The weekly newsletter of the México Solidarity Project
June 23, 2021/ This week’s issue/ Meizhu Lui, for the editorial team
“We don’t want our chains made more comfortable, we want our chains removed,” South African Bishop Desmond Tutu declared in the struggle against apartheid. “You don’t reform an oppressive state, you destroy it.”
Mexican farmworkers in the US could well say the same thing about the H2-A temporary visa program for agricultural workers. H2-A visas amount to a chain that ties farmworkers to a single employer’s control, as David Bacon vividly details in our interview this week.
Employers don’t legally “own” these H2-A visa workers. Unlike “chattel,” they can’t be sold. These workers more resemble a product that sells on Amazon. H2-A visa workers who prove troublesome render themselves “returnable.” They can be replaced with more servile workers at no cost.
Enslaved Africans in the US — the vast majority of them farmworkers — weren’t looking for more comfortable chains either. Last week, for the first time ever, we celebrated Juneteenth as a national holiday. The date marks the day in 1865 when news of slavery’s demise finally reached Texas. But well before that date, some enslaved people had taken matters into their own hands. They made the dangerous trip across the US border into México, a nation that had already outlawed the system that turned Black people into property and robbed them of their humanity.
Today, generations later, we’re still arguing over whether farmworkers — now as then still imports from poorer lands — rate as fully human. Making the H2-A program more “comfortable,” as one piece of legislation now before Congress would do, will never suffice. The chains on farmworkers must go. Nothing less would be justice.
The work of the acclaimed photojournalist David Bacon has long offered a window into the daily lives of immigrant workers. His latest report — on the H2-A temporary visa program — documents why the program needs to be abolished, not “fixed.”
Last month, Mexican workers filed suit under the new USMCA trade pact’s labor provisions. They alleged discrimination against women in the temporary work visa program for agricultural workers, the H2-A. This lawsuit isn’t exciting you. Why not?