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Rep. Canales’ legislation honoring Texas migrant farmworkers approved by the Texas House of Representatives

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

Legislativemedia@aol.com 

Migrant farmworkers are so important to America that without them, the United States would no longer serve as the “breadbasket of the world”, helping alleviate hunger and famine here at home and throughout the world. 

In recognition of the vital roles played by the estimated two million to three million seasonal and migrant farmworkers in the country – including more than 131,000 in the state – the Texas House of Representatives designated April 23, 2013 as Migrant Farmworker Day at the Capitol. 

“Migrant farmworkers are the engine that drives the agricultural sector of the U.S. economy, a $28 billion industry. Here at home, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation, migrant farmworkers contribute $432.2 million in long-term agricultural production in Texas,” said Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg. “The seasonal and labor-intensive work that migrant farmworkers perform is integral to the success of the agricultural economy of our country and our state, and it is indeed fitting to honor the men and women engaged in this honorable profession.” 

Canales, who represents House District 40 in HidalgoCounty, authored House Resolution 1431. His resolution draws attention to the continuing help needed by this important labor force, which works in the second-most dangerous occupation in the country. 

“Many Texans have a link to migrant farmworkers, either because they once toiled in the fields themselves, or they, their family or their friends, are or have been members of this noble profession,” said Canales, who has 31,000 migrant farmworkers in his home base of Hidalgo County. “Migrant farmworkers are the foundation of the miracle of American agriculture, which puts food on our tables.” 

The states with the highest farm worker populations are California, Texas, Washington, Florida, Oregon, and North Carolina; 

House Resolution 1431 finally gives migrant farmworkers “their honored place in Texas history,” Canales added.  

“For many Americans, César Chávez and Dolores Huerta symbolize the struggles and successes of migrant farmworkers, but they also reflect the tremendous courage, integrity, and leadership that are part of the character and soul of migrant farmworkers,” the South Texas legislator noted. 

Chávez (1927-1993) and Huerta (1930-Present) are renowned U.S. labor leaders whose many achievements included co-founding the National Farm Workers Association, later to become the United Farm Workers. 

Both Chávez and Huerta have been recognized with one of the nation’s highest honors for civilians – the Presidential Medal of Freedom (Chávez by President Clinton; Huerta by President Obama). 

“Migrant farmworkers continue to shape our state and country in countless ways through the fruits of the labor, and through their own accomplishments and the achievements of their families,” Canales added. “Anywhere you go in this country and in Texas, migrant farmworkers have helped make and keep our nation the greatest country in the world.” 

In developing House Resolution 1431, Canales shared the following key characteristics about migrant farmworkers, including: 

Demographics 

• Texas has more than 131,000 migrant farmworkers;

 

• In HidalgoCounty alone, there are over 31,000 migrant farmworkers;

 

• There are two million to three million migrant farmworkers in the United States;

 

• Nearly 80 percent of migrant farmworkers are male, and most are younger than 31;

 

• Of migrant farmworkers in the United States, 75 percent were born in Mexico;

 

• The states with the highest migrant farmworker populations are California, Texas, Washington, Florida, Oregon, and North Carolina;

 

• According to a 2005 survey, 53 percent of migrant farmworkers are undocumented (without legal authorization), 25 percent are United States citizens, and 21 percent are legal permanent residents;

 

• As it is, undocumented workers make up roughly five percent of our labor force; 

 

• As of 2008, there were 39 million foreign-born people living in the United States, about 13 percent of the U.S. population; 

 

• Of these 39 million immigrants, about seven in 10 are naturalized citizens and lawfully residing non-citizens; and

 

• There are approximately 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States, who make up four percent of the U.S. population and 5.4 percent of the workforce.

 

Poverty

 

• More than 60 percent of migrant farmworkers are poor, and this is increasing. Seventy-five percent earn less than $10,000 annually;

 

• The purchasing power of migrant farmworkers has dropped more than 10 percent from 1989 to 1998;

 

• Immigrant farmworkers often leave their home countries to seek a better life for their families. Immigration to the United States has increased notably since the 1994 signing of NAFTA, a free-trade agreement that has driven more than two million Mexican farmers out of business;

 

• Migrant farmworkers are often paid by the bucket; in some states they earn as little as 40¢ for a bucket of tomatoes or sweet potatoes. At that rate, migrant farmworkers have to pick around two tons of produce (125 buckets) to earn $50;

 

• Few social benefits. Despite their poverty, most migrant farmworkers are not eligible for social services. Less than one percent of all migrant farmworkers use general assistance welfare, only two percent use Social Security, and fewer than 15 percent are Medicaid recipients; and

 

• Low education levels. The median highest grade of school completed by migrant farmworkers is sixth grade. Thirteen percent of migrant farmworkers have completed less than three years of schooling, and 13 percent have completed high school.

 

Economical Breakdown

 

• Migrant farmworkers serve as the backbone for a national multi-billion dollar agricultural industry;

 

• Without migrant labor, $5 billion to $9 billion in import-sensitive agricultural commodities would be lost;

 

• Without migrant labor 10 percent to 20 percent of fruit and vegetable production would shift overseas;

 

• Without migrant labor, Texas would face up to $455 million in agricultural production losses;

 

• Without migrant labor, Texas would face up to $90 million to 288 million in income losses;

 

• Migrant farm labor supports the $28 billion fruit and vegetable industry in the U.S.;

 

• The Texas Comptroller’s Office estimates the absence of the estimated 1.4 million undocumented immigrants in Texas in fiscal 2005 would have been a loss to our Gross State Product of $17.7 billion;

 

• The state comptroller’s office estimates that state revenues collected from undocumented immigrants exceed what the state spent on services, with the difference being $424.7 million; and

 

• The state comptroller’s office found that the costs of the underground construction industry are large. The city, state, and federal governments were denied an estimated $272 million in 2005 because of employers who did not pay payroll taxes for Social Security, Medicare, workers’ compensation, unemployment insurance, and disability insurance; as well as another $70 million in lost personal income taxes, because there is no withholding when workers are paid “off the books”.

 

Dangers of Migrant Farm Work

 

• Farm work is the second most dangerous occupation in the U.S.;

 

• Migrant farmworkers suffer from the highest rate of toxic chemical injuries of any workers in the U.S.; and

 

• Infant mortality rates are considerably higher among migrant farmworkers than the rest of the U.S. population.

 

 

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