Academic journal article Centro Journal

“We like Mexican Laborers Better”: Citizenship and Immigration Policies in the Formation of Puerto Rican Farm Labor in the United States

Academic journal article Centro Journal

“We like Mexican Laborers Better”: Citizenship and Immigration Policies in the Formation of Puerto Rican Farm Labor in the United States

Article excerpt

Introduction

The Puerto Rican experience in farm labor challenges our understanding of U.S. citizenship and its relation to immigration policies regarding guestwork. A recent case illustrates the complexity of Puerto Ricans' role in farm labor in the mainland U.S. On January 5, 2015, Charlene Rachor, regional director of the Wage and Hour Division of the U.S. Department of Labor, announced charges against Cassaday Farms in southern New Jersey for unlawfully rejecting 13 qualified Puerto Rican workers who had applied for seasonal employment. Cassaday Farms had shown preferential treatment to guestworkers in violation of the regulations of the H-2A visa program.1 Farms hiring workers through the H2A program are required to recruit U.S. workers first and offer the same wages and working conditions to U.S. workers as to H-2A workers. The farm had allegedly provided wages and working conditions less favorable to the Puerto Rican workers than guestworkers without maintaining all required records. The owners agreed to pay $57,870 in civil penalties and $117,130 in back wages in order to settle the charges (Forand 2015). The Cassaday Farm case is one of many that demonstrate how employers' legal ability to deport a large segment of farmworkers (guestworkers and undocumented workers) has rendered another segment (Puerto Ricans and other U.S. citizens) less desirable for agricultural work.

Nowadays, Puerto Rican farmworkers are imperfect migrants for the majority of agricultural employers. Guestworkers and undocumented workers have become, what Cindy Hahamovitch (2003) calls "perfect immigrants" for an agrarian labor regime characterized by a low-wage, deportable, seasonal, mobile, and easily replaceable labor force. Being less desirable for agriculture does not imply that Puerto Rican workers are in a worse position than guestworkers or that being a guestworker is a privileged position. Rather, this article emphasizes the long history of ironies and contradictions in the ways that farmers and government officials have acted in regard to farm labor.

Puerto Rican migration to U.S. farms has grown and shrunk as a result of immigration policies and guestworker programs (see Figure 1). In 1948, Puerto Rican workers began to migrate to the Northeast through contracts sponsored by the Puerto Rico Farm Labor Program under the Migration Division of the Puerto Rico Department of Labor. The Puerto Rico Farm Labor Program was in charge of recruiting, arranging contracts for, and transporting workers from Puerto Rico to the mainland United States (Lapp 1990). By promoting migration and assisting workers, the government sought to eliminate unemployment on the islands while feeding the postwar labor demands of U.S. employers. The U.S. colonial status offered an important tool to the government of Puerto Rico to shape the migratory flows and the formation of Puerto Rican communities (García-Colón 2008). Colonial officials forced federal agencies and elected officials to pay attention to migrant farmworkers. The end of the Bracero Program and restrictions on H-2 workers increased the use of Puerto Rican farmworkers throughout the United States. Puerto Rican farmworkers in the mainland United States constituted more than 60,000 workers per year at the peak of their migration during the late 1960s and early 1970s (Morales 1986). They migrated because of their desire to earn a living with better pay and stability. During the mid-1970s, apple growers were successful in stopping the preference for Puerto Rican workers over H-2 workers. In 1975, this situation contributed enormously to the decrease of Puerto Rican migrant contract farmworkers (see Figure 1). Still, despite discrimination and shrinking numbers, contemporary Puerto Ricans continue their quest for earning a living by working in U.S. agriculture (Garc?a-Col?n and Mel?ndez 2013).

Studies of Puerto Rican farmworkers in the United States have focused on racial discrimination and social problems encountered by migrants, unionization and organizing, the failures of contract labor, emigration as a development strategy, the role of gender ideologies and domesticity, and their migration as form of transnationalism (Bonilla Santiago 1986; Duany 2011; Findlay 2014; Nieves Falc? …

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