Maryland Legal Aid spearheads human rights effort for farmworkers

Reena Shah

Maryland Legal Aid, in conjunction with four other legal services organizations representing the experiences of 14 states, submitted a letter to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights–the first time that legal aid organizations across the U.S. had come together to submit this type of communication to any Special Procedure of the United Nations.

“The purpose of the letter was to highlight the nationwide practice of denying–or not providing meaningful access to–migrant labor camps that employ and house farmworkers,” said Reena Shah, director of Legal Aid’s Human Rights Project. “The letter argued that for migrant farmworkers, the growers’ ability to deny or seriously impede legal services and other community providers from doing outreach on migrant labor camps ostensibly meant that they would not be able to access justice or other services essential to their health, welfare and dignity, thus resulting in grave violations of their human rights.”

The letter condemned the failure of the U.S. government to mandate such access as a violation of its treaty obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination–both treaties that the U.S. has signed and ratified–and urged the rapporteur to include this issue in her report as a means to apply pressure on the U.S. to take reasonable steps to come in compliance with its treaty obligations.

Legal Aid spearheaded this collaborative effort, Shah added: “Lauren Bartlett, director of the Local Human Rights Lawyering Project at American University, called it a ‘history-in-the-making document.'”

In April,  Legal Aid was selected as a project partner in the Local Human Rights Lawyering Project to explore ways to integrate human rights arguments and international law into the everyday cases.

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