Washington, D.C.—Farm worker families from Georgia and Washington state are among the essential workers being honored today at the White House’s 4th of July celebration in-person event on the South Lawn. A UFW Foundation-member farm worker family from Georgia and a United Farm Workers unionized farm worker leader from Washington state and his family will represent the two organizations and the nation’s 2.4 million essential farm workers. The festivities are the largest event thus far of the Biden presidency.
The farm workers’ visit to the White House comes days after the Senate Budget Committee released a preliminary Democratic budget outline including $126 billion that would put farm workers, Dreamers, TPS holders and other essential workers on a path to legalization using the budget reconciliation process to pass by a simple majority vote. In addition to providing these workers with certainty and protections from deportation, reports indicate supplying a pathway to citizenship would significantly boost the U.S. economy, increasing the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by $1.5 trillion over 10 years and creating more than 400,000 new jobs. The budget resolution is up for a vote by Democratic senators before they leave for the August recess.
UFW Foundation member Karen, her two sisters, Jacqueline and Mayra, are a farm worker family from Georgia. Karen and her family have all worked in agriculture, her parents for more than 25 years. The family migrated for many years between Florida, Georgia, Kentucky and Pennsylvania before settling in Moultrie, Georgia. They have labored in various crops in addition to packing sheds. They have picked and packed tomatoes, jalapenos, bell peppers, poblano peppers, eggplants, strawberries, onions, cucumbers and tobacco. During the pandemic, Karen’s parents continue harvesting peppers, eggplants, melons and cucumbers.
Fortino Lopez and his wife Ignorina Bustamante live in Sunnyside, Washington where they have raised their three children. He is a pesticide applicator and equipment operator at unionized Chateau Ste. Michelle winery, one of the largest in the state, and a proud UFW member who currently serves as a leader elected by his co-workers to oversee union affairs at Chateau Ste. Michelle. The couple has lived in the U.S. and worked in the fields for more than 30 years. Fortino migrated to the United States in 1984 from Puebla, Mexico as an undocumented immigrant. Ignorina made her journey to the U.S. in 1991 and was also undocumented when she arrived from Guerrero, Mexico. Since then, they have worked in Washington state harvesting asparagus, hops, apples, cherries, pears and nectarines. They consider themselves fortunate to now have legal status and continue to actively fight for immigration reform.
You can read more about the two families, here.
Karen on why she advocates for the legalization of farm workers:
“Farm laborers work day in and out, even during the pandemic, providing people with fresh produce on their tables. The lack of a legal status puts them at risk at all times, and takes away their peace of mind. Legalization would allow them to work freely without having to worry about being split apart from their families and home.”
Mayra on her families’ opportunity to represent farm workers at the White House said:
“Advocating for farm worker legalization is important to me because I’ve seen first-hand the hard work that farm workers, like my parents and their coworkers, put in on a daily basis to provide for their families in hopes for a better future. Being a farm worker is a tough job that is often overlooked, but their hard work provides many families across the country the vegetables and fruits that they use and eat each day.”
Jacqueline on the need for farm worker legalization:
“Farm worker legalization means ending the fear that farm worker communities face on a daily basis. The same fear I’m holding. The fear of not being able to see some people, or family, just for trying to earn money to have food on the table like all other households. The very food that farm worker communities pick while undergoing hazardous conditions. Enduring the unbearable heat, the cold, body aches, and the COVID pandemic among other things. This fear haunts us and leaves many with an inability to do things or receive the care we need, which is something many take for granted.”
Fortino on the opportunity to represent essential farm workers at the event:
“I am excited to be given the opportunity to go to the White House. A pathway to citizenship for farm workers is critical because we are the ones who harvest the food on the tables of everyone in the country. We were called essential throughout the pandemic – I believe that our work should be recognized. The legalization of farm workers would all us to continue to work safely without the fear of being deportation.”
The farm workers traveling to Washington, D.C. are available for interviews in English and Spanish.