South Carolina fieldworkers receive low pay for toiling long hours in dangerous conditions, live in deplorable conditions and remain isolated and in the shadows out of fear of the country’s immigration laws, a new study shows.
Between 15,000 and 30,000 migrants, most of them from Mexico, arrive in the Palmetto State each year to work the peach, strawberry, grape, tomato, pepper, corn, blackberry and onion harvests, thus helping the state’s multimillion dollar agricultural industry stay afloat.
“From Sun-Up to Sun-Down: Migrant and Seasonal Farmworkers in South Carolina,” a study prepared by the Sisters of Charity Foundation, describes immigrant farm laborers as the state’s “least visible” community due to language barriers and the growing fear of the authorities as a result of their irregular immigration status.
The foundation’s senior research director, Dr. Stephanie Cooper-Lewter, told Efe on Tuesday that the aim of the report is to call attention to the situation of these workers and lobby for better working conditions.
“The most disturbing thing is the vulnerability of these workers, who live in areas isolated from the general public and who depend on the farm owners to transport them and allow them to leave the camps,” Cooper-Lewter said.
The investigation emphasized the “unwelcoming” environment for the immigrants that the state government has created by approving restrictive laws that prevent the integration of the migrant workers into society and the communities in which they live.
“Although the migrants hear horror stories, they don’t stop coming to our camps because they must get their families ahead. They come with their wives and children to work our lands,” she added.
The study also emphasizes five critical areas that must be improved so ensure a better life for the migrants, including labor protection laws, compensation in case of job accidents, access to the health care system, education for their children and decent salaries and living conditions.
Student Action with Farmworkers contributed to the investigation by providing six university students who served as interpreters and offered access to information about health programs, education and legal services to the migrants.
Ramon Zepeda, the organization’s program director, told Efe on Tuesday that the students are recruited from all over the country to help the farmworkers for 10 weeks and identify their difficulties.