RALEIGH – In recognition of International Migrants Day, a day designated by the United Nations to celebrate the role of the migrant and to promote the protection of the rights of migrant workers and their families, the Farmworker Unit of Legal Aid of North Carolina joins the Transnational Legal Clinic of the University of Pennsylvania to announce the release of a new video, "Isolated by Force: Denying Migrant Farmworkers Access to Services."
Migrant farmworkers in North Carolina and across the United States labor and live in isolation, housed in employer-owned and operated labor camps. Employers, often aided by local law enforcement, regularly deny workers access to medical, legal, and other social service providers. There is no federal law governing access rights; instead, the right of access is in an uneven and patchwork system of state statutes, judicial opinions, and administrative guidance.
Even in North Carolina, where an opinion letter by the Attorney General supports the rights of migrant workers to receive visitors at their camps, those rights are regularly denied.
"Last year, an employer in Bladen County tried to prevent legal aid advocates from speaking with workers at a camp where there were suspected labor law violations. Despite being shown the Attorney General's opinion allowing access to migrant labor camps, the employer called the sheriff to report that we were trespassing. When we tried to visit the same camp a few weeks later, we encountered a locked gate and were prevented from talking to the workers," said Caroline DiMaio, attorney in the Farmworker Unit of Legal Aid of North Carolina.
Another example took place in May, when an employer carrying a gun in Sampson County approached a group of health outreach workers who had come to the camp to do health assessments and promote the services in their clinics. Despite many of them being dressed in scrubs and carrying medical equipment, the employer asked if they were prostitutes and told them they were illiterate because they "couldn't read the no-trespassing sign." He said he had called the cops and told them to leave the premises. As they drove away, they noticed the sheriff's car pulling into the drive.
Service providers across the country report similar practices, where farm owners and camp operators subject them and the workers to harassment and threats of violence, and threats or actual arrest carried out by local law enforcement.
"Over and over again, our partners and staff continue to be denied access to the homes of the workers who we are trying to serve. Even when we are explicitly invited, employers bar entry, at times with the threat of violence, adding to the culture of intimidation and fear that farmworkers experience," said Julie Pittman, paralegal at the Farmworker Unit of Legal Aid of North Carolina.
"Isolated by Force," produced by the Transnational Legal Clinic, calls attention to the devastating impact this has on migrant farm workers' rights under international law, including the right to freedom of association, freedom of assembly, basic workplace rights, and the right to be free from forced labor and human trafficking. It also recognizes the rights of the service providers themselves to security in person and not to be subjected to arbitrary arrest. The video calls on the United States to protect migrant workers' and their advocates' basic human rights by guaranteeing unrestricted access to workers living in isolation on employer-owned and operated labor camps.
Today, as the world celebrates migrants and their contributions to local communities and the global economy, "Isolated by Force" serves as a reminder of the work the United States government has to do to guarantee migrant workers' human rights, and calls upon the United States to ensure service providers access to workers in employer-controlled housing, and investigate the actions of law enforcement and others who interfere with the right to access migrant labor camps.
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Legal Aid of North Carolina is a statewide, nonprofit law firm that provides free legal services in civil matters to low-income people in order to ensure equal access to justice and to remove legal barriers to economic opportunity. Find us on Facebook and Twitter. The Farmworker Unit is a statewide project of Legal Aid of North Carolina committed to providing high quality civil legal services to address the special legal needs of migrant and seasonal farmworkers in North Carolina. Learn more at www.farmworkerlanc.org and find us on Facebook in English and Spanish.
Learn more about International Migrants Day at www.un.org/en/events/migrantsday/.
Lariza Garzón, Community Education Coordinator, Farmworker Unit, Legal Aid of North Carolina, 919-856-2186, LarizaG@legalaidnc.org
Sean Driscoll, Director of Public Relations, Legal Aid of North Carolina, 919-856-2132, email@example.com