"Indentured Servitude in America’s Tomato Fields"

Hi Gang:
I was sent a link to an extremely disturbing article today that appeared on the Discovery Company’s website, “planet green.com.”

The article was based on an excerpt of a book that was recently published and is entitled, “Tomatoland.”  The excerpt appeared in a recent addition of the Atlantic.  I have decided to provide you with both articles.
It seems that it is increasingly difficult to engage in a discussion about immigration today without the discussion turning to assertions about those Americans who are concerned about our lack of secure borders are racists and anti-immigrant.  The folks who seek to prevent the enforcement of our immigration laws are quick to point fingers and make outrageous claims.  They seek to win the debate by intimidation and by lying.
If they are really concerned about the treatment of aliens in the United States, why aren’t they protesting the outrageous suffering of these illegal aliens?  Could it be that they don’t care?  Could it be that they know full well what awaits illegal aliens who work on some farms but that all that they care about is growing the numbers of illegal aliens in the United States in their quest for more political leverage and money? 
Lobbyists who represent farm owners and especially the huge agricultural conglomerates tell the politicians that without immigrant labor their farms will fail and America will go hungry.  Their claim is that Americans simply won’t do tough, dirty work anymore!
Someone really needs to take this people to a construction site, a coal mine, a steel foundry or a road under construction where Americans trudge off to work each and every day and do hard work that the folks making these assertions could never relate to!
Some time ago a wonderful film was released by the name of “October Sky.”  That movie was based on a book that was entitled “The Rocket Boys.”  The author of the book is a man by the name of Homer Hickam.  He grew up in the 1950’s in a coal mining town, Coal Wood, located in West Virginia.  His dad was a coal miner and back then the only way out of the coal mines of West Virginia was a football scholarship.  Any able-bodied young man who graduated from high school back then was expected to join his father in the coals mines unless his father was severely killed or injured in those mines either by an accident or by succumbing to “black lung disease.”  In such cases, the young man went to work in the mines without his father!
In the case of young Homer, he became enthralled with the idea of space flight when the Soviet Union launched Sputnik on October 4, 1957 and ultimately, he and his friends built model rockets and won a science fair which provided Hickam and his buddies with a way out of the coal mines even though the were unable to play football well enough to get scholarships.  They got their scholarships because of their success in the science fair.
I mention Mr. Hickam and his book because he was called upon to deliver the eulogy in the aftermath of the mine cave-in at the Sago Mine of West Virginia a couple of years ago.  I watched the church services that Sunday afternoon and was taken by what he had to say.  One sentence in particular caught my attention and choked me up.  He said, “There is no water holier than the sweat off a man’s brow!”
My dad was a construction worker- he was a plumber.  Coal miners, construction workers and other men who do that sort of physically demanding, filthy, dangerous and back-breaking work are all cut from the same cloth.  That cloth is as blue as is the blue collar that represents the Americans who built this country and continue to build it, when they are given the opportunity!  I remember seeing my dad come home from work, filthy covered in sweat in the summer, often bearing bruises resulting from some mishap on the job.  In the winter, he came home frozen with icicles hanging off his plaid cap that he wore at work.  “Hard hats” were only starting to be worn when he died, at age 57 of lung cancer that was caused in part by his 3 pack a day cigarette addiction but was likely mostly caused by the fact that during the Second World War his work in the ship yards on Naval vessels exposed him to asbestos as did his subsequent work on construction sites.
My dad continued to work until he just could not work any more.  I helped him walk off his job on a rainy afternoon when he called me from a pay phone in his voice that had become weak and raspy because of his cancer.  We both cried as did his friends on the worksite.  I still have nightmares about that terrible day when I was all of 19 years old!
When Homer Hickam talked about the coal miners, I saw my dad! 
My dad was my biggest hero!  For him and his buddies in the construction trades, no challenge was too great!  They embodied the “Can do” spirit that used to epitomize the United States of America.  What might have been “Mission Impossible” for the other countries of the world was simply “MIssion Difficult” for this country and our citizens!
I am personally offended, and indeed infuriated beyond words when politicians and candy-ass executives look down their noses at the Americans who still know what an honest day’s work is and declare that illegal aliens are somehow harder working and more industrious than are the citizens of the United States of America!
The point I am making is that when you hear people tell you that the “Immigrants” as they falsely refer to illegal aliens are doing the work Americans won’t do, they are conveniently leaving out a couple of key points.  Americans will do any legitimate job and do it better than anyone else!  Time and again statistics point to the fact that the American worker is the most productive worker on the planet!  The point is that Americans will expect to earn a living wage.  What is the point to working your tail off and then when you get your paycheck you find that the financial hole you are standing in might even have gotten a bit deeper?
To see a clear example of this consider the passage from the articles I have provided to you:
                                                                                                   *********************************

Navarrete, however, did a great job loaning out money so that Domingo and the other workers could get alcohol, tallying it all down as money owed back to Navarrete. This was calculated along with basic needs. Again The Atlantic:

Everything, it seemed, had a price that Navarrete jotted down in a notebook, even activities related to basic hygiene. At the end of hot days of fieldwork, Domingo came home covered in perspiration and pesticides and had to pay five dollars to stand naked in the yard and spray himself off with cold water from a garden hose. His debts soon reached $300.

                                                                                                   *********************************
Second, Americans will expect that the conditions under which they work will meet minimum health and safety standards.  Consider this passage:
                                                                                                   *********************************
From the outset, it became apparent that Navarrete’s promises were too good to be true. Domingo’s 20-dollar-a-week rent wasn’t for a room with the family in the neat house but for shared space with three other workers in the back of a box truck out in the junk-strewn yard. It had neither running water nor a toilet, so Domingo and his “room” mates had to urinate and defecate in one corner. It turned out that there were about a dozen other men living behind the Navarrete residence, some in trucks like the one Domingo now called home, others in old vans, and others yet in a crude shack. Navarrete’s mother’s promise to provide food turned out to be two meager meals a day—eggs, beans, tortillas, rice, and rarely some sort of meat—only six days a week. Often the food would run out before everyone got his share.
                                                                                                   *********************************
If you treated a dog the way that these illegal aliens are treated you would likely be arrested and prosecuted for animal cruelty!  Meanwhile it is not only the illegal aliens who suffer, we are all suffering because the abject squalor in which illegal aliens live and work is likely a major reason why there are increasing instances of outbreaks of all sorts of food borne illnesses that sicken so many of us that, in some instances, cause the deaths of our citizens.
The only reason that these unscrupulous employers are able to get away with these atrocities is that the people who work for them are desperate and vulnerable to exploitation.  This is a very bad place to be!  These illegal aliens are trapped in lives that are veritable living hells!
Of course the open borders advocates will tell you that what is necessary is a sweeping legalization program that would provide these illegal aliens with lawful status and a pathway to United States citizenship.  If these farm workers were not illegal they would be willing to go to the authorities to complain about the conditions under which they are working.  Here is the reality- a reality I saw up close and in person when I was an INS Special Agent in 1986 and the ensuing years when the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) was enacted.  As soon as many of the aliens were granted lawful status they went to their bosses and told them that they wanted to be paid prevailing wages.  They told their bosses that they wanted the proper deductions taken out of the their pay envelopes so that they would qualify for Social Security when they were older.  They told their bosses that they would gladly work on weekends and holidays but wanted appropriate weekend pay as the Labor Department mandates.  They also told their bosses that they would not work in a factory that had blocked fire exits and so much filth that they could not breath.  They complained about the lack of air conditioning in the summer that caused the temperatures on the factory floors to exceed 100 degrees every day.
Their bosses generally had a two word answer to these demands- “You’r fired!”
These workers lost their jobs but their unscrupulous employers did not have a problem finding willing workers, they simply hired the next wave of illegal aliens that were already sweeping through the United States, encouraged and emboldened by the success of their predecessors in being granted lawful status and a pathway to United States citizenship!  That is, in part, how our country has come to witness the most incredible surge of illegal immigration in the history of our nation. 
As an INS Special Agent I did not see illegal aliens who were unlawfully working in the United States as my “enemies.”  I did know, full well, that the United States cannot solve world poverty by permitting all of the world’s poor to seek refuge in the United States.  Today it is estimated that one in four or one in five American families live below the poverty line.  A similar percentage of American children are not getting proper nutrition.  These Americans are of all ethnicities, races and religions.
There was no joy to be had in arresting aliens who had no criminal histories but it was a job that needs to be done in conjunction with the best interests of our nation and our citizens who are finding it increasingly difficult to hang onto their thin slice of the “American Dream.”
If we were all crowded into a lifeboat after the ocean liner we were on sank and saw hundreds of other passengers flailing about in the frigid, shark infested waters we would certainly want to let them all get on our lifeboat.  But what would you do if you looked around your lifeboat and saw that only a handful of empty seats remained and you quickly did the math and came to the gruesome conclusion that if more than a couple of more people came on board, the lifeboat would sink and all on board would drown?
Such is the situation we are in today!
Our nation still admits more than 1.1 million lawful immigrants each and every year.  This is far more than any other country admits.  These immigrants are immediately placed on a pathway to United States citizenship! 
A final point- there are temporary work visas that farm workers can be granted to enable them to legally work on farms throughout the United States.  One of the problems is that ICE does just about nothing to make certain that these farm workers actually show up to work on those farms after they are lawfully admitted into the United States.
I recall that in Brooklyn, New York we found a significant number of citizens of Jamaica, Trinidad and other countries who had been admitted into the United States to work on citrus farms in Florida.  Rather then report for work, they headed to New York City where they became involved with a different cash crops- marijuana and cocaine!
They became involved in shootings and crimes of violence in conjunction with the drug trade.  This created a nightmare for the NYPD and the residents of the communities where these individuals were operating- mostly they lived and “worked” within the Caribbean immigrant communities.  Meanwhile, the farmers who had petitioned for these workers never got the assistance on their farms that they thought they would get when they made their applications for the visas.  This provides still more evidence of how importance the enforcement of our nation’s immigration laws are from within the interior of the United States! 
Cesar Chavez of the United Farm Workers was opposed to illegal immigration because he understood how these people would be mistreated and how they would ultimately supplant American migrant workers in the fields of the farms.
Here is a question to ponder, who is really doing more harm to the plight of the illegal aliens in our country, the advocates for open borders or those of us who understand the implications of open borders that fail to protect our nation from the criminals, terrorists and other who would do harm to our country and also cause the erosion of workers rights and working conditions through the de facto importation of vulnerable, desperate and easily exploitable people?
Before the Second World War, the enforcement and administration of our nation’s immigration laws were under the jurisdiction of the United States Department of Labor.  (Out of national security concerns immigration came under the aegis of the Department of Justice.) 
The reason that th Labor Department was put in charge of immigration law enforcement was out of the understanding that a huge influx of foreign workers would have a severe deleterious impact on wages and working conditions of the citizens of the United States.  We now look back wistfully at that era and refer to it as the “Greatest Generation!”
I fear that at the rate we are going, our generation will acquire a different sobriquet, “America’s Last Generation!” 

Notwithstanding the false assertions by the open borders advocates, the most pro-immigrant action our government can take is to enforce our nation’s immigration laws!

I would remind you that the difference between an immigrant and an illegal alien is comparable to the difference between a houseguest and a burlgar!

The effective enforcement and administration of our nation’s immigration laws are, arguably, among the most important of all missions that are supposed to be carried out by our federal government.  

Nothing less than the security of our nation and safety of our citizens hang in the balance!

Indeed, our nation’s continuing failures to secure its borders and create an immigration system that poses real integrity also threatens the safety and security of our allies as well!

A country without secure borders can no more stand than can a house without walls!

I

our country is to survive and if our children and their children are to get their share of the “American Dream” the citizens of this nation must take their citizenship seriously!


We the People must be the best citizens we can be, citizens who are worthy of the gallantry demonstrated by our valiant men and women in the military, law enforcement and firefighters, who routinely go in harm’s way in defense of this nation and our citizens.  

My goal in writing this and other commentaries is to point out our nations many failings before more victims pay the ultimate price for the incompetence and ineptitude of our government.

The first step in problem-solving is to first identify the problems and vulnerabilities and then devise strategies to overcome them.

If you find yourself to be in agreement with this commentary, I ask that you forward it to as many of your friends and family members as possible and encourage them to do the same.  We need to create a “Bucket Brigade of Truth!”

The practice of good citizenship does not end in the voting booth, it only begins there.

The large scale apathy demonstrated by citizens of this nation has emboldened elected representatives to all but ignore the needs of the average American citizen in a quest for massive campaign funds and the promises of votes to be ostensibly delivered by special interest groups. There is much that we cannot do but there is one thing that We the People absolutely must do- we must stop sitting on the sidelines!


The collective failure of We the People to get involved in make our concerns known to our politicians have nearly made the concerns of the great majority of the citizens of this nation all but irrelevant to the politicians.  I implore you to get involved!

I believe our nation’s is greatly benefited by the rich diversity of our people which is why I could never imagine living anywhere except New York City, arguably the most diverse city in our nation if not, in fact, the world.  However, my idea of diversity most certainly does not include members of MS-13, the Mexican drug cartels or members of other transnational gangs or members of al-Qaeda!

If this situation concerns you or especially if it angers you, I ask you to call your Senators and Congressional “Representative. This is not only your right- it is your obligation! 

All I ask is that you make it clear to our politicians that we are not as dumb as they hope we are!

We live in a perilous world and in a perilous era. The survival of our nation and the lives of our citizens hang in the balance.

This is neither a Conservative issue, nor is it a Liberal issue- simply stated, this is most certainly an AMERICAN issue!

You are either part of the solution or you are a part of the problem!

Democracy is not a spectator sport!

Lead, follow or get out of the way!


-michael cutler- 



Please check out my website:


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Indentured Servitude in America’s Tomato Fields

You think this kind of thing can’t happen in the land of the free, think again.

By Sara Novak
Tue Jun 14, 2011 08:00

tomato picking photo

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We want to believe that in this country these sorts of
evils don’t exist. We want to believe that when that little sticker
reading USA is pasted atop a plump juicy tomato that it was grown
ethically. But in fact, this isn’t always the case. Food Politics writer
Barry Estabrook has just released a great piece of investigative
journalism that takes a closer look at the tomato industry and recently,
an excerpt from his book
Tomatoland appeared in The Atlantic.

The article takes a long hard look at the lives of the illegal
immigrants in Florida forced into a life of indentured servitude in
America’s tomato fields. It’s an unsettling story that shows how some in
the industry trap innocent immigrants into a life full of forced labor,
regular beatings, and inhumane living standards.

Domingo was an illegal immigrant who made his way here from Guatamala
in order to make enough money to send money to his sick mother back
home. He felt lucky when he scored a gig working for Cesar Navarrete
picking tomatoes. He was promised a decent place to live, meals prepared
by Navarrete’s mother, and approximately $200 per week, leaving plenty
extra for his mother. Navarrete even loaned Domingo money to get
started.

According to the story:

From the outset, it became apparent that Navarrete’s
promises were too good to be true. Domingo’s 20-dollar-a-week rent
wasn’t for a room with the family in the neat house but for shared space
with three other workers in the back of a box truck out in the
junk-strewn yard. It had neither running water nor a toilet, so Domingo
and his “room” mates had to urinate and defecate in one corner. It
turned out that there were about a dozen other men living behind the
Navarrete residence, some in trucks like the one Domingo now called
home, others in old vans, and others yet in a crude shack. Navarrete’s
mother’s promise to provide food turned out to be two meager meals a
day—eggs, beans, tortillas, rice, and rarely some sort of meat—only six
days a week. Often the food would run out before everyone got his share.

Navarrete, however, did a great job loaning out money so that Domingo
and the other workers could get alcohol, tallying it all down as money
owed back to Navarrete. This was calculated along with basic needs.
Again
The Atlantic:

Everything, it seemed, had a price that Navarrete jotted
down in a notebook, even activities related to basic hygiene. At the end
of hot days of fieldwork, Domingo came home covered in perspiration and
pesticides and had to pay five dollars to stand naked in the yard and
spray himself off with cold water from a garden hose. His debts soon
reached $300.

It turned out that it was all a scheme to create modern day American
indentured servitude. Workers were forced to work and beaten horribly if
they didn’t. They weren’t allowed to quit either with the constant
threat of vicious beatings hanging over their heads.

It’s a scary proposition and it shows that sometimes that USA label
just isn’t enough. Foods need to be local so that you know the farmer
and you know that those who grew your food were treated with respect and
basic human decency.

http://www.theatlantic.com/life/archive/2011/06/slavery-in-the-tomato-fields/240140/

Slavery in the Tomato Fields
By Barry Estabrook

Domingo hoped to save money to care for his parent. But instead
of $200 a week, he received a taste of the indentured servitude helps
fuel America’s tomato industry.

tomatolandB_wide.jpg
This article is excerpted from Barry Estabrook’s Tomatoland, released this week by Andrews McMeel Publishing.

The one-story, L-shaped house at 209 South Seventh Street in the
southwestern Florida city of Immokalee stands in stark contrast to the
couple of dozen trailers that surround it on three sides. A handsome
royal palm shades the front lawn. The dwelling is fairly new,
well-painted, and in far better repair that the average Immokalee
residence. Between 2005 and 2007, Mariano Lucas Domingo lived at that
address. New to town, broke, and homeless, he faced the prospects of
many recently arrived migrants—sleeping at missions and in encampments
in the woods and sustaining himself through once-a-day trips to the
local soup kitchen until he amassed enough money to get a room in one of
the trailers and buy his own food.

Domingo must have thought it was a great stroke of luck when Cesar
Navarrete, a strapping 24-year-old Mexican he met on the streets of
Immokalee, not only gave him a job but invited him to crash on his
family’s property on South Seventh and even offered to front him some
pocket cash. For 50 dollars a week, Navarrete’s mother, who also lived
in the house, would provide meals. Domingo could pay her after his first
check—a handsome sum. Navarrete was willing to give Domingo one dollar
for every bushel-basket-sized bucket of tomatoes he picked, more than
twice what many crew bosses were offering at the time. As for Domingo’s
lack of documentation, no problem. Navarrete knew someone who could get
him false papers. Domingo, a Guatemalan in his thirties, had come to the
United States with the dream of making enough money so that he could
send some home to care for a sick parent. With little quick calculation,
he determined that he’d be clearing 200 dollars a week from Navarrete,
leaving him with plenty of spare cash to wire back to Guatemala.

From the outset, it became apparent that Navarrete’s promises were too
good to be true. Domingo’s 20-dollar-a-week rent wasn’t for a room with
the family in the neat house but for shared space with three other
workers in the back of a box truck out in the junk-strewn yard. It had
neither running water nor a toilet, so Domingo and his “room” mates had
to urinate and defecate in one corner. It turned out that there were
about a dozen other men living behind the Navarrete residence, some in
trucks like the one Domingo now called home, others in old vans, and
others yet in a crude shack. Navarrete’s mother’s promise to provide
food turned out to be two meager meals a day—eggs, beans, tortillas,
rice, and rarely some sort of meat—only six days a week. Often the food
would run out before everyone got his share.

But Navarrete was generous in one way: He was always eager to extend
loans for his crew to buy all the beer, wine, and liquor they wanted, no
worries. And pretty soon Domingo, like other members of the crew, found
that he had become addicted to the alcohol that flowed so freely at 209
South Seventh. Everything, it seemed, had a price that Navarrete jotted
down in a notebook, even activities related to basic hygiene. At the
end of hot days of fieldwork, Domingo came home covered in perspiration
and pesticides and had to pay five dollars to stand naked in the yard
and spray himself off with cold water from a garden hose. His debts soon
reached $300.

Still, he was making a dollar a bucket, and by his calculations, after
nearly a month of 10-and-a-half-hour shifts, six days a week, he had
picked many times 300 buckets. But when Domingo, skinny and less than
five and one-half feet tall, brought the subject up, Navarrete said it
didn’t matter. Domingo was still in debt as far as Navarrete was
concerned, and if he tried to leave, he would be caught and soundly
beaten. Any crew leader who dared to hire him would get the same
treatment. Every week, Navarrete made Domingo hand back his paycheck.
After deducting a hefty check-cashing fee and subtracting for rent,
food, showers, bottled water, and liquor, he’d hand Domingo arbitrary
amounts, 20 dollars one week, 50 dollars the next.

Taking a day off was not an option. If Domingo or any of the others in
the crew became ill or too exhausted to go to the fields, they were
kicked in the heads, beaten with fists, slashed with knives or broken
bottles, and shoved into trucks to be hauled to the worksites. Some were
manacled in chains. One day a crew member couldn’t take it anymore and
ran away from a field. One of the Navarretes got in his truck to chase
him down. When the truck returned, Medel said that the man’s face was so
bloody and swollen that he was unrecognizable. He could not walk. “This
is what happens when you try to get away,” the boss said.

Image: Coalition of Immokalee Workers


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