I think I knew a lot of this, but it’s always infuriating to hear it all spelled out. When the US decided to end free migration back and forth across the US/Mexico border, it created a criminal class of people overnight. Migrant workers who formed the backbone of US food production suddenly found themselves completely without legal protections, and their bosses have been happy to take advantage of that ever since. Between body-breaking work at fast paces, conditions so hot that a spray of pesticide brings relief, and employers who make it pretty clear they’d use a whip if they could get away with it, it’s hard to understand why anyone would put up with all of that.
And then you remember how the US has basically been waging an irregular war against every country south of the border, purposefully destabilizing them, and creating conditions that are often even worse than the horrible conditions on USian farms.
Oh, and let’s not forget the child labor. Child labor’s having a bit of a comeback in the US. I would argue that it never really left, both because of legal loopholes allowing children to work in agriculture, and because while we moved some child jobs to other countries, there has never been a point at which children didn’t make up a significant portion of the workforce that supplies the US with its material goods. Farming is just one part of that.
As usual, John Oliver does a good job breaking down the situation, and highlighting the racism and brutality of a situation created and maintained by the US government.
This is nothing new. Cesar Chavez began organizing farm workers in 1952. In the 1980s, Gen X took up conditions for farm workers, the US-caused destabilization of Central America, and the Apartheid in South Africa as their causes. In 2010, Stephen Colbert famously spent a day in the fields with the workers and then spoke to Congress about it.
The irony right now is the conservatives screaming that “nobody wants to work” (terrible jobs for atrocious wages), yet simultaneously losing their minds over “open borders” (which aren’t and never were).
As for child labor: it’s always been a part of American society. At the age of 9 in the early 1970s, I was put in service to run a summertime daycare in my family’s garage for the stay-at-home mommies in the neighborhood who didn’t want to watch their own children during summer break…and I wasn’t unusual. Most girlchildren were the unpaid maids and babysitters for their families because so many mommies were being sedated to tolerate their existence in middle-class suburban America. Most dangerously, as you point out, children are doing farm work.
In 2011, remember, Newt Gingrich suggested that schools could fire janitors and use poor children instead–nothing like a 6-year-old handling flammable and toxic cleaning fluids!