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Immigrant and Migrant Farm Workers in the Santa Maria Valley, California

  • Author(s): Palerm, Juan Vicente
  • et al.
Abstract

Immigrant and migrant farm workers from Mexico and other countries are large and growing in number and in importance to U.S. agriculture, but they often are not counted in the decennial census due to high mobility, illegal status, and/or unconventional housing. This report is based on ethnographic research conducted in California's Santa Maria Valley, an active agricultural area rich in labor-intensive cultivation of prime vegetable and fruit crops. Calculations of crop acreage, man-hours of labor required for each crop, and full- and part-time agricultural employees are verified and augmented by information gained from comprehensive interviews with immigrant and migrant agricultural workers concerning their migratory and employment histories, housing arrangements, and relationships to Mexican communities.

The report concludes that routine census procedures can only result in a significant under-reporting of numbers of immigrant and, particularly, migrant farm workers in Santa Maria and, by extension, in other regions of the country which rely heavily upon imported labor; that many immigrant and migrant farmworkers have good reason to fear exposure to government representatives and thus will attempt to remain hidden from them; and that lack of adequate housing contributes to difficulties in locating and enumerating this population. The most important step toward resolution of these problems and many related issues would be reform of U.S. immigration policy which would recognize, legalize, and protect imported migrant workers. Absent such enlightenment, however, more accurate enumeration and description of this population can be accomplished if bilingual and bicultural census workers are trained to patiently and repeatedly approach their households and unconventional dwellings using ethnographic research methods. Under current conditions, this will require a radical redefinition of the terms "residence" and "household" in the context of the census. And, although the timing of the national census is not ideal for identification of the largest number of migrant farm workers, follow-up studies should be performed at peak employment periods. Such surveys, thoroughly performed, would yield rich rewards in information about the farm-working population as well as provide an essential cross-check to standard census data.

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