Farmworkers honored at White House’s July 4th celebration push for pathway to citizenship

Farmworkers honored at White House’s July 4th celebration push for pathway to citizenship

Farmworkers were among the essential workers honored at the White House’s July 4 celebration this past weekend. United Farm Workers (UFW) said that the two families, from Georgia and Washington, represented the nation’s nearly 2.5 million farmworkers. More than a million lack legal status, and the families used the platform to urge leaders to pass permanent relief for farmworkers everywhere.

“I am excited to be given the opportunity to go to the White House,” Fortino Lopez said. He traveled with his wife, Ignorina Bustamante, from Washington, where he works as a pesticide applicator and equipment operator at a unionized winery. He called legalization “critical because we are the ones who harvest the food on the tables of everyone in the country. We were called essential throughout the pandemic—I believe that our work should be recognized.”

Also pressing on Congress to act were UFW Foundation member Karen, and her sisters, Jacqueline and Mayra. “The family migrated for many years between Florida, Georgia, Kentucky and Pennsylvania before settling in Moultrie, Georgia,” UFW said. “They have labored in various crops in addition to packing sheds. They have picked and packed tomatoes, jalapeños, bell peppers, poblano peppers, eggplants, strawberries, onions, cucumbers and tobacco. During the pandemic, Karen’s parents continued harvesting peppers, eggplants, melons and cucumbers.”

Karen said that farm laborers everywhere have worked “even during the pandemic, providing people with fresh produce on their tables.” While the federal government deemed them essential workers at the start of the pandemic, farmworkers have remained vulnerable to deportation. Due to their legal status, they’ve also been unjustly barred from emergency pandemic relief, despite being taxpayers. “The lack of a legal status puts them at risk at all times, and takes away their peace of mind,” Karen continued. “Legalization would allow them to work freely without having to worry about being split apart from their families and home.”

The president expressed support for a pathway to citizenship for farmworkers and other immigrants during a White House naturalization ceremony last week. “Advocating for farm worker legalization is important to me because I’ve seen first-hand the hard work that farm workers, like my parents and their coworkers, put in on a daily basis to provide for their families in hopes for a better future,” Mayra said. “Being a farm worker is a tough job that is often overlooked, but their hard work provides many families across the country the vegetables and fruits that they use and eat each day.”

The UFW Twitter account regularly does astounding work showing the day-to-day challenges facing farm laborers, including scorching hot temperatures in recent weeks, as Daily Kos’ Laura Clawson recently reported. Just days ago, Sebastian Francisco Perez, a 38-year-old farmworker in Oregon, died amid the heatwave. “Perez had been moving irrigation lines at Ernst Farms and Nursery in St. Paul when workers noticed he was missing,” Oregon Public Broadcasting reported. “They found him unconscious and couldn’t revive him.”

Next week, Fortino will be back at work in a vineyard in eastern Washington. He will also be back at work fighting for a path to citizenship for undocumented farm workers. We need #FarmWorkerLegalization to keep feeding America.

— United Farm Workers (@UFWupdates) July 5, 2021

He will bring home a gift from the White House, one of the American flags flown during President Biden’s inauguration. He’s also bringing home a renewed determination to win a path forward for his community. #FarmWorkerLegalization

— United Farm Workers (@UFWupdates) July 5, 2021

“Farm worker legalization means ending the fear that farm worker communities face on a daily basis,” Jacqueline said. “The same fear I’m holding. The fear of not being able to see some people, or family, just for trying to earn money to have food on the table like all other households. The very food that farm worker communities pick while undergoing hazardous conditions. Enduring the unbearable heat, the cold, body aches, and the COVID pandemic among other things. This fear haunts us and leaves many with an inability to do things or receive the care we need, which is something many take for granted.” Fortino said, “[t]he legalization of farm workers would allow us to continue to work safely without the fear of being deported.”

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