An Economic Policy Institute report found that increasing farm workers' wages by 40% would increase US households' food bills by just $16 a year. Photograph: David Levene
This week, a bipartisan group of senators and the president unveiled their respective plans for much needed and long overdue immigration reform. For the 11 million or so undocumented immigrants who have settled in this country, the path to citizenship being paved for them looks like it will be more tough than fair.
While we don't yet know how this will all play out, at least there will be a path. For one group of immigrants, however – the farm workers who sustain our food supply – there is reason to fear that what awaits them is not a path to citizenship, but their cemented status as indentured servants.
Most farm work in America is performed by immigrants, most of whom are undocumented and therefore exploitable. The big agribusinesses that hire these immigrants will tell you that they need an unfettered supply of cheap foreign labor, because they cannot find Americans willing to do these jobs.
When you consider what these jobs entail – hours of backbreaking work in terrible and often dangerous conditions, subsistence wages with little or no time off, and none of the protections or perks that most of us enjoy (like paid sick days, for instance) – it's hard to see why anyone with other options would subject themselves to a life that is barely a step above slavery.