Migrants: Enduring Farm Problem

June 3, 1983

Report Outline
Two Decades of Concern
Migrants and Social Policy
Immigration and the Economy
Special Focus

Two Decades of Concern

Alien Farm Hands Amid Nation's Jobless

Harvest of Shame,” Edward R. Murrow's television documentary exposing the misery of migrant farm workers, made history 23 years ago. Today, it is hard to imagine a subject that has since been more thoroughly explored by the news media, by scholars and by the government at all levels. But as another harvest season begins, it is clear that the issues raised two decades ago remain — and others have emerged.

Lawmakers responded in the years that followed Murrow's expose with an impressive array of legislation to improve the lives of the nation's farm migrants, who today may number 1.5 million. New laws made them eligible for food stamps, provided rural clinics for medical aid, created special school programs for migrant children and sent federally paid attorneys into the fields and courtrooms to fight migants' legal battles. Yet serious problems persist, causing some advocates of migrant workers to despair that they remain outcasts in a land of plenty. “By and large, all the resources that have gone in have amounted to very little,” said Steve Nagler, executive director of the Migrant Legal Action Program, a federally funded program based in Washington, D.C., “Many of the gains made on paper don't translate into reality. Migrants are still on the bottom.”

Even more desperate are the uncounted thousands of illegal aliens, mostly Mexicans, who form a large segment of the farm labor force in some of the Sunbelt states — notably California and Texas. Farmers say they hire illegal aliens because not enough Americans are available and willing to work in the fields. Ironically, farmers are breaking no federal law by hiring illegal aliens. It is the aliens who are breaking the law by accepting the jobs.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Farm Labor
Oct. 08, 2004  Migrant Farmworkers
Jun. 03, 1983  Migrants: Enduring Farm Problem
Feb. 11, 1959  Migratory Farm Workers
Apr. 04, 1951  Farm Manpower
Apr. 19, 1950  Migrant Farm Labor
Oct. 13, 1948  Collective Farming
Jan. 23, 1943  Farm Labor and Food Supply
Mar. 14, 1942  Farm Labor Supply
Farm Produce and Commodities
Immigration and Naturalization
Labor Standards and Practices
Outsourcing and Immigration