Undocumented Farmworkers in California

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Undocumented Farmworkers in California

Undocumented farmworkers in California face many problems, including environmental injustice, issues with access to healthcare, and immigration policy. There is an extensive history of undocumented farmworkers working and unionizing to gain access and rights to fair wages, legal status, and environmental and health justice.

59% of undocumented farmworkers in the United States enterered over 10 years ago[1]. Up tp 65% of farm laborers in California are undocumented[2]

EPA Policy

United States Environmental Protection Agency

The United States Environmental Protection Agency was established on December 2, 1970 under President Richard Nixon.  The EPA’s mission is to protect human health by safeguarding air, water, drink land, thus working towards a cleaner, healthier environment for the American people.  The EPA is a consolidation of federal research, monitoring and enforcement activities, and standard-setting to ensure environmental protection.  

The EPA receives its authority to register pesticides under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) and establishes tolerances (maximum legally permissible levels) for pesticide residues in food under the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA).  

California Environmental Protection Agency

Established formally in 1991, the California Environmental Protection Agency is an agency dedicated to restoring, protecting and enhancing the environment.


Pesticide-Related Health Issues

Agriculture systems in the United States are cited as the single largest user of pesticides. Pesticides, while registered with the EPA, are made of both active and inert ingredients and are currently not tested for health effects that are chronic or acute.[3]

Some health issues associated with pesticide exposure are in increase in tumor-related death. Other studies found an increase for brain cancer, non-hodgkins lymphoma, chronic lymphocytic leukemia, hairy-cell leukemia ,kidney cancer, lung cancer [4], pancreatic cancer, prostate cancer, and stomach cancer over a long period of time in relation to pesticide exposure. [5]

Access to Health Care

There are a multitude of reasons for why a great number of workers do not have access to health care. Since 84% percent of farmworkers in the U.S. are Latino, many do not speak English. The language barrier constitutes a prominent reason for lack of insurance among farmworkers. In 2005, the National Agricultural Worker Survey reported that only 22% of farmworkers in America are covered for health insurance. Migrant farmworkers are also reported to have a low education levels. Other reasons are related to lack of transportation financial means, and migrant health centers.[6] While it is difficult to synthesize farmworker demographic data, one study found that a little more than half of U.S. farmworkers were in the United States without legal citizenship. The lack of authorization has been linked to an avoidance of health care professionals and other amenities that could potentially alert authorities of their status.


North American Free Trade Agreement

Since the passing of the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1993,[7] there have been a large northward migration of Mexican farm workers.[8]This is often said to be due to the effects on Mexican corn farmers[9].

Environmental Impact of NAFTA

NAFTA has led to an increased use of pesticides and environmental policy was often neglected[10].Free trade resulted in pressures on the environment, requiring regulation and protection. NAFTA has increased air and water pollution in Canada, the United States, and Mexico[11].

Agricultural Job Opportunity, Benefits, and Security Act

Introduced to sentate in 2003, the 108th congress, the Agricultural Job Opportunity, Benefits, and Security Act of 2003 (AgJOBS) allows for qualifying alien farmworkers’ adjustment to legal status, but not to alien farmworkers already working in the United States without legal status.[12] The AgJOBS Act of 2005, introduced in the first session of the 109th Congress, reforms AgJOBS to include adjustment to legal status[12]. The bill stated that migrant farmworkers already in the U.S illegally could apply for adjustment to legal status[13]. After adjustment, “worker could apply for legal resident status[13].” Minor children and spouses would also be protected from deportation[13].

United Farm Workers

Environmental Aspects of UFW

The UFW grape boycott was the start of addressing pesticide exposure and attributing farmworkers' deaths to hazardous pesticides[14]. Starting 1969, The United Farm Workers began to focus their efforts on pesticide health threat to both farmworkers and consumers as a means to draw support from the public and restrict pesticide use in California.[15] The UFW partnered with the Evironmental Defense Fund (EDF) and was represented by the EDF when working to ban the use of DDT[15]. By 1969, the EDF partnered with local environmental groups to prohibit DDT in 3 states[14]. In the protests against hazardous pesticides, the UFW struggled to gain support from larger-scale environmental groups during the boycott of California lettuce and grapes[15].

By 1970, the UFW's boycott led to the start of pesticide regulation[14]. By June of that year, California farm owners began to sign union contracts with the UFW, allowing for the monitering and regulation of dangerous pesticides, including DDT[15].


  1. "Selected Statistics on Farmworkers". https://www.farmworkerjustice.org/sites/default/files/NAWS%20data%20factsht%201-13-15FINAL.pdf. 
  2. Mines, Richard (February 2006). "Data on Crops, Employment and Farmworker Demographics: A Resource for California Rural Legal Assistance". https://migrationfiles.ucdavis.edu/uploads/cf/files/2007-june/minescadata.pdf. 
  3. Moses, Marian (August 2016). "Pesticide-Related Health Problems and Farmworkers". Sage Journals 37 (3). Template:Citation error. 
  4. Barthel, E (October 2009). "Increased risk of lung cancer in pesticide‐exposed male agricultural workers". Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health 8 (5-6). 
  5. Alavanja, Michael (April 2004). "Health Effects of Chronic Pesticide Exposure: Cancer and Neurotoxicity". Annual Reviews 25. Template:Citation error. 
  6. Villarejo, Don (May 2003). "The Health of U.S. Hired Farm Workers". Annual Review of Public Health Vol. 24: 175-193. Template:Citation error. http://www.annualreviews.org/doi/full/10.1146/annurev.publhealth.24.100901.140901. Retrieved 04/05/17. 
  7. "North American Free Trade Agreement" (in en). Wikipedia. 2017-03-13. https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=North_American_Free_Trade_Agreement&oldid=770121227. 
  8. Bacon, David. "Globalization and NAFTA Caused Migration from Mexico | Political Research Associates". http://www.politicalresearch.org/2014/10/11/globalization-and-nafta-caused-migration-from-mexico/. 
  9. Service, USDA Economic Research. "U.S.-Mexico Corn Trade During the NAFTA Era: New Twists to an Old Story" (in en). https://wayback.archive-it.org/5923/20120310210833/http://ers.usda.gov/Publications/FDS/May04/FDS04D01/. 
  10. "North American Free Trade Agreement" (in en). Wikipedia. 2017-03-31. https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=North_American_Free_Trade_Agreement&oldid=773133393. 
  11. Gallagher, Kevin P.. "NAFTA and the Environment: Lessons from Mexico and Beyond". http://fpif.org/nafta_and_environment/. 
  12. 12.0 12.1 https://www.congress.gov/bill/108th-congress/senate-bill/1645
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 "Congressional Record" (in en). https://congress.gov/congressional-record/2005/02/18/senate-section/article/S1710-1. 
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 Gordon, Robert (1999-01-01). "Poisons in the Fields: The United Farm Workers, Pesticides, and Environmental Politics". Pacific Historical Review 68 (1): 51–77. Template:Citation error. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3641869. 
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 15.3 Luna, Marcos (2012-01-01) (in en). The Environment Since 1945. Infobase Learning. ISBN 9781438138114. https://books.google.com/books?id=9ZdbAgAAQBAJ&lpg=PA131&ots=NdcT3Xx48Y&dq=ufw%20and%20the%20environment&pg=PA131#v=onepage&q=ufw%20and%20the%20environment&f=false. 

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