The weekly newsletter of the México Solidarity Project


June 23, 2021/ This week's issue/ Meizhu Lui, for the editorial team


No Chains Can Ever Be Comfortable

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?


We’ve always had a basic division among those who want to improve the situation of migrant farmworkers. I’m in the camp of those who want radical change. Others want to work within what they imagine is politically possible. The H2-A program resembles the Bracero program, an effort notorious for its maltreatment of farmworkers. The Bracero program ended in 1965 after organizing by activists in the Chicano and immigrant civil rights movement, activists like Bert Corona, Ernesto Galarza, and Cesar Chavez.

The 1986 creation of the H2-A visa revived the “guestworker” program — a cruel joke of a name. The Immigration Reform and Control Act also included sanctions against employers using illegal workers. Radicals opposed the entire H2-A program and especially its “employer sanctions.” They saw these sanctions as actually a tool to punish workers: Employers could fire workers who organized or went on strike, suddenly “discovering” their own workers’ undocumented status.

The workers employers have brought to the US with the H-2A program, meanwhile, have been at their complete mercy. The visa allows these workers to labor only for the employer that recruits them. If they complain, they're fired, lose their visa, and are deported back to Mexico where they're blacklisted so they can't return in future seasons. The net result: Both undocumented and H2-A workers are deprived of their basic rights.

But isn’t having legal status a good thing?

The H2-A visa doesn’t bring real legal status, like a permanent residence visa or “green card.” It’s short-term, and the worker is subject to the conditions the boss imposes. The USMCA discrimination complaint highlights that employers can legally recruit only young men, whom they put under enormous pressure to work hard and fast. Discrimination is unfair, but the real answer is not to have women working under this abusive system, but to end the abuse for both women and men — that is, to end the H2-A program.



Does the H2-A visa program affect those not holding the visas?

Yes. The number of H2-A workers in the US reached over a quarter million last year. Growers are replacing workers living here, who are also mostly immigrants. The bill now before Congress, the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, will let growers recruit more H2-A workers, while at the same time making it impossible for undocumented workers to continue in their jobs.

How has the H2-A program affected US small and family farms?

Farms getting H2-A workers have to provide housing, but even lousy housing costs money to put up, and small farms can’t afford that. The largest growers have the capital. Their access to H2-A is leading to an even greater concentration of agriculture in the biggest corporate farms.

Private recruiting for agricultural workers in México has become a lucrative industry. Would it be better to have the governments handle the recruitment?

The Bracero program was administered by the Mexican and US governments, and it was corrupt, with bribe-taking and other abuses. Private labor contractors have been worse, even blacklisting activists. When the Farm Labor Organizing Committee opened an office in Mexico to monitor corruption, the staff person sent to do that work was tortured and killed for threatening those enormous profits. But the answer isn’t to involve the governments. Any system based on labor recruitment for growers will be inherently abusive.

What does México want?

México historically has justified its support for a US-Mexico agreement like the old Bracero program by claiming that getting into the US with an H2-A visa will always be safer than crossing the desert. Many families also depend on remittances from family members working in the US. Neoliberal Mexican politicians have promoted H2-A visas, calling them a route to US jobs.

But AMLO, in his inauguration speech, promised to make México a country Mexicans could be happy living in, rather than one they have to leave in order to survive. The demand in many communities — for the “right to stay home” — requires economic development that guarantees jobs at home, high farm prices from growing crops for domestic consumption, and healthcare and education. Such a program is incompatible with an economy based on remittances.

AMLO talks about “failed neoliberal policies” that have food produced for export rather than to feed Mexico’s own people. He’s also criticized treating the Mexican people like products for export. But his new government-regulated labor export program proposal contradicts his promises. Work visas should be abolished and people should be treated as people, not as a commodity called “workers.”

Won’t the Farm Workforce Modernization Act awaiting Senate approval provide farmworkers a path to citizenship?

This bill, unfortunately, forces undocumented farmworkers already in the US to work for at least 100 days per year for four or eight more years to become a “Certified Agricultural Worker” and eventually apply for a green card. Many will not meet this requirement because seasonal work may not add up to 100 days. Moreover, the bill will force growers to use the E-Verify database to weed out future workers without visas. The new law is clearly intended to allow growers to recruit more temporary workers, with no path to citizenship.

What solution do you see?

The Farm Workforce Modernization Act falls within the “what might be possible” frame. A radical program would encompass, as the Frente Indígena de Organizaciones Binacionales demands, both “the right to migrate” and “the right to stay home.” This would include demilitarizing the border, closing detention centers, and ending immigration raids, as well as stopping trade agreements that force the massive displacement of communities.

So the choice confronting us is whether to support a deal that provides legalization for some while maintaining the exploitative H2-A program or instead to reinforce an immigration system based on family reunification and community stability while protecting farmworker wages, rights, health, and housing — the alternative advanced by the civil rights movement over half a century ago.


A family celebrates Juneteenth — in México  


A cabalgada during the Juneteenth celebration in the village of Nacimiento de los Negros, México.

The first official national “Juneteenth” celebration in the United States is also focusing attention on the amazing story on the Black Americans who found freedom in México. NBC’s Suzanne Gamboa last week explored the details, and we have an excerpt.


Rather than staying at home in Texas where Juneteenth was first celebrated, Corina Torralba Harrington goes to her birthplace, Nacimiento de los Negros in México, where her ancestors built a community long before slavery fully ended in the United States.


Celebrating Juneteenth in Texas as the day when Union Gen. Gordon Granger declared slaves had been freed is not our celebration really, because our people freed themselves,” she said, referring to her Black Seminole ancestors, known as Negros Mascogos in México.


They found freedom more than a decade earlier than its enforcement in Texas July 19, 1865. In her Mexican hometown, June 19 is El Baile de los Negros (The Dance of the Blacks) or El Día del Negro (The Day of the Black).


After escaping plantations in Georgia and North Carolina, many Black Seminoles joined in fighting with Native Americans against the U.S. in the Seminole Wars. When the U.S. prevailed, it removed the Black Seminoles with Native Americans to Indian Territory, what is now Oklahoma.


Still facing the threat of being returned to slavery, John Horse led a group of Black Seminoles and Native Americans on another treacherous journey from Oklahoma to Mexico, where slavery had been largely abolished since 1829.


Ashley Rodriguez, Harrington’s niece commented, “I'm a Black Mexican ... Now that I've got older and realized what Juneteenth is about, I think of it in different perspectives. I think of it as my ancestors freeing themselves from slavery. Nobody really knows about the Mexican side of it.” 


Recent news reports and commentaries, from progressive and mainstream media,
on life and struggles on both sides of the US-México border


Gerold Schmidt, Rivers for Life, Not for Death, RosaLux. Indigenous activists in Oaxaca are risking life and limb to defend their native land.


Kendal Blust, México’s President Promises To Build Solar Energy Project in Sonora, Fronteras. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador says he wants to take advantage of the energy potential in sun-soaked Sonora with a state-owned solar park.


Manuel Pérez Rocha Loyo, Poder corporativo como causa raíz de la migración, La Jornada. Si no se desmantelan las reglas neoliberales que otorgan privilegios desmedidos a las corporaciones trasnacionales, que destruyen medios de vida y generan violencia, no se atenderán las raíces ni las causas de la migración.


Manuel Aguilar Mora, México: AMLO y su amarga victoria en las elecciones del 6 de junio, Correspondencia de Prensa. El hecho conmocionante que en gran medida actuó como el detonante decisivo del gran malestar de la población de la Ciudad de México con los gobiernos de los dos palacios gubernamentales del Zócalo fue sin duda el colapso del tren en la estación Olivos el 3 de mayo.


Tanya Wadhwa, Mexican states of Baja California and Sinaloa legalize same-sex marriage, People’s Dispatch. The two states join a list of now 20 states that recognize marriage between people of the same sex.


Katie Benner and Miriam Jordan, U.S. Ends Trump Policy Limiting Asylum for Gang and Domestic Violence Survivors, New York Times. The decision will affect tens of thousands of cases moving through backlogged immigration courts.


Gobernadores electos de Morena se reúnen y proponen revisar la Conago, Aristegui Noticias. Los futuros mandatarios estatales se comprometieron a apoyar e impulsar las propuestas de reformas legislativas del presidente López Obrador.


The Mexico Solidarity Project brings together activists from various socialist and left organizations and individuals committed to worker and global justice who see the 2018 election of Andrés Manuel López Obrador as president of México as a watershed moment. AMLO and his progressive Morena party aim to end generations of corruption, impoverishment, and subservience to US interests. Our Project supports not just Morena, but all Mexicans struggling for basic rights, and opposes US efforts to undermine organizing and México’s national sovereignty. 


Editorial committee: Meizhu Lui, Bruce Hobson, Bill Gallegos, Sam Pizzigati. We welcome your suggestions and feedback. Interested in getting involved? Drop us an email!


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