This report is based on Human Rights Watch’s field research in 2009 and early 2010 and a review of secondary sources. We interviewed 59 children under age 18 who had altogether worked as farmworkers in 14 states in different regions of the United States: California, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and Washington State. We also interviewed 11 young people ages 18-20 who had worked on farms as children. We spoke with parents, legal services providers, nurses, doctors, social workers, education officials, farmers, and farm operators. We also spoke to officials of the US Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division and Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the Centers for Disease Control’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the US Department of Agriculture. Some interviews were conducted by telephone. In total we interviewed more than 140 people.
For this report Human Rights Watch visited Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, and Texas. We chose these states because they allowed us to interview both seasonal and migrant farmworkers, including migrants who were at home and on the road, as well as children working in diverse crops. Their labor included detasseling corn and sorghum; hoeing sugar beets, cotton, and pumpkins; and harvesting asparagus, cucumbers, Christmas trees, tomatoes, oranges, apples, blueberries, peaches, tobacco, and cherries. Florida and Texas are base states for migrant workers; North Carolina, Michigan, and northern Texas are destinations. Although agriculture includes both crop and livestock workers, our interviews focused on crop workers only.
Interviewees were identified largely with the assistance of a variety of organizations providing legal, health, and social services to farmworkers. These workers may have been less vulnerable than those without contact with any such organizations. Some farmworkers approached declined to be interviewed.
Human Rights Watch interviewed several agricultural guest workers, who are lawfully present in the United States on a short-term basis under the H-2A guest worker program but highly vulnerable to abuse. However, children under age 18 are not eligible for the program and even those interviewed who appeared underage maintained that they were not. Accordingly, their accounts are not used in this report.
Interviews were conducted in English or Spanish or a combination of the two, at the interviewee’s preference. Some persons interviewed in Spanish were native speakers of other languages indigenous to Mexico. Most interviews were conducted privately and individually, away from the worksite; where interviewees preferred to have another person present, this is indicated in the notes. All participants were informed of the purpose of the interview, its voluntary nature, and the ways in which the information would be collected and used, and orally consented to be interviewed. Most interviews ranged from 10 to 90 minutes in length. No one was provided with any compensation in exchange for an interview.
The statistics cited about the farmworker population are the most recent available at the time of writing. It is notable that there is relatively little recent nationwide data on farmworkers.
In this report “child” and “children” are used to refer to anyone under the age of 18, consistent with usage under international law. Except where otherwise indicated, the names of all children have been replaced with pseudonyms to protect their privacy and to preclude any potential retaliation. In addition, some service providers requested anonymity out of concerns about jeopardizing their access to farmworkers living on farms.
The term “migrant worker” can have various meanings and, as noted below, many farmworkers were, at least at some point in their lives, international migrants. In this report the term “migrant” is used for workers who travel for seasonal agricultural work, as distinguished from settled workers based on one place.
This report draws on survey data that use the terms “Hispanic” and “Latino” to refer to ethnicity. Where used in this report, these terms reflect those used in the survey referenced.
For more information about abuses suffered by guest workers, see Southern Poverty Law Center, “Close to Slavery: Guestworker Programs in the United States,” March 2007, http://www.splcenter.org/sites/default/files/downloads/Close_to_Slavery.pdf (accessed April 7, 2010); and Patricia Medige, “Perspectives on the Bush Administration’s New Immigrant Guestworker Proposal: Immigrant Labor Issues,” Denver Journal of International Law and Policy, vol. 32 (2004), p. 739. Less than 5 percent of all hired farmworkers are hired through the program. William Kandel, US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Economic Research Service, “Profile of Hired Farmworkers, A 2008 Update,” July 2008, http://www.ers.usda.gov/Publications/ERR60/ERR60.pdf (accessed April 8, 2010), p. 14.