa Fe and Wellington districts. The migrant Head Start program provides a safe and educational environment for young children. MFP also schedules educational trips for youth, including college visits and leadership training seminars that encourage children to further their education.
Staff and volunteers work hard to provide transportation and flexible scheduling for health care appointments and school meetings. MFP staff also assist with translation, provide English as a Second Language (ESL) classes for adults and sponsor a women’s group. Food bags are distributed every Monday through October, along with free blankets and coats. Legal counseling and government assistance is also provided.
“I hope to see reform for immigrants, a path to legal status and eventual citizenship,” Gladney said. “This is especially so for young people who have attended school in the U.S. and have a lot to offer to our society.”
To donate or volunteer for next year’s picking season, call 816.968.2212.