WASHINGTON, D.C., AUG. 24, 2003 (Zenit.org).- Though their plight has not been publicized much in recent years, farmworkers “still have a claim on our conscience,” says the chairman of the U.S. bishops’ domestic policy committee.
In his annual Labor Day statement, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick said farmworkers “often find themselves linguistically and culturally isolated and vulnerable to exploitation and discrimination because of their legal status and language barriers.”
While some farmers treat their workers well and deserve commendation, he said, “too many do not, often relying on labor contractors, some of whom essentially traffic in human labor and suffering for economic profit.”
“When farmworkers do come, they too often find meager jobs, decrepit housing and unsafe conditions,” the archbishop of Washington said. “Some end up living under bridges or even in caves.”
“Violations of wage and hour laws are commonplace,” he added. “Their children often must join them in the fields because without their help, the family may not survive. They can face death and injuries on the job from dangerous farm equipment and the threat of poisoning from the pesticides used to protect the crops.”
As a remedy, Cardinal McCarrick called on the U.S. government to ensure that farmworkers receive a decent wage and living conditions that are safe and humane.
He also urged “comprehensive immigration reform which features legalization” so that undocumented farmworkers can obtain legal status which will allow them to assert their basic labor rights more freely.
The U.S. bishops’ conference plans to address the concerns of farmworkers and the agricultural sector during their semiannual meeting in November.