Category Archives: farmworkers

Legal Aid demands greater access to migrant workers

watermelon_smallThe Voice of America interviewed Maryland Legal Aid staffers Nora Rivero and Nathaniel Norton for a story about the problems they face reaching out to migrant farmworkers.

“Norton and Rivero say farm owners systematically intimidate them from doing their outreach to migrant workers,” said VOA reporter Mana Rabiee. “One farmer brandished a baseball bat at Rivero, they say, adding that another grower and his son threatened to shoot Norton.

“'[They] got out of their trucks and came up to the window started yelling very angry,’ Norton said. ‘One of the things the grower was yelling was, “You could be thieves. I’ve got the right to shoot people on my property.”

“Across the United States, outreach workers who deal with migrant farmworkers have similar stories of intimidation by growers. They say it’s designed to keep activists away from the poor farmworkers the activists hope to help.”

To see the segment and read the entire article, click here.


Migrant farmworkers’ advocates file complaint with UN

From the Huffington Post:

WASHINGTON — Caitlin Berberich, managing attorney with the Southern Migrant Legal Services, a project of Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, said that when paralegals visit migrant camps, they are almost always ordered to leave by the landowners — sometimes with threats of police calls or worse. “One grower” in Arkansas, she said, chased “after our interns and our paralegals carrying a chainsaw.” The blade was not turned on, but the “Texas Chain Saw Massacre”moment left an impression.

“We regularly had employers follow them off, escort them off in their cars,” Berberich said of her legal team. “A couple growers we know are notorious for preventing us from having access.” One camp, she explained, has a security detail, its main purpose apparently to escort Berberich’s paralegals off the property.

Berberich’s experiences are not unfamiliar to lawyers, health care workers, and community advocates who have attempted to oversee migrant camps and check in on the tomato pickers, sheep herders, and other migrant workers across the U.S., from eastern Maryland to remote corners of Colorado to whole swaths of the deep South. Often these advocates provide the only ties the migrant workers have to local communities and address vital issues like wage theft and basic health needs like HIV testing.

On Thursday, a coalition of 28 nonprofit legal and social service organizations filed a complaint with the United Nations, alleging that migrant workers have been unlawfully denied access to assistance. The complaint, organized by Maryland Legal Aid with help from the Center for Human Rights & Humanitarian Law at American University Washington College of Law, argues that these barriers amount to a violation of human rights law.

To read the entire article, click here.

Legal Aid files complaint with U.N. about migrant camp access

WASHINGTON, Dec. 13, 2012—A coalition of 28 non-profit legal and social services organizations submitted a complaint today to the U.N. arguing that the practice of denying farmworkers the right to have visitors and social services providers the right to meaningful access to migrant farmworker labor camps is a violation of human rights law.

Maryland Legal Aid, with technical assistance provided by Center for Human Rights & Humanitarian Law at American University Washington College of Law, spearheaded the complaint submitted to Magdalena Sepúlveda Carmona, U.N. Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, by legal services, healthcare, workers’ rights, anti-trafficking organizations, and other community service programs that serve migrant farmworkers, representing all 50 states.

“This is the first time in history that these types of organizations have  joined together to submit a complaint  to a U.N. Special Procedure,” said Lauren E. Bartlett, director, Local Human Rights Lawyering Project at the Center for Human Rights & Humanitarian Law at American University Washington College of Law. “The legal aid and other organizations are making history by taking such a strong stance on expanding the rights of migrant farmworkers across the United States.”

Migrant farmworkers often live on the rural farms and ranches where they work. “They are completely cut off from the rest of society,” said Reena Shah, Human Rights project director at Maryland Legal Aid, one of the organizations that signed the complaint. “They cannot get legal help or go see a doctor when they need to – even if they suffer from HIV/AIDS or pesticide poisoning or fall prey to domestic violence or even child abuse.”

“Farmers and ranchers regularly harass outreach workers and even threaten violence if they attempt to talk to migrant farmworkers,” said Nathaniel Norton, supervising attorney, Maryland Legal Aid’s Farmworker Program. “Without the right to receive visitors and access justice, the ongoing human rights violations will continue to go unaddressed and will likely be exacerbated.”
The U.N. Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights is expected to review the complaint and communicate with the U.S. government towards a solution to the issue of migrant camp access and the right of farmworkers to receive visitors.  The joint legal aid complaint argues that a coordinated federal solution is necessary, given the widespread problem and the inconsistency in state-based policies.

To read the entire press release (with contact info), click here.

Farmers await assistance from Washington, while U.N. may look at migrant worker conditions

Supervising attorney Nathaniel Norton, client Janet Gonzalez

Delmarva Public Radio interviewed two Maryland Legal Aid experts about the living conditions of migrant farmworkers on the Eastern Shore. In a story about the federal farm bill stalled in Congress. Farmworker Program supervising attorney Nathaniel Norton and Human Rights Program director Reena Shah talk about the way migrants live and their efforts to get the United Nations  involved in human rights abuses. For the link to the interview, click here.

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.

Know Your Rights! A new brochure for farmworkers

Maryland Legal Aid released a series of new brochures for farmworkers in Maryland and Delaware. “Know Your Rights!” was prepared by Legal Aid’s Farmworker Program, which provides free and confidential legal services to migrant and seasonal agricultural workers at farms, orchards, canneries, pack houses, poultry processing plants in Maryland and Delaware.

Basic rights include:
• written description of the terms of the work
before you travel
• minimum wage or the promised wage
• pay for all of your work and waiting time
• the amount of work promised
• safe and sanitary working conditions
• safe and sanitary housing
• safe transportation
• free medical treatment in case of injury at work
• freedom from discrimination and retaliation
• legal advice

The brochures are available in English, Spanish and Creole.

Know Your Rights to Fair Pay

Know Your Rights to Fair Pay/A Guide for Workers in Maryland

Maryland Legal Aid released a new booklet, Know Your Rights to Fair Pay, loaded with legal information to help workers. Topics include workers’ compensation, wage deductions, retaliation, definitions of employee and independent contractor, minimum wage, overtime, and more. The booklet, downloadable as a PDF file,  is available in English (FairPay_booklet_English FINAL May 2010 ) and Spanish (FairPay_booklet_Spanish_FINAL May 2010