Things That Matter

Farmworkers Are Putting Their Lives At Risk As They Continue To Work The Fields Despite Raging Wildfires

Natural disasters bring the best in people, but often also the worst. The recent California fires have highlighted the deep inequalities in the state when it comes to socioeconomic status. While the media went head over heels over which celebrity had had to flee their home (pobrecitos!) or which vineyard had been set ablaze (wine, after all, is a luxury rather than a life sustaining product), few have stopped to think about the long lasting effects that the fires have had on the hundreds of workers (some of them undocumented) who keep the region afloat by farming, cleaning and organizing various production processes. 

Well, what you will read now will make your blood boil, as it reveals the deep divide between the haves and the have-nots in the world. 

As the region of Sonoma, California, is still burning residents have fled but farmers are still working away.

Credit: napavalley / Instagram

When fields burn, the air becomes a toxic mix of dust, ashes and harmful gases (imagine smoking 20 cigarettes in less than an hour and you will get an idea of how poisonous this melange can be). Well, residents of the area affected by the Kincade Fire were evacuated when air quality dropped. However, field workers were still expected to toil in the fields.  According to reports, some of these workers were still being bused to and from the fields even as the fires burnt. What people are willing to risk in the name of profit, eh? Just no! As reported by Eater San Francisco, Ariel Kelly, the CEO of community-based recovery effort Corazón Healdsburg, said: “we had about 90 farmworkers in our shelter leave on buses with their employer to go out and pick and then return back to the shelter”. 

The quality of the air was deemed as dangerous! But “they are only field workers”, right? This is totally outrageous! 

Credit: 10kbottles / Instagram

So what does this tell us? That someone, somewhere, decided that the lives of some actual human beings are more valuable than those of others? You bet that’s what happened. We just can’t understand how this thought, which is nothing short of a disgusting act of negligence, can cross someone’s mind. Of course, farmers are mostly migrants who feel, and are, in a vulnerable and marginalized position in which they can’t afford to fight back. Sonoma authorities said: “if somebody wants perfect health, they need to leave our community, because we have smoke here.”

Volunteers came to their aid…

Credit: Sonoma / Instagram

Regardless of the working agreement a company or farm has with a worker, some basic safety needs to be provided. If not legal (because some of these workers live in the dark shadows of an undocumented status that makes them vulnerable), this is at least an ethical mandate. But in the California fires it was volunteers who came to their aid. As reported by Eater San Francisco: “around 300 farm workers sought makeshift shelter in Cloverdale’s Citrus Fairgrounds. Area volunteers rushed to assist the workers and their families, many of whom had fled via car, with little more than the clothes on their backs”. This is such a stark image of negligence. But will someone ever be held accountable?

If they don’t work, they don’t get paid, so they risked their lives to survive (what a contradiction, eh?)

Credit: thelegionofbloomca / Instagram

According to Ariel Kelly from community-based recovery effort Corazón Healdsburg these workers were not even given masks to at least protect themselves from direct contact with the fumes. They are willing to work under these conditions because they get paid per shift and not showing up translates into not being paid, and possibly into not being chosen to work again. Because the extent of the damage caused by the fires remains uncertain, many of these workers want to get what could be the last few pays before a hiatus with no income. 

They are mostly uninsured and live hand to mouth. To top that, they are now unsure about how they will be able to provide for their families.

Credit: machvox/ Instagram

Maegan Ortiz, the executive director of el Instituto de Educación Popular del Sur de California, told The Guardian, “For a lot of day laborers and household workers, not having a day’s work often means the difference between houselessness or not.  Not having a day’s work is actually a big deal. Not working means not having money for medication for a chronic illness. Not working means not having money for food”. When we read stories like this we can’t help but wonder how on Earth there are still some that think that migrant workers are lazy or that they don’t contribute to the economy, when in fact they are giving everything to make a living. Even if it means risking their health. One thing is for certain. They deserve, and need, more protection. 

ICE Might Be Ignoring California’s Ban On Private Immigration Detention Centers

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ICE Might Be Ignoring California’s Ban On Private Immigration Detention Centers

Ronen Tivony / ZUMA

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) posted a request for new private migrant detention centers in California, a mere five days after Governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill effectively banning such detention facilities. 

California is the first state to ban privately-run, for-profit immigration detention centers popular with the Trump administration. The new law will also ban private prisons and put a stop on new contracts after January 1, 2020, along with phasing out existing detention centers by 2028, according to the LA Times

However, on October 16, ICE posted a request for offers on the Federal Business Opportunities (FBO) website to open up at least four new for-profit detention centers. Legislators and advocates believe ICE is attempting tp circumvent the law before the new year’s deadline by rushing new contracts through. 

Senator Kamala Harris calls out ICE’s controversial tactic.

“Let’s be clear: By rushing through new contracts before California’s ban takes effect, ICE is violating the spirit of California law and risks wasting taxpayer dollars in an attempt to lock away even more human beings,” said California Senator Kamala Harris. “We need to fight back.” 

In ICE’s request, according to Mother Jones’ review of FBO documents, they’re looking for “turnkey ready” detention centers in San Francisco, San Diego and Los Angeles for “the exclusive use of ICE and the ICE detainee population.” ICE wants approximately 6,750 beds spread across the four facilities with contracts that would last five to 15 years. 

“The facilities shall be turnkey ready at the beginning of contract performance and able to provide housing, medical care, transportation, guard services, meals, and the day to day needs for ICE detainees,” the FBO solicitation says. “Due to mission needs, proposals for new construction will not be accepted for this solicitation.”

ICE already has four privately-run detention centers in California. 

“I’m not prepared to allow ICE to improperly violate AB 32 and hurt Californians,” said Assemblyman Rob Bonta who wrote the bill. 

ICE has tried to undermine’s California’s status as a sanctuary city before.

“ICE is doing everything they can to circumvent California law,” Silky Shah, executive director of Detention Watch Network, told the Desert Sun. “It’s not surprising that ICE is doing this.”

It may not come as a surprise to Shah because ICE has used unscrupulous tactics before. Adelanto, the second-largest detention center in the country, was independently owned by GEO Group. When the city terminated its contract with ICE and GEO, the very next day ICE organized a deal directly with GEO, last June.

According to Desert Sun, “A September 2018 report from Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General found significant health and safety risks at Adelanto, including the issue of detainees hanging nooses made from bedsheets. At least three inmates have died at the facility since 2015 and seven inmates attempted suicide between December 2016 and October 2017.”

ICE criticizes California’s new law. 

ICE spokesperson Lori Haley claimed the only people that will suffer from the ban are California residents. 

“If this law takes effect, ICE would simply have to transfer individuals a greater distance from their arrest location to other facilities outside the state,” the agency said. “Thus, the impact would be felt by residents of California who would be forced to travel greater distances to visit friends and family in custody, and not by ICE.”

Advocates might say that convenience isn’t the issue at hand when it comes to for-profit detention centers. Nevertheless, Hamid Yazdan Panah, an immigration lawyer in the Bay Area claims that the rush to push through contracts might be evidence ICE has realized it won’t be too easy to transport migrants states and that they would actually have to detain fewer people, according to the LA Times. 

“They pick people up at certain points, have to process them and get them to a detention facility usually by evening,” he said. “The reality is they have a lot of protocols they have to go through and manpower considerations they have to deal with.”

For-profit immigration centers have got to go according to advocates. 

Over 70 percent of detained migrants are held in privately owned facilities, like GEO Group and CoreCivic. The Hill found that both organizations donated to Trump’s presidential campaign in 2017, then received $985 million in contracts with ICE. 

The Department of Homeland Security Inspector General found food safety issues, nooses, restrictive segregation practices, and unreported security incidents ran rampant at private detention centers, who are known to cut corners because they are businesses. Instead of holding the owners or managers of these facilities responsible with the usual financial penalties, the IG suggested ICE waived such fees and allowed the conditions to continue. 

“These twisted somersaults to push and bend federal protocols are a sign of desperation,” Bonta said. “It’s what you’d expect from a dying industry.”

It Started As An Attack On Migrants But California’s Prop 187 Helped Shape California’s Political Identity Today

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It Started As An Attack On Migrants But California’s Prop 187 Helped Shape California’s Political Identity Today

Bruce Huff / LA Times Archive

Today is the 25th anniversary of California voters passage of Proposition 187 which denied public service to immigrants without legal status. The prevailing legacy of Prop 187 should be a point of pride for California Latinxs who successfully overturned a scathing anti-immigrant measure. According to LAist, it “remains one of the most divisive measures in state history, and the battle over its passage ultimately reshaped California politics.”

The policy denied public health care and all education from elementary school to college to undocumented immigrants. Under Prop 187, state and local agencies had to report any immigrants who did not fulfill residency criteria to state and federal authorities.

When the initiative entered the ballot on November 8, 1994, it passed with 59% in favor. Following an uphill legal battle, it was declared unconstitutional in 1997 by a federal judge. Despite its horrid attack on the immigrant community, the battle to dismantle the proposition is what shifted California from a beacon of conservatism to a reliably blue state today. 

25 years ago, California officials concocted a plan to blame immigrants for a recent state recession. 

Following a state recession, in 1994, that cost California thousands of jobs, Republican Assemblyman Dick Mountjoy, an accountant and a political team came up with the ballot measure nicknamed “Save Our State.” Mountjoy’s measure said Californians suffered “economic hardship” because of undocumented immigrants using public services. 

Under the extreme initiative, anyone who wasn’t “lawfully admitted for a period of time” in the United States would be denied social services and education. Children would be kicked out of public schools after 90 days if their parents could not prove they were lawfully in the U.S. Moreover, teachers, health care providers, and law enforcement would be forced to survey their neighbors and report any individuals they believed to be undocumented to federal immigration agencies. 

These xenophobic provisions were alleged to “save money” for California. Prop 187 came during Republican Governor Pete Wilson’s re-election campaign, which was losing in the polls. Wilson was already using anti-immigrant rhetoric in his campaign ads, thus supporting Prop 187 was a no-brainer for the troubled governor. 

Latinx begin to organize against Prop 187.

During a debate, Wilson made it clear he had a zero-tolerance policy when it came to undocumented immigrants when he was asked if he would call INS on a second-grader.  

“I make no apology for putting California children first…Yes, those children who are in the country illegally deserve an education, but the government that owes it to them is not in Sacramento or even in Washington. It is in the country from which they have come, Wilson said

The same day 70,000 people, many Latinxs, marched in opposition to Prop 187. According to a Baltimore Sun report from the rally, at the time, it was the largest demonstration the state had ever seen. 

A graduate student, Angel Cervantes, organized 10,000 students from 30 LAUSD schools staged a walkout on November 2, 1994 — 6 days before the vote. 

“It was the biggest thing I had ever seen, probably one of the most life-changing empowering, moments,” Cervantes told the LA Times in 1994. “To see so many groups, so many organizations, so many banners, so many different Latin Americans… it was very powerful.”

Prop 187 passed — but it wouldn’t hold for long. 

Prop passed with 59 percent of voters approving it. But it was immediately challenged in court by seven groups, five of the lawsuits would make it through. Court Judge Mariana Pfaelzer issued a preliminary injunction blocking implementation on December 14, 1994. Despite appeals by the state, by 1996 President Bill Clinton’s welfare reform law would only strengthen the legal opposition to Prop 187. 

“Judge Pfaelzer ruled that the measure was unconstitutional in Nov. 1997, and almost two years later, in Jul. 1999, Proposition 187 was effectively overturned via federal mediation,” according to LAist. 

The fight against Prop 187 would solidify a better, stronger Democratic electorate — including a coalition of Latinxs.

The Republican-backed Prop 187 solidified for many Latinxs of the time that the GOP was an anti-immigrant and anti-Latinx party, causing many to flee toward the Democrats. These new Latinx Democrats would put Latinxs in elected offices in the years to come and shift California left. 

A report by Latino Decisions found that from 1994 to 2004, 1.8 million new voters, 66 percent of which were Latinx and 23 percent of which were Asian, registered in California. Today roughly 80 percent of elected positions in California belong to Democrats. 

The fight against Prop 187 unified Latinxs and other immigrants in a way the state had never seen. It forever changed the demographics of California politics and proved Latinxs were a valuable electorate with the power to transform.