Rochester area would feel loss of migrant farm workers, says advocate

Feb 16, 2017
Originally published on February 17, 2017 6:10 am

Thousands of people took part in protests across the country Thursday in response to the immigration policies of the Trump administration.

Immigrants across the U.S. were planning to stay home from school and work to show how critical they are to the American economy and way of life.

Irene Sanchez of the Worker Justice Center in Rochester doesn't think any local migrant farm workers joined the protest, but she says their absence would be noticed if they did walk off the job.

"They provide the food for our table. They harvest the food and they take care of the crops throughout the entire crop; they are the ones milking the cows so we can have fresh milk. If we don't have the workers we might be all affected by a hike in prices and a shortage of food."

Sanchez is a worker advocate at the center, which provides legal services to agricultural and other low wage workers.  She said the office has been getting phone calls from farm workers who are concerned about the Trump administration's pledge to increase the deportation of immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally.

"Families and workers, they are very scared. We're talking about workers who live isolated; we're talking about people who live in fear, who do not get out of their homes, who would rather have somebody else buy produce and groceries for them because they are afraid to leave the farm."

Sanchez estimates up to 70 percent of migrant farm workers in the Rochester area are undocumented.

Farm worker advocates are planning to attend a march in Albany on May 1, an annual event to lobby for worker rights.  Sanchez said many migrant workers earn less than the minimum wage and live in substandard housing, but are afraid to speak up for fear of deportation.