Those Excluded

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Last fall, I spent two days in central New York with dairy farm workers. I was surprised at the living and working conditions of the largely Central American population living and working on remote dairy farms without documents.

Many of them live in trailers with gaps on the floor so big that I could see the ground underneath the trailer. The trailers have no proper heating system (It gets really cold in Central New York in the winter!), and many trailers are insect infested. Many of them rely on the graciousness of the farm owners to drive them to a grocery store to get groceries because they can neither afford a car nor get a drivers’ license because of their immigration status. Many farm workers we talked to experience injuries on the job and wage theft—when they are not paid for the work they have done—and again, there isn’t much they can do about it because of their immigration status.

They want immigration reform because they want to come out of the shadows. But the current Senate bill—Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013 (S.744)—does not include them. You see, Title II of S.744 requires every person seeking lawful permanent resident (LPR, or “green card”) status to make 125 percent above the poverty wage. That means that for a family of four, their income must be about $30,000 a year.  The problem is that in the United States, the national minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. If a person works full time at 40 hours a week, every week of the year, he will take home $15,080.

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