Migrant workers leave WA farms, risking poverty instead of coronavirus

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      Launched in 1952 under the Immigration and Nationality Act, the H-2A program was meant to help solve what industry leaders described as a domestic labor shortage in agriculture. In Washington state, one of the nation’s top destinations for H-2A workers, growers requested more than 26,000 foreign workers last year. There were a number of growers, however, who canceled their contracts this year, in part due to concerns over the coronavirus and an inability to practice social distancing, resulting in almost 3,000 fewer worker applications, said Norma Chavez of the state Employment Security Department.

      Often criticized for leaving workers vulnerable because of their distance from loved ones, the farmworker program has also served as an economic lifeline for thousands of migrants each year. It has provided an alternative to illegal entry into the U.S. and the low-wage jobs that many undocumented immigrants work at without health and unemployment insurance. Workers in Washington and Oregon are paid $15.83 an hour wage and are provided housing, transportation and other benefits.

      But farmworker union leaders say the death of colleagues this year has propelled more than 12 workers at Gebbers Farm to give up on America’s promise of a better life. A domestic worker at Gebbers Farm, Francisco Montiel, also died from COVID complications last month.

      “They didn’t deal with it. They never managed it properly,” William said of officials at Gebbers Farm and their handling of the virus. “Those guys, they show no respect for you.”

      Jesus: Hey, Dad? God: Yes, Son? Jesus: Western civilization followed me home. Can I keep it? God: Certainly not! And put it down this minute--you don't know where it's been! Tom Robbins in Another Roadside Attraction

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