Farm Confessional: I’m an Undocumented Farm Worker


513 migrant workers jammed inside a truck trailer

Are Americans fat and lazy, or do the farms hiring undocumented farm workers bring down the pay and working conditions?

via Modern Farmer

I’ve seen on the news that some Congress members or American citizens say undocumented workers are taking their jobs. We’re not taking their jobs. In the 14 years I’ve been here, I’ve never seen an American working in the fields. I’ve never seen anyone work like Mexicans. In restaurants and construction, you’ll find Salvadorans and Guatemalans, but in the fields, it’s almost all Mexicans.

The work is hard — but many jobs are hard. The thing that bothers me more is the low pay. With cherries, you earn $7 for each box, and I’ll fill 30 boxes in a day — about $210 a day. For blueberries, I’ll do 25 containers for up to $5 each one — $125 a day. With grapes, you make 30 cents for each carton, and I can do 400 cartons a day – $120 a day. Tomatoes are the worst paid: I’ll pick 100 for 62 cents a bucket, or about $62 a day. I don’t do tomatoes much anymore. It’s heavy work, you have to bend over, run to turn in your baskets, and your back hurts. I say I like tomatoes — in a salad. Ha. With a lot of the crops, the bosses keep track of your haul by giving you a card, and punching it every time you turn in a basket.

I wish they would be more considerate of what we’re doing with the pay rate. They’re a little cheap: 31 cents for a carton of grapes. I would like another two or three cents a carton, because it’s really hard and heavy work. I’ve never worked a union contract job — a lot of them are in tomatoes or oranges — but if anyone doesn’t want to pay you, the United Farm Workers of America where I’m a volunteer, will help you get paid.

I’m very fast. In jobs where you’re doing delicate things, like pruning plants, they don’t want you rushing, so they pay you by the hour. But harvest jobs are usually paid by the quantity you pick. I prefer it that way — you have to run, but you can get home faster. We get there at 6:00 in the morning and, if I rush, I take a break at 1:00, drink and eat something, then work for another hour and head home. You pick the amount of hours you want to work, and you try not to take a lot of breaks so you can earn more. Some people will go until 5:00 in the afternoon and want to work and work, but I have my kids.


  • jnana

    the problem is they are driving wages and work conditions down and that shouldn’t be accepted. if I were in a union and on strike, wouldn’t I be pissed at the scabs who chose to work anyway? workers, undocumented and documented alike, need to work together and demand their rights. I work the same jobs these guys do. roofing, landscaping, farm work, in the same conditions they work, sometimes alongside them. yes, they do work harder as they’re used to really hot weather and they also tend to be meek, because the consequence of speaking up is harsher for them. but I refuse to be disrespected by the boss and I expect to be treated like a human, not a dog. we make them(bosses) money. most bosses of mine understand that. and that’s why they hire me instead of an illegal, being willing to pay a fair wage.
    I think these undocumented workers should just receive amnesty and be paid the minimum, like everyone else. they’re already here and there’s no way to get them all out, nor should it be necessary. then, americans can conceivably compete and no one has cause to bitch.

    • Simon Valentine

      i think you just had the opposite effect of the (if) intended effect.

      capitalism is designed to operate contrary to your closing suggestion.

      to me, everything here reads “[capitalist criminal cults] are driving wages and work conditions down … [sic] … and the close *would* be more like:

      prioritize bringing economic crime to justice

      pay ‘them’ (look, a funny) cheap to knock some blocks off .. e.g. ‘some of them’ work harder at a judge’s or lawyer’s job with less bias, yuh?

      pigs have one thing right – money *is* for burning
      notice how even their simple speech and common phrases are full of *normalized* deceit
      …and how helpful walking around with a baseball bat and a pocketbook full of sabre metrics is

      • jnana

        well, ideally, we’d just fire the bosses. too many cooks in the kitchen, except they’re not even cooking but just barking orders.

        “their simple speech and common phrases are full of *normalized* deceit”
        that’s because they have to fool us into believing we need them. they do a pretty good job of keeping us fighting amongst each other, believing the common people are the “parasites” and hard-working men and women are “aliens”.

        • Simon Valentine

          there’s a really good Nathan Explosion moment that works here (Mermaider delete scene), but i thought of this one first

          it’s the only way to be sure

    • Anarchy Pony

      Solidarity seems to be an alien concept to the American people these days.

    • kowalityjesus

      Nationalism is in part a building upon clanism, hence the French
      National Anthem, “may impure blood water our fields.” Although it is
      also clearly related to language, one could argue that nationalism is
      too closely related to ‘racism’ as in ‘favoritism of race’ to currently be able
      wash its hands of this concept.

      “Mexicans” are clearly primarily of indigenous blood. Most of America was annexed by semi-intentional genocide. Thus the repopulation of the US by a bloodline more akin to the vanquished populous is almost like a “reconquista” and who can imagine that this would not create some severe angst.

      If we absolutely required that all migrant workers were paid a decent “minimum” ($210 a day is way more than “minimum wage”), we could imagine that US citizens would be more apt to do the work, but we could also imagine a tripling down of the effort to get the fuck over here and do this work.

  • InfvoCuernos

    Its not just the actual wages, but the “benefits” also. If there is any accident on the job, the farm hands will not go to the authorities demanding justice, and the farmers know it. I worked for about two days on a ranch in southern NM when I was 16, and promptly quit when I saw someone get his face opened up stretching fence-which, I am sure, was being done in a manner other than OSHA would approve of. They just threw the guy in the back of an old Datsun truck that probably couldn’t make 45 mph and started toward the hospital 60 miles away. I am sure there are much more horrifying stories regarding the meat packing industry. This, and the slave-like wages, make the illegal immigration issue a human rights issue for me. All of these people are running from horrible third world situations that are far worse than this, but that doesn’t justify treating them as less than human- especially when we can, but choose not to because we perceive them as “owing us”. They raise our food, I think we owe them.

  • Cortacespedes

    I’ve worked these types of jobs. Never seen an American work the fields or “work like a Mexican”? I guess we’ve never met. We’d have a lot to talk about.

    There’s a lot of ignorance about agricultural jobs. About how they pay (piece-rate), about not having a job some days, other days too much work and there’s no such thing as overtime; the “seasonal” nature of the work. These things work against having any kind of “traditional” lifestyle, where you have a home and family. You’re always moving..moving. Even if the pay was good, most would eschew them because of their unsteady nature and family unfriendly structure.

    The seasonal nature of these jobs used to fit migrants well. They would come in, work for seven or eight months, then go back home to be with their family. The border isn’t as “porous” as it once was, making this very difficult to do now. So what was once a back and forth flow, is now getting to be very one-way.

    What needs to be understood is….these jobs HAVE TO BE DONE BY SOMEONE. They are necessary to not just the owners or the workers, but to everyone that eats. And when a group of people work at a lower wage, this makes food cheaper for everyone, and thus a “subsidy” is created. Would you really like to pay the real price for your meals? The capitalist farmer is not going to take the hit of a wage hike. These costs will be passed along. But perhaps food is too cheap, and taken for granted.

    I am still part of the food provider chain and I am all for banding together to try and fix this very unfair system. But, the problem of being able to hold out is always there.

    And desperation. Desperation is such a boon to capitalists.

    • oneironauticus

      “But perhaps food is too cheap, and taken for granted.”

      Considering how much of any particular crop is never even purchased and goes from field to rot, I’d say there’s obviously something fucked about it even if you never see the other side…walk into any grocery store produce section and realize that nearly half of what you see will end up in a dumpster (whether actually purchased or not) and multiply that by whichever scale you wish…well, I think the point is made clear enough.

      When I feel like complaining about prices at an organic food store, I try to make a point of remembering exactly why organic produce costs more –that it (ideally) supports smaller farms with fairer wages and doesn’t come to my plate sprayed with fucking poison–poison which potentially affects the workers far more than it affects me in each meal, especially in cases where I don’t eat the peel, such as bananas (sometimes it’s suggested to not bother buying organic in such cases, appealing primarily to selfish concerns, rather than the big picture).

      • Cortacespedes

        You should see the amount of food I throw out everyday as a produce distributor. It’s astounding. We do have food bank people that come in and try to salvage what they can, but still… it’s a lot of waste.

        We really do take food for granted…as well as the people who produce it.

        God, I really could have gone “off on a tear” with this story, but I suppose I should save it for one of my “essays”. The ones I will never get around to writing.

  • Juan

    Oh man, this is a group of people that I deal with every day at work. In fact, they are the very reason I am there to begin with. I hear bits and pieces of stories just like this, and far worse, all the time. Not only are they exploited by employers, they are preyed upon by the prison industrial complex as well. They are easy marks and the pigs know it, so they do whatever the fuck they want with them, lie, plant drugs, coerce confessions, and literally get away with murder.
    Some roosting chickens are long overdue.

    • echar

      Thanks for sharing your experience.

  • Haystack

    Mexican immigrants might *create* jobs if they were allowed to transact business in the open.

  • Pete Wagner

    The problem with US farming is that there is no law or control to prevent the wealth class from accumulating all the profitable lands. In fact, laws and tax structures prevent the ideal 5 acre organic farm that the best for community cohesion. Just another proof that our government needs to be completely overhauled.