Farmworker family integrity in the state of California has been under assault since family members first set foot into the state of California. In the U.S., no other ethnic groups’ family structure has been attacked so consistently; a true tragedy when one considers the importance of family bonds in the Latino community. I will summarize five mechanisms that serve to fracture and disrupt farmworker family integrity below:
The North American Free Trade Agreement, signed by Clinton into law in 1994 destroyed the 7,000 to 9,000 year old sustainable corn-producing economy of the Mexican countryside and forced millions of Mexican farmers to leave their farms and seek survival for themselves and family members elsewhere. Many family members chose an undocumented border crossing to the United States as one survival option. Prior to NAFTA there were approximately 4 million undocumented people living in the U.S. Currently, there are at least 11 million; the large majority of whom are former Mexican farmers who came to the U.S. as economic refugees of NAFTA. This huge population of Mexican economic refugees living in the U.S. is the largest foreign born population living in a country other than their country of origin, anywhere in the world.
Santa Cruz County is currently home to an estimated 13,000 - 21,000 farmworkers, approximately 83 percent of whom are undocumented. Farmworker families are binational with some family members still living in Mexico and other members living in the U.S. Mexican family members form strong familial bonds. The binational family member separation has created great suffering and pain in these families, since undocumented members in the U.S. are unable to return home to visit Mexican family members; even when members in Mexico are ill or dying.
TRUMP’S ZERO-TOLERANCE POLICY
As abundantly described in recent news broadcasts, Trump’s policy of separating children and patents that come to the U.S. from Mexico and Central America seeking asylum, as a way of discouraging undocumented immigration of Latinos into the U.S., created an international uproar. The policy has since been suspended due to a court order. However, to date, approximately 700 children have still not been reunited with their parents.
THE 50-MILE REGULATION
As described previously, the ONLY children that graduate from high school among families in the state’s 24 migrant camps are those that are sent to live with a family member or friend where the children can find consistent education in a single school for the entire school year. Those parents that send their children to live elsewhere complain about missing their children. California is the only state in the entire country that had a 50-mile regulation requirement for living in the migrant camps. Typically, children who can’t graduate from high school eventually drop out and become farmworkers like their parents; repeating the cycle of poverty, or join gangs.
ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement)
Beyond the formerly described familial threats to integrity, there is the ever-looming risk that undocumented family members may be “retained” by ICE. Teachers have described how some of the children in their classes complain about not being able to concentrate in class because they fear returning home after school to an empty home; their parents having been deported. Parents describe how they feel like they are jailed in their own homes; fearful of leaving for work or to shop because they don’t know where or when ICE could arrest them.
THREATENED REPEAL OF DACA
Finally, President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals provided some measure of hope and security for undocumented children wanting to pursue an education or career. Many of the young DACA students and professionals are the children of farmworkers who were able to realize their parents’ dream of a better life and break the cycle of poverty.
However, with President Trump’s recent threat to end DACA and deport qualified DACA participants, all bets are off. This assault on the family would remove these talented young people and send them back to Mexico. For the majority of DACA recipients, the U.S. is the only home that they know since they arrived in the country at a very young age.