Migrant Workers Deserve These 5 Basic Human Rights

Three million. That’s the estimated number of migrant and seasonal workers living in the United States, according to the National Center for Farmworker Health.

Nearly half of them are here legally. But no matter their visa or citizenship status, every migrant deserves basic human rights. Sadly, migrants don’t often have access to bodily autonomy and protection from violence that many other Americans enjoy.

In honor of International Migrants Day on December 18, here are a few rights often denied to foreign workers.

1. Freedom from Sexual Violence

One in 6 U.S. women will be a victim of rape or attempted rape in her lifetime. And this already alarming rate steeply increases for migrants.

As Broadly recently reported, between 60 and 80 percent of migrant women from Central America face sexual assault when they come to the United States.

Once they’ve arrived, farmworkers, in particular, are subject to widespread sexual harassment and abuse, and this has been a decades-long problem.

“There have been women that have endured sexual harassment for years because they do not want to complain, knowing that if they do, that same supervisor will take action or retaliate against the family,” activist Rosalinda Guillen tells NPR. “Even if they fire her, they take retaliation against the family. And they do not want to have their family lose their jobs. I mean, it’s their livelihood.”

2. The Right to Quit a Job

Employers exploit and mistreat thousands of foreign workers who are here legally on H-2 visas. As Buzzfeed reported in 2015, companies bring in unskilled workers via this visa and essentially decide who stays and leaves the U.S.

Some workers have been barred from leaving their worksites. Others claim they’ve been held at gunpoint and forced to clock 13-hour days with noxious chemicals that peeled their skin.

“We live where we work, and we can’t leave,” Olivia Guzman Garfias, a longtime guest worker from Mexico, told Buzzfeed. “We are tied to the company. Our visas are in the company’s name. If the pay and working conditions aren’t as we wish, who can we complain to? We are like modern-day slaves.”

3. Fair Pay for a Day’s Work

The average migrant worker makes roughly $10,000 a year, which barely clears the national poverty line.

Furthermore, only some farmworkers are guaranteed the federal minimum wage. And those who work at small operations that employee seven or fewer people aren’t among them.

As NPR reports, “Since 2010, the McAllen, Texas, district office of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division has filed more than 650 cases against growers and farm labor contractors affecting nearly 2,500 workers.”

“Our pay was very low,” says Francisco Javier Alvarez, a plaintiff in one lawsuit. “One day we only made $30 even though the four of us worked late into the night.”

4. Realistic Opportunities to Become a U.S. Citizen

Becoming a U.S. citizen is laborious, and the Trump administration‘s hostility toward immigrants doesn’t help.

As Kate Morrisey writes in the San Diego Union-Tribune, first foreign citizens need to get a green card, and those waitlists are long. Many don’t qualify.

Then, they have to wait on average five years – three years if married to a U.S. citizen — to apply for citizenship. 

“Realistically, for your average situation, there’s nothing,” immigration attorney Ginger Jacobs tells the Tribune. “There’s no way to become a citizen unless you’re a permanent resident first.”

5. Due Process in Deportation Proceedings

Even though immigrant rights groups maintain that foreigners living in the U.S. have constitutional rights, as Politifact notes, these rights are selective. Some don’t get a fair chance of fighting back against deportation.

Cornell professor Stephen W. Yale-Loehr explains, ”Yes, immigrants do have constitutional rights, but those rights are not equal to U.S. citizens. They have due process rights, but when it comes to immigration court proceedings, those rights are often watered down by courts.”

And as Amnesty International pointed out, sometimes people are detained even if they have jumped through all the hoops to get a visa if they don’t have their papers on them.

Photo Credit: USDA/Flickr


DAVID fleming
DAVID fleming7 hours ago

All people should have there human rights protected .

Benjamin B
Benjamin B15 days ago

great article

Mike R
Mike R20 days ago

All and more.

Peggy B
Peggy B21 days ago

Good article

Sabrina D
Sabrina D21 days ago

Thank you for this brilliant article.

Ann B
Ann B22 days ago

so few actually work these days---THESE workers deserve better

Jessica C
Jessica C23 days ago

thank you!

Jerome S
Jerome S23 days ago


Jerome S
Jerome S23 days ago


Jim V
Jim Ven23 days ago

thanks for sharing