|UFDC Home||myUFDC Home | Help|
This item has the following downloads:
SELECTIVE EFFECTS OF
THE IMMIGRATION REFORM AND CONTROL ACT OF 1986
ON FARMWORKER LIVING AND WORKING CONDITIONS IN THE U.S.
DOUGLAS IAN BAGBY
A THESIS PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
MASTER OF ARTS
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
Douglas Ian Bagby
I would like to thank my committee, Dr. Allan Burns, chair; Dr. Cristina Espinosa;
and Dr. Elizabeth Guillette, for their guidance, patience and support during this thesis
process and throughout my coursework at the University of Florida.
I would also like to thank Dr. Charles Wood; and the entire faculty and staff at the
Center for Latin American Studies, who helped me to grow academically and personally
while at the University of Florida. I want to express my appreciation to all of my
classmates at the Center for Latin American Studies, for the interesting conversations and
lively debates. Several classmates have been important in the completion of this thesis:
Amy Cox, Jennifer Davies, and Danielle Snyder. Because of their encouragement and
advice, I was able to complete this thesis. I also owe a great debt to a group known as the
Sweet Peas, for the comradery and fun.
I also want to thank Dr. Allan Bums for inviting me to participate on a research
team during the summer of 2002 that examined migrant and seasonal farmworker
housing in Florida. I would like to express my gratitude to the team members (Dr. Allan
Burns, Joan Flocks, and Ryan Theis) for their patience and guidance in shaping my
research and academic skills. Further, I would like to express my gratitude to all of the
participating farmworkers and stakeholders for their cooperation, kindness, and sincerity.
I am grateful to all of my family and friends who have supported me in my master's
work; I could not have accomplished this without their care and love. Finally, I sincerely
thank Tricia, who is the best friend and wife a person could ask for in the journey of life.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
A C K N O W L E D G M E N T S ................................................................................................. iii
LIST OF TABLES ....................................................... ............ ....... ....... vi
ABSTRACT .............. ..................... .......... .............. vii
1 IN TR OD U CTION ............................................... .. ......................... ..
R recent U .S Im m igration ........................................................................ ..........
L literature R review ................. ........ .......................... ...... ........ .......... ...... .
O bjectiv e s ................................................................... ................................. . 3
M eth o d ology .................................................................. ............................... . 4
Theoretical Perspectives ......................................... ........ ........ .. ........ ..
L abor R reserve M odel .............................. ................ ................ ............. ..
Immigrant Farmworkers: W working Poor...........................................................
Com petitive Labor M odel ...................................... ........................................10
U.S. Policy: Migration Cycles and Transnationalism ............. ..............11
2 OVERVIEW OF RECENT HISTORICAL WAVE OF U.S. IMMIGRATION........ 13
C changes in U .S. Im m migration .......................................................... ..................... 13
A Brief Look at Mexican Immigration............ ....... .. ..........................14
The Classic Period of Immigration: 1910 to 1920 ................................. 15
The Bracero Program : 1942-1964 ............................. ............................ 16
The Undocumented Period of Immigration: 1964-1986 ..................................17
3 IMMIGRATION REFORM AND CONTROL ACT OF 1986 .............................20
P purpose and Im plem entation ......................................................................................20
Special Agricultural Worker Program of IRCA 1986 ................... ....... .........24
N national Agricultural W orker Survey ............................................. ............... 25
Analysis of the National Agricultural Worker Survey ......................................25
Plans to C continue Farm w ork ..................................... ............................ ........ 29
4 IR CA 1986 AN D FLORID A ........................................................... ............... 32
A Brief Overview of Immigration to Florida ......................................................32
Beginnings of Commercial Agricultural Production in Florida..........................32
Agricultural Labor in South Florida...............................................................34
Dade County: Waves of Immigrant Farmworkers ..........................................35
Collier County: Waves of Immigrant Farmworkers................ .............. ....36
C om petition O ver L abor ............................................................... ................... 37
Comparison of Ethnic Diversity: Three U.S. Farmworker Labor Supply
Com m unities .................................... .. ............. ... ......... .......... 39
Grower's Responses to IRCA 1986 in South Florida...............................................41
Farmworker Responses to IRCA 1986 in South Florida....... ............... .........42
Crew Leader Control Over Farmworkers in Florida ...............................................44
Farm w worker H housing ........................................ ...... ........ .. ............... 46
5 C O N C L U SIO N ......... ......................................................................... ........ .. .. .. 5 1
Im plications of IRCA 1986 ................ _... ... .......... ........... .. ...............51
Prospects for the Future of Farmworkers in Florida...............................................55
A INTERVIEW GUIDE FOR STAKEHOLDERS............................. .....................58
B ENGLISH VERSION OF FOCUS GROUP GUIDE FOR WORKERS IN
SUBSIDIZED AND PRIVATE HOUSING ................................... .................60
C SPANISH VERSION OF FOCUS GROUP GUIDE FOR WORKERS IN
SUBSIDIZED AND PRIVATE HOUSING ................................... .................63
D SPANISH VERSION OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA'S CONSENT
F O R M ...................................... .................................................... 6 6
LIST OF REFEREN CES ............................................................................. 68
B IO G R A PH IC A L SK E T C H ..................................................................... ..................71
LIST OF TABLES
2-1. Distribution of Mexican Immigrants by State of Residence: 1910-1960 ..............19
2-2. Distribution of Mexican Immigrants by State of Residence: 1970-1996................. 19
3-1. Current Legal Status of U.S. Farmworkers........................................................31
3-2. M ethod of Obtaining Legal Status .............. ...... ...... .. ........... ............... 31
4-1. Ethnicity of Current Farmworkers in Traditional U.S. Farm Labor Supply
Communities: Immokalee, Florida; Parlier, California; Weslaco, Texas ..............50
Abstract of Thesis Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts
SELECTIVE EFFECTS OF
THE IMMIGRATION REFORM AND CONTROL ACT OF 1986
ON FARMWORKER LIVING AND WORKING CONDITIONS IN THE U.S.
Douglas Ian Bagby
Chair: Allan F. Burns
Major Department: Latin American Studies
This study challenges the assumption that the Immigration Reform and Control Act
of 1986 (IRCA 1986) achieved its primary purposes. Data found in the USDA's National
Agricultural Workers Survey is evaluated to determine whether IRCA 1986 succeeded in
curbing undocumented immigration to the U.S. by stabilizing the agricultural labor force
with legalized workers. The Act intended to deter continued undocumented immigration
to the U.S. and to legalize many long-time undocumented resident workers.
A brief overview of farmworker immigration trends in the United States is offered
to explore recent immigration issues affected by IRCA 1986. An additional study in
south Florida is assessed to determine some of the responses of farmworkers and growers
to IRCA, illustrating how both groups have used specific strategies to avoid the Act's
regulations and sanctions.
Florida's unique agricultural history and immigration is compared and evaluated in
relationship to two farmworker labor supply communities in California and Texas,
demonstrating the ethnic diversity of the Florida farmworker population. Impoverished
housing, lax documentation, and ethnic group occupational preferences are three primary
reasons given to explain the exodus of farmworkers from the U.S. agricultural labor
The thesis finds that future implementation of immigration policies and regulations
must be improved and remain consistent in their sanctions and intentions. Without
evaluations, similar immigration policies will continue to have reverse effects on
maintaining control of immigration to the U.S.
Recent U.S. Immigration
During the 1990s, the United States experienced the largest wave of immigration in
the country's history (Lessinger 1995). The highly publicized Immigration Reform and
Control Act of 1986 (IRCA) was intended to curb illegal immigration to the U.S. and to
legalize numerous undocumented immigrants who had been residing and working here
for many years. This study examines some of the federal guidelines that were passed
under IRCA 1986, the regulations that legalized immigrant workers, specifically
agricultural workers, and how both employers and employees have used different
strategies to take advantage of the regulations for employment purposes. I also briefly
examine how this federal policy has influenced recent immigration, focusing on how it
has changed the destination-state of many immigrant farmworkers from Mexico and
other Latin American countries throughout the U.S. and specifically, Florida.
The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 enabled illegal immigrants in the
U.S. to become legal. After gaining legal residency, however, many left the agricultural
sector (US DOL 2000). This exit from farmwork created a new demand in the
agricultural labor market that encouraged many laborers to illegally cross the borders to
fill the newly vacated farmworker positions. While the demand for immigrant labor was
strong, IRCA's employer sanctions and fines were intended to deter them from hiring
illegal workers. This study, therefore, affirms that the system continued to perpetuate a
cycle of poverty, limited rights, and violations of workers' vulnerabilities, where
employers knew they could underpay and mistreat these immigrant farmworkers, who
had no alternatives. The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 had two main
objectives: to curb the tide of illegal immigrants to the United States through sanctions
against employers that hired them and to legalize long-time resident undocumented
immigrants through its amnesty programs (Margolis 1994).
While the provisions of the act are straightforward, its results have not been easily
defined and some unintended consequences have resulted from the 1986 law. One
consequence of IRCA 1986 is that the burdens of farmworker documentation and housing
are the responsibility of everyone (involved in the agricultural business) but the growers
or employers. Within the agricultural business, employers use labor contractors to avoid
legal responsibilities and to maintain control over labor by controlling farmworker
housing, wages, and benefits.
While there has never been a shortage of farmworkers in the United States, there
has been a shortage of the cheap, legal farmworkers, growers use to minimize costs.
These farms that use farmworkers are far from bankruptcy, for the U.S. Department of
Agriculture estimated that Florida nurseries took in about $9.9 billion dollars in sales last
year, which was a 33% increase from 1997 (Coombs 2003). Labor-intensive agriculture
continues to grow, as in the case of Florida, where more workers will be required to keep
up with the cheap labor demand needed to continue to increase revenues.
Farmworkers in the United States have been the subject of many studies on
housing, wages, household composition, education, migration, and many other topics
regarding their lives in the U.S. and abroad. Some academic reports, such as Roka and
Cook (1998), evaluate farmworker housing, demographic make-ups of various counties,
and economic impacts of farmworkers in Florida and the United States. Other sources
(Burns 1989, 1993; Heppel 1992) have done extensive ethnographic research in specific
farmworker communities, examining ethnic identities, gender roles, interethnic relations
and conflict, immigration status, and work preferences. These studies, among others,
have also included immigration policies and some of their impacts. While many studies
briefly address federal policy related to farmworkers, they often only use policy as a
historical reference to begin an examination of a topic.
While several books and articles have been written on U.S. immigration, these
sources primarily focus on one ethnic group, such as Stepick (1998) and Durand (2000),
who studied Haitian and Mexican immigration, respectively. Farmworkers' health,
occupational safety, pesticide exposure, as well as their economic impact have been
examined in various texts, particularly focusing on California agriculture (Mitchell 1996).
However, aside from the literature used in this study, there is relatively little information
regarding the impact that IRCA 1986 had on farmworkers across the United States. Few
sources were available regarding how IRCA 1986 allowed growers to avoid its sanctions;
how it affected agricultural labor supply and demand; and how this related to recent
migration trends, and other unintended results.
The goals of this study are:
* To evaluate if the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA) achieved
its two main objectives: stemming the tide of illegal immigration, and maintaining
a legal agricultural workforce.
* To define strategies used by growers or employers to avoid IRCA's employer
* To define strategies that farmworkers have used to obtain work in the U.S.
* To determine if there are any discrepancies in what the U.S. government requires in
order for laborers to work in its fields versus what it requires for such people to live
in its housing.
* To briefly examine recent U.S. and Florida immigration history to determine which
ethnic groups primarily have made up farmworker labor force in the U.S. and
* To examine some of the reasons why farmworkers leave agriculture.
* To evaluate what the future appears to entail for immigrant farmworkers in the
U.S., regarding their working and living conditions.
Stakeholder analysis is a research method used to provide an organizational
structure from which different viewpoints of the stakeholders involved with farmworker
issues may be compared and examined. A purposive sampling method is also used in
conjunction with the stakeholder analysis (while learning in the field) to generate
information and identify new, relevant stakeholders on farmworker housing, as well as
health and working conditions (Bernard 1995:95). In the snowball sampling method we
used, researchers ask stakeholders to identify other stakeholders in their community who
also have expertise in the area of farmworker housing and working conditions (Bernard
1995:97). Most of these stakeholder interviews were conducted by telephone, face-to-
face, or through focus groups. In addition to these interviews, secondary information
(such as publications from academics, federal agencies, and newspapers) was used to
frame the situation of immigrant farmworkers in the U.S. and Florida.
Among these sources, the U.S. Department of Labor's National Agricultural
Workers Survey (NAWS) reports are useful. They have randomly sampled farmworkers
in the U.S. three times a year since 1988. The significance of the NAWS reports is that
they were designed to offer the United States government a means to track immigration
in the U.S., specifically in response to IRCA 1986. Two NAWS reports are used to
provide recent additional data from the NAWS 1994-95 and 1997-98 research periods,
published in 1997 and 2000, respectively. The interviews offer detailed information
about U.S. farmworkers' basic demographics, legal status, education, family size and
household composition, wages and working conditions (US DOL 1997).
Data gathered by the United States Census Bureau are also used in this study, as
well as other documents from the Center for Immigration Studies, which also uses the
U.S. Census data. Data found in a 2002 report from the State of Florida's Department of
Community Affairs, "Stakeholder Analysis of Farmworker Housing in Florida," are also
used to apply ethnographic methods and to continue exploring some farmworker issues in
two selected regions in south Florida, Collier and Dade Counties. In this area, interviews
were used to examine the diversity of farmworkers found in Florida, their housing and
working conditions, their strategies in dealing with IRCA's 1986 provisions, and some
reasons why they leave farmwork. These two Florida counties were selected because
they are home to two farmworker labor supply communities: Homestead in Dade and
Immokalee in Collier.
A housing provider in the stakeholder analysis explained that these two Florida
communities are home to a couple of the nation's largest government-subsidized
farmworker housing complexes. Homestead has the Everglades Community Association,
the largest government-subsidized farmworker housing complex in the U.S.; and
Immokalee has Farmworker Village, the second largest government-subsidized
farmworker housing complex. These two regions, Collier County (SW) and Dade
County (SE), are also home to a variety of farmworkers: migrant and seasonal,
unaccompanied and accompanied, offering unique study sites that demonstrate the
diversity and mobility of the Florida farmworker labor force. The stakeholders in these
communities are therefore familiar with the diverse Florida farmworker population.
An ethnographic study of farmworkers living in Indiantown, Florida, (Burns 1989,
1993) was also used to examine work preferences of different ethnic groups, the diversity
of the immigrant agricultural labor force in another small Florida community, and finally,
to examine some of the reasons why farmworkers leave agriculture to pursue other jobs.
The agricultural industry has succeeded in maintaining lower food prices while
insuring profit margins because it is able to employ farmworkers who cope with
substandard living conditions and often work under authoritarian labor control methods.
Even in the wake of the North American Free Trade Agreement (1994), investments in
agriculture continued because it is one of the few commodities that cannot be exported to
reduce the labor-production costs outside of the United States. Therefore, the quality,
quantity, and cost-efficiency of labor are central components in the process of successful
agricultural production. This industry-control over its labor force is so important for
costs and production that the by-products (poverty, injury, and inhumanity) are the often-
overlooked costs to farmworkers to putting food on the nation's table (Giffith et al.
While much of the theory dealing with the working poor, specifically farmworkers,
is dominated by labor market theory, this study will only use two models from this
theoretical perspective: a labor reserve model and a competitive labor model. Because
of the multi-faceted situation that shapes the farmworker working and living conditions in
the U.S., these two models are only representative of the extensive literature found on
economic labor market theory.
In the agricultural industry, the land itself is a fixed investment and it is also the
primary means of production. The returns on investment in land may be realized in two
ways: earning profits from land through improvements and its overall appreciation, or
making the land productive through farming. Through his California study, Mitchell
found that the appreciation of farmland values is often directly linked to the promise of
inexpensive and assured labor, and without the promise of labor, agricultural land is too
heavily capitalized and cannot be sold. He argues that growers compensate for their
economic uncertainty in seasonal agriculture by taking greater control of their capital
through costs of labor and forms of labor production and reproduction (Mitchell 1996:
Mitchell states that growers have two strategies to control labor costs: minimizing
the costs of housing and sanitation through subcontracting, which shifts the costs to the
community, or providing the most basic, cost-efficient facilities on the farms. He found
the more widely used method is that of minimizing the costs of housing and sanitation,
delegating those burdens to the farmworkers and local communities. By choosing the
former, the growers rely on a daily reproduction of labor that occurs due to an oversupply
of labor in the area. This abundant labor supply insures that it does not matter if any
particular laborers return to work each day, only that enough return (Mitchell 1996: 111).
Labor Reserve Model
A labor reserve model is used because it has become a primary worker adaptation
model for farm labor processes. Three recent developments that describe and affirm the
application of this theoretical model to this study are: 1) the increase in proportions of
unaccompanied male immigrant farmworkers 2) an increase in cyclical migration,
especially between regions with low costs of living and high labor demand regions 3) and
the use of cyclical unaccompanied male migrants, who are generally younger than they
were 20 years ago (Griffith et al. 1995b: 280).
Another dimension of the labor reserve model of worker adaptation that applies to
this study is how geographic regions or political entities separate the production and
reproduction of labor. This separation of labor production and reproduction is clearly
defined in that the costs of maintaining and reproducing workers during youth and old
age are often found in separate geographical regions (Griffith et al. 1995b: 280). In
addition to the transferred labor production and reproduction maintenance costs, the labor
reserve model also demonstrates that their limited rights and control of their work and
living situations undermine the potential for farmworkers to assimilate or unionize. In
the labor reserve model, assimilation refers to more than wearing new clothing or
learning new eating habits, but addresses the farmworkers' understanding of
empowerment and economic opportunity, as well as their development of collective
Although there are some differences between immigrant farmworkers and other
working poor in the U.S. labor force, their similarities offer important insights regarding
social, cultural, and economic theory (Griffith et al. 1995b). While some reports
advocate that farmworkers' behaviors and creative responses to their social and economic
conditions in the United States in many ways reflect the direction that many Latin
American nation-states have moved in recent decades, this study will focus primarily on
Latin American immigrant farmworkers' behaviors and creative responses to their social
and economic conditions here in the U.S., specifically in Florida.
The U.S. agricultural force is diverse and often segmented by divisions such as
ethnicity, gender, and legal or citizenship status, which also contribute to the labor
reserve model's undermining argument. This fragmentation of the farmworker labor
force allows their employers to disregard regulations covering occupational safety and
health, unemployment insurance, social security taxes, transportation, wages and working
conditions. Through subcontracting or having crew managers, responsibilities shift away
from the growers to the labor contractors. This intermediation allows the agricultural
employers and crew supervisors to maintain control of labor through disguised means of
debt peonage and patron-client ties, as well as other power-relations that are often found
within families, networks, or ethnic groups (Griffith et al. 1995b).
Immigrant Farmworkers: Working Poor
By definition, the working poor work in jobs that provide incomes below the
amount necessary to feed, clothe, and shelter oneself and one's dependents (Griffith et al.
1995b: 275). The demand for labor for these jobs is not met strictly as a result of
economic incentives; rather, to work these jobs, workers must accept extremely low
standards of living, have additional means to earn money, or have been coerced to work
in some form. Low-income, or poverty level labor markets, tend to have workers who
are in at least one of these situations. Farmworkers are often characterized as young and
unaccompanied by family, or they may come from domestic households in which the
members pool their incomes to make ends meet. Farmworkers have also often been
forced into farmwork here in the U.S. due to citizenship status or political hardship at
home, and pulled into farmwork due to debts, family obligations, or network and ethnic
affiliation (Griffith et al. 1995b: 276).
Competitive Labor Model
Because farmworkers come to the United States from various backgrounds, usually
either desperate or ready to accept lower wages than other workers, they create an
element of competition to meet the demands of the farmworker labor market. Therefore,
the agricultural labor market has been labeled a competitive labor market in the social
sciences, contrasting with labor markets that have been long dominated by labor unions,
or primary sector labor markets (Griffith et al. 1995b: 276).
A close relationship between work and housing is often found in the farm labor
market. Griffith et al. (1995b: 285) also determined where farm labor contractors closely
control housing, artificial support networks provide an institutional and social context for
work. Some farmworker advocates often argue that grower-provided housing is
progressive or positive; however, in the context of the network-based reciprocal
transactions, free housing comes with a social and economic cost: control.
When the labor market is not housing-provided-controlled, the street-corner hiring
practice becomes the method of choice, as in Immokalee, Florida, where a bus station
serves as a hub for workers to congregate and find work every morning with one of the
many labor contractors. In communities such as Immokalee, labor contractors, who
basically control the entire existence of their workers through provided-housing, coexist
with the other labor contractors who hire from the street-corner labor pool. Some social
scientists argue that this coexistence creates the most mature immigrant communities by
creating a balance between newly arrived workers and settled immigrants, forming a
transition for many between life in the U.S. and their country of origin (Griffith et al.
Competitive labor markets often do not provide its workers or communities with
the financial securities that come with primary-sector or union-bound labor markets.
Furthermore, workers in competitive labor markets may be fired without warning or
reason, supervisors may invoke physical or mental abuse, or farmworkers may be
exposed to hazardous materials or workplace conditions without proper safeguards.
U.S. Policy: Migration Cycles and Transnationalism
Immigrants have been channeled or attracted to select regions, cities, communities
and neighborhoods, which have facilitated the development of transnationalism.
Allegiances that form among immigrants in the U.S. within the transnational contexts are
founded less on nation-state boundaries and citizenship than on the basic materials that
shape ethnicity: language, religious beliefs and affiliations, music, food, and shared
pastimes. Although some of these similar ethnic backgrounds facilitate bonds, they may
also perpetuate former allegiance from previous conflicts as well. Conflicts between
ethnic groups have become an integral part of the social processes that have shaped many
nation-states, along with policies in the United States and abroad. The U.S. agricultural
labor market has received refugees from conflicts in Latin American countries such as
Guatemala, El Salvador, and Haiti, along with other economic refugees from Mexico and
other regions that have been a defining part of the farmworker force since the early part
of the 20th century (Griffith et al. 1995b).
The United States has been anything but passive in the development of
transnationalism through it immigration policies. Instead of creating a consistent means
for farmworkers to establish citizenship to lessen the necessity for undocumented
workers, the U.S. legislative programs have failed to stabilize and have actually fueled
the cycle of migration that often serve as the foundation for the growth of transnational
OVERVIEW OF RECENT HISTORICAL WAVE OF U.S. IMMIGRATION
Changes in U.S. Immigration
Recent immigrants from Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean continue to
change the ethnic landscape in the United States (Lessinger 1995). The Center for
Immigration Studies (2002) found that the number of foreign-born immigrants in the
2000 Census (31.1 million) had more than doubled since 1980 (14.1 million). The Center
also found that recent immigrants make up 11.1% of the total U.S. population, which is
close to the all-time-high of 14.8% foreign-born population reached in 1890. The Center
for Immigration Studies projects that if current immigration trends continue, at least 13
million documented and undocumented immigrants will probably settle in the U.S.
during the first decade of the 21st Century.
Immigration has often been associated in the minds of many Americans with the
massive influx of southern and eastern Europeans at the turn of the 20th century. Since
the late 1960s, however, the United States has again become a country of large-scale
immigration from other regions (Lessinger 1995). In 2000, the majority of foreign-born
people in the U.S. consisted of people from Latin America (52%), which had increased
from 31% in 1980 and 42% in 1990 (Center 2002). Why has there been a recent surge in
immigration, particularly illegal immigration, during the 1990s? What role did federal
policies such as the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 play in this increase of
While people from Mexico comprise more than three quarters (77%) of the U.S.
farmworker labor force, people from different Latin American countries (2%), Asia (1%),
and other countries (1%) complete the total foreign-born farmworker labor force here
(Flocks et al. 2002). In Florida, however, while Mexican-born farmworkers generally
represent a majority in the farmworker labor force across the state, regional variation
occurs, particularly in south Florida, where an ethnically diverse farmworker labor force
has developed in recent years. Because of the increase in immigration by Latin
Americans, and the continued geographic, economic, historical and political ties that
form U.S.-Mexico relations, a brief overview of Mexican migration to the U.S. is offered
to illustrate how immigration policy has shaped current processes of immigration.
A Brief Look at Mexican Immigration
Due to geography, the four U.S. states that border Mexico-California, Arizona,
New Mexico, and Texas-have naturally drawn greater concentrations of Mexican
immigrants than non-border states. Geography, however, is not the sole indicator of
which states consistently draw immigrants, since Illinois has been a destination for
immigrants for many years. In addition to geography, patterns of economic growth in the
United States and other countries, as well as U.S. immigration policies, have encouraged
immigration, and have directed where immigrants flow in search of work (Durand et al.
Early in the 20th century, Mexicans primarily went to Texas. After 1910, however,
California emerged as the state of increasing attraction for Mexican immigrants,
continuing to gain numbers at the expense of Texas during the 1920s and 1930s.
California did not surpass Texas in its numbers of Mexican immigrants, however, until
the implementation of the Bracero Program (1942-1964) that complemented California's
emergence as an economic power. California would continue to dominate Mexican
immigration into the 1980s (Durand et al. 2000: 1).
Since the 1990s, Mexican immigration has been transformed from a regional to a
national phenomenon, and by 1996, nearly one-third of the new arrivals from Mexico
were going to places other than the five traditional gateway states (California, Arizona,
New Mexico, Arizona, and Illinois), which historically absorbed 90% of all Mexican
immigrants (Durand et al. 2000: 1).
The Classic Period of Immigration: 1910 to 1920
Mexican-born immigrants had two historical U.S. immigration periods: the classic
period of open immigration, which is based on data from the 1910 and 1920 censuses,
followed by the Bracero period of U.S.-sponsored labor migration, based on the censuses
of 1940, 1950, and 1960 (Table 2-1). The table presents the distribution of immigrants
across "gateway" states, with about 50% of all Mexican immigrants living in Texas
during the classic period (1910-1920). The next closest state in the quantity of
immigrants during this classic period was California, which increased 5% over this
decade. During the classic period, Mexican immigrants went primarily to the three
geographically closer states-Texas, California, and Arizona-which together absorbed
about 85% of all Mexico-U.S. immigrants (Durand et al. 2000: 3).
Meanwhile, the arrival of the railroads connected agricultural and mining areas in
the Southwest to industrial cities in the Northeast and Midwest, creating continuous
economic growth and a greater demand for labor. The U.S. and Mexican railroads were
integrated in the early part of the 20th Century, providing a link between the labor supply
and its demand. Subsequently, the first waves of migration to the United States were
initiated in part due to the railroads (Durand et al. 2000: 5).
The Bracero Program: 1942-1964
Realizing in the 1960s that it was unable to control immigration, the federal
government introduced the Bracero Program, one of its first attempts to regulate
undocumented migration. Through the Bracero Program, undocumented Mexican
immigrants were to receive temporary work authorization; however, the program actually
created a dependency for agricultural employers on Mexican labor, as they faced no legal
obstacles in contracting undocumented workers. After 22 years of the program, Mexican
laborers had also become accustomed to migrating seasonally, while some of them even
began to settle in the United States. This pattern of migratory work that was created
under the Bracero Program in the mid-twentieth century is still evident in the new
immigration patterns today (Lewis & Clark 2003). Furthermore, the failure of the
Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) to regulate immigration from Mexico
became an issue of national concern.
The Bracero Program also coincided with an unprecedented economic boom in
California, increasing its labor demand, therefore drawing more Mexican immigrants
than in previous years. Meanwhile, Mexico's government was making futile attempts to
distribute millions of hectares of land to its peasants who did not have the capital required
to cultivate the land. In addition, the Mexican government's policy of Import
Substitution Industrialization created high rates of industrial and urban growth, but could
not provide enough jobs for the increased flow of in-country migrants looking for capital.
These pressures to seek alternative means of earnings, coupled with the rising demand for
labor in the U.S., created a labor market supply and demand match. Therefore, many
Mexicans made their way to California, and would eventually dominate the farm labor
market, along with some manufacturing and service industries (Durand et al. 2000: 6).
Significant changes occurred between 1950 and 1960, due to the large expansions
of the Bracero Program. Until 1950, only 67, 000 bracero workers were brought into the
United States, but by the late 1950s, an estimated 400,000 Bracero Program laborers were
in the U.S. The vast majority of these migrants were sent to the California growers; and
by 1960, California had surpassed Texas as home to the largest concentration of
documented Mexican immigrants (Table 2-1).
During this time period (1940-1960), the number of Mexican immigrants migrating
to non-gateway states, which had been important destinations during the classic period
(1910-1920), greatly declined. At the same time, Mexican immigration to industrialized
states such as Michigan and New York increased, along with immigration to agricultural
states such as Washington, where Mexicans sustained the fruit-picking labor force.
The Undocumented Period of Immigration: 1964-1986
The undocumented period of immigration (1964-1986) was characterized by a
rapid expansion of legal and illegal Mexican immigration. Because of the nature of
undocumented immigration, accurate estimates are not available. From 1970 to 1980,
however, California's population of Mexican immigrants continued to grow, having the
majority (53%) of foreign-born Mexicans by 1970, which increased by 4% by 1980
(Table 2-2). This trend continued in Mexican immigration with a growing concentration
in California, along with a greater diversification of immigrant destinations among all
The popular concern and national attention that was given to immigration in the
1970s continues today. Several studies offer various accounts and figures on
undocumented immigrants, their origins, and their settlement patterns. In 1980, for
example, it was estimated that there were between 3.5 and 6 million undocumented
immigrants living in the United States, and about half of them were of Mexican origin.
Another report estimated that in 1986 there may have been 4 million undocumented
workers living in the U.S; and by 1996, the INS estimated that the total number of
undocumented immigrants residing in the U.S. was about 5 million, ranging from 4.6
million to 5.4 million. These estimates indicate that the undocumented immigrant
population grew by approximately 275,000 people annually from 1992-1996, which is
about the same annual growth of 281, 000 estimated for the previous period. Although
the growth in the undocumented immigrant population shows some fluctuations from
year to year, the level of growth has been fairly consistent during the 1990s (Lewis &
One of the objectives of this study is to examine why U.S. immigration from
Mexico and other Latin American countries increased so much in the 1990s. This thesis
proposes that the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA), with its Special
Agricultural Worker program, actually perpetuated these increases in immigration. The
following chapter examines IRCA and some of its intentions and implications.
Table 2-1. Distribution of Mexican Immigrants by State of Residence: 1910-1960
(All Immigrants) Classic Period Bracero Period
States 1910 1920 1940 1950 1960
% % % % %
Arizona 11.8 14.1 7.2 6.7 6.3
California 16.9 21.6 35.6 34.0 41.9
Illinois 0.3 .8 2.5 2.6 4.8
New Mexico 4.5 3.2 4.2 2.1 1.8
Texas 55.2 49.9 39.5 44.5 35.9
Other States 11.2 10.5 11.1 10.2 9.4
Florida 5.7 0.4 0.4 2.0 2.0
Kansas 63.2 24.4 18.6 12.0 5.7
Michigan 0.0 0.8 6.3 14.4 10.3
New Jersey 0.9 0.4 0.9 1.3 1.8
New York 2.8 8.0 9.1 5.8 13.0
Washington 0.0 2.4 0.4 3.2 11.5
Source: Partial Table found in Social Science
Use Micro Data Samples).
Table 2-2. Distribution of Mexican Immigran
(All Immigrants) Pre-IRCA Period
States 1970 1980
Quarterly (1910-1960 Integrated Public
ts by State of Residence: 1970-1996
Source: Partial Table found in Social Science Quarterly (1910-1960 Integrated Public
Use Micro Data Samples).
IMMIGRATION REFORM AND CONTROL ACT OF 1986
Purpose and Implementation
The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 and its Special Agricultural
Worker (SAW) program at first appeared to have the U.S. government's support and
clear guidelines. The intent of IRCA 1986 and its SAW program was for undocumented,
long-time resident immigrants to gain legal status and to curb more undocumented
immigrants from coming to the U.S. Certain provisions within the IRCA program,
however, permitted employers to evade the sanctions and penalties and to continue to hire
illegal immigrants (Margolis 1994: 21). While the provisions of the act are
straightforward, its implications have not been clearly defined and have resulted in some
unintended consequences. Some of these consequences are lived out today by immigrant
workers who have limited rights, poor working and housing conditions, and
This study examines some of the federal regulations that were passed in IRCA
1986, the intent of the regulations in regards to legalizing immigrant workers, specifically
agricultural laborers, and how both employers and employees took advantage of the
regulations. Through this analysis, some conclusions will be drawn on how this policy
has influenced the immigration process and immigrant farmworkers' working and living
conditions in Florida, and the United States.
The highly publicized Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA) and
some of its provisions have had a major impact on the lives of immigrants in the United
States. There were two main objectives of IRCA: to stem the tide of illegal immigrants
coming to the United States through sanctions against employers that hired them and to
legalize long-resident undocumented aliens through the amnesty program (Margolis
One of the provisions of IRCA 1986 was the amnesty program. This program
allowed undocumented aliens who could prove that they were in the United States prior
to January 1, 1982 to apply for amnesty. The amnesty applications had to be filed in the
twelve months preceding May 1988, and those approved for amnesty were granted
temporary residence, the right to work, and later, permanent resident status, and
eventually, qualification for a green card. A significant number of immigrants did not
qualify for amnesty simply because they arrived after the January 1982 deadline. For this
reason, IRCA 1986 neither solved the documentation problem, nor stopped the
immigration problem, because IRCA assumed that undocumented immigrants who did
not qualify for amnesty would return to their own countries once they could not find
work in the United States (Margolis 1994: 22).
The other objective behind the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 was
to limit the work available to illegal immigrants through employer sanctions. A joint
study by the Rand Corporation and the Urban Institute suggested that this provision had
only a slight effect on the rate of illegal immigration. The study found that getting jobs in
the U.S. was slightly harder than before the passage of IRCA; meanwhile, economic and
political conditions in Mexico and other countries contributed a steady supply of
immigrant labor. The demand for cheap immigrant labor has remained an important
factor in many U.S. policy and economic decisions as well.
Other provisions within the IRCA program actually gave the employers a means to
evade the sanctions and penalties and to continue to hire illegal immigrants (Margolis
1994: 22). The wording of the anti-discrimination provisions of IRCA 1986 enables an
employer to accept the potential workers' documentation at face value without requiring
the immigrants to demonstrate a specific document, such as an INS-issued green card
(Scalise 1998). The anti-discrimination provisions of IRCA 1986 declare,
Employers with four or more employees are prohibited from committing document
abuse. Document abuse occurs when an employer requests an employee or
applicant to produce a specific document, or more or different documents than are
required, to establish employment eligibility, or rejects valid documents that
reasonably appear genuine on their face. (Runyan 1992: 2)
Due to the wording of this IRCA provision, employers were able to use what some
might call a loophole to hire undocumented individuals. Sanctions and fines, intended to
deter employers from hiring illegal workers, were almost void. Therefore, the system
continued to perpetuate a cycle of poverty, lack of rights, and poor living conditions for
immigrants because employers and their buyers knew that they could underpay and treat
or mistreat immigrants as they wished (Runyan 1992).
Because some farmworkers were under the age of 16, these younger immigrants
could use other forms of identification to establish work eligibility. Minors also used
many easily obtained forms of identification (a school report card or identification card,
hospital record, or day care record) that might have been valid or false, to meet the
identification requirement and establish employment eligibility.
The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 remained ineffective because
adult immigrants could use a variety of U.S. documents that could be easily obtained or
made. A professionally produced green card could be purchased from $600 to $1,000,
although many workers claimed that it was easy to pass off a fake green card, since most
Americans did not know what a legitimate one looks like. Other forms of work
documentation were acquired less expensively, such as fake or stolen social security
cards that sold for as little as $20 on the street. The other easily acquired and readily
accepted form of identification for labor purposes was a driver's license. Licenses could
also be false or legitimate and were easily obtained since a person had to only pay the
fees, demonstrate a permanent address, and pass the examinations (Margolis 1994: 117-
Although IRCA passed in 1986, the program's provisions and employer's sanctions
were gradually implemented from 1987 through 1989, so that the full effects of IRCA
were not felt until after 1990. According to the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization
Services' 1991 data, around 2.3 million Mexican farmworkers acquired legal documents
between 1987 and 1990 (Lewis & Clark 2003). This massive legalization of Mexican
immigrants had two initial impacts: first, it flooded the local labor markets with newly
legalized immigrants; and secondly, it gave these newly legalized immigrants a new
freedom to move and seek other kinds of employment.
Whereas illegal immigrants usually avoided moving too often to minimize the risk
of detection, newly legalized immigrants had full U.S. labor rights and lost their fear of
deportation or arrest. These newly legalized immigrants began to exercise their
freedoms, changing location and occupation, along with other factors that encouraged
them to move as well. For example, deteriorating economic conditions and a growing
hostility towards immigrants in California, where nearly 55% of those legalized lived in
1990, promoted immigrants' moves to other states (Durand et al. 2000: 9). Another
reason for moving to new areas was the threat of employer sanctions by IRCA, which
made it illegal for the first time for employers to hire undocumented workers. Both civil
and criminal penalties were to be imposed against those who violated this policy.
Employers responded to these sanctions by hiring labor subcontractors to satisfy
their labor demands. These subcontractors were usually citizens or legal immigrants who
make a contract with the employers to provide a specific number of farmworkers. The
agreements often include other criteria: the duration of the contract, a description of the
job, and the establishment of the workers' wages. Because of the way growers responded
to IRCA's sanctions with the use of labor contractors, farm laborers were the ones hurt
most due to their substandard wages and working conditions. Through these strategies,
many employers were able to avoid the threat of prosecution under IRCA, while not
having to file extensive paperwork. Furthermore, the subcontractors profited by keeping
a share of the farmworker's earnings in return for their services. Once again, the
farmworkers were the ones dealt the greatest burdens in the U.S. agricultural industry
(Durand et al. 2000: 9).
Special Agricultural Worker Program of IRCA 1986
The Special Agricultural Workers (SAW) program of IRCA 1986 provided legal
resident status to about one million agricultural workers in the United States. This easily
accessible route to amnesty, proper work documentation, or a green card, was offered
through Immigration Reform and Control Act's additional provisions, specifically for
farmworkers. The SAW program was particularly advantageous for those immigrants
who arrived after the 1982 cutoff date for the general amnesty program.
Under the Special Agricultural Workers program, undocumented individuals in the
United States, who had been employed as farm laborers for at least ninety days between
May 1985 and May 1986, could apply for amnesty and ultimately, permanent U.S.
residency. Because of the flexible provisions found in the SAW program, amnesty
applications under the SAW program far outnumbered those filed under other IRCA
National Agricultural Worker Survey
Beginning in 1988, two years after the implementation of the IRCA 1986, the U.S.
Department of Labor began to conduct a survey of farmworkers living in the U.S., the
National Agricultural Workers Survey (NAWS). The extensive survey is usually
performed for a two-year period in which random samples of the nation's agricultural
workers are interviewed three times each year. The farmworkers reveal information
about their basic demographics, legal status, family size and household composition, and
wages and working conditions (US DOL 1997). For the purposes of this study, the
NAWS reports' data from the 1994-1995 research period, published in 1997, and the data
from the 1997-1998 research period, published in 2000, will be used to determine if
IRCA 1986 reached its goals, about ten years after it was passed.
The Immigration Reform and Control Act legalized a large number of farmworkers,
the majority of who became legal permanent residents. Many of the newly legalized
farmworkers continued in agricultural work in the United States, while many also left the
sector (US DOL 1997).
Analysis of the National Agricultural Worker Survey
From 1989-1998, the proportion of United States-born farmworkers dropped
considerably by 20%, one decade after IRCA, and the proportion of unauthorized
farmworkers greatly increased by 45%. However, the most significant indicators of
IRCA's results are found in the movement within the farm labor force in the central two
categories, legal permanent resident and temporary-pending status. These two categories
serve as a means to assess IRCA's progress towards one of its goals: to legalize and
maintain a farmworker labor force for U.S. agriculture (Table 3-2).
The U.S. Department of Labor's National Agricultural Workers Survey (NAWS)
records indicate that shortly after IRCA 1986 went into effect in 1989, 48% of the
farmworkers had either established legal permanent residency or were in the process as
temporary-pending status candidates. However, 3 to 4 years later (1992-1993), when the
full effects of IRCA should have taken place, only 21% of the temporary-pending status
candidates had either been approved or moved on, while the legal permanent resident
category showed only 7% growth. Furthermore, the category of unauthorized
farmworkers quadrupled in the same 3 to 4 years, increasing to 28%. By the time of the
next reporting period (1994-1995), the greatest number of post-IRCA farmworkers (25%)
had become legal permanent residents, increasing the total number of legal permanent
farmworkers by 12%. Meanwhile, the number of temporary-pending status farmworkers
had dropped by a total of 21% from the 1989 to the 1994-1995 reporting period,
indicating that about half of the farmworkers that sought legal permanent status under
IRCA 1986 had left farmwork during the next 5-6 years (Table 3-1). Meanwhile, the
number of U.S. citizens still doing farmwork declined by 10%.
Another key indicator that demonstrates that IRCA 1986 was not successful in
legalizing and maintaining an immigrant labor force is in the growth of the unauthorized
category, and by 1994-1995, 37% of farmworkers in the U.S. were working without
proper documentation. The number of unauthorized farmworkers again increased by
15% from the 1994-1995 period to the 1997-1998 period, in which more that half (52%)
of the farmworkers were unauthorized to work in the United States (Table 3-1).
While the number of illegal immigrant farmworkers increased, the total number of
legal permanent residents and potential temporary-pending status candidates continued to
decline, with many of those legalized under IRCA having already left the farmworker
labor force by 1998. Meanwhile, the U.S.-born farmworkers continued to leave
agriculture, dropping another 10%, further depleting the legal farmworker labor force,
which only formed 22% of the farmworker labor force by 1998 (Table 3-1).
A clear explanation exists for why the legal permanent resident proportion of
farmworkers did not grow as much as the temporary-pending status worker numbers
declined. Many of the Special Agricultural Workers (SAW) and the General Amnesty
Workers legalized by the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 moved on from
agriculture. By legalizing a major portion of the agricultural labor force, the Immigration
Reform and Control Act of 1986 temporarily reduced the numbers of unauthorized
farmworkers. Because the working and living conditions of farmwork were so difficult, a
trend began for the newly legalized farmworkers to move on to other forms of labor.
This created a gap in the labor market that attracted new immigrants to enter the
agricultural labor force from abroad. The trends in the reports indicate no signs of this
influx of newcomer farmworkers declining, despite the large legalization program.
One significant finding by the 2000 Census is the recent move by Latin American
immigrants to rural areas of the U.S. Some of these rural and agricultural areas across the
U.S. had not received many immigrants in over a hundred years. The Census found that
the Latin American populations in these communities doubled or tripled in the 1990s. As
recent immigrant trends have indicated, from around the 1980s to present, many of the
Latin American immigrants arriving to fill jobs in agricultural and related industries
move on to urban areas after they acquire contacts and legal status in the United States
(Martin 2001). Additionally, their children, educated in the U.S., are not likely to follow
their parents into the fields or slaughterhouses. Meanwhile, agriculture and related
industries continue to have revolving door labor markets, in which newcomers fill jobs
for a few years, and then move on, to be replaced by even newer arrivals (Martin 2001).
This cycle perpetuates the same immigrant labor conditions that brought about IRCA and
SAW in the 1980s, and some state legislation, such as Proposition 187 in California in
the 1990s. These are only some of the immigrant issues that still have not been resolved
Some of the provisions in IRCA 1986 also increased the budget of the U.S. Border
Patrol, which launched a series of repressive crackdowns at two of the nation's busiest
U.S.-Mexico gateway cities, El Paso and San Diego. Along with repressive border-
crackdowns and farmworker wage cuts by subcontractors, California experienced an
economic recession due to defense cutbacks at the end of the Cold War. This lead to a
negative public sentiment in California against immigrants, which culminated in 1994
with the passage of Proposition 187, a referendum that sought to bar undocumented
migrants from receiving publicly provided health, education, and welfare services
(Durand et al. 2000: 10).
Therefore, an unusual set of circumstances occurred in the early 1990s: IRCA
1986 had restructured immigrant employment through subcontracting causing wages to
decline, a severe recession had occurred, and a wage competition had developed due to
the influx of newly legalized immigrants into the labor markets, along with growing
hostility towards these immigrants. All of these changes occurred north of the border
while Mexico endured an economic crisis of its own during 1994. These changes created
not only a greater need for income in Mexico's traditional immigrant-sending states, but
also affected capital and financial security among middle-class, non-traditional sending
states, as well. As these new migrants entered the binational labor market, they naturally
sought to avoid the difficult circumstances that surrounded immigration in traditional
gateway states, resulting in a flow that shifted Mexican immigration away from them
towards non-traditional destination states (Durand et al. 2000: 10).
For example, in six short years, the percentage of Mexican immigrants in
California dropped 10%, and Texas continued to lose immigrants from Mexico, falling to
an all-time low of 17% in 1996. The proportion of Mexican migrants going to non-
gateway states reached the highest percentage (21%) in the history of Mexico-U.S.
migration, doubling the numbers from the previous period. Therefore, in a brief time,
Mexican immigration was transformed from a narrowly geographically orientated
process into a nationwide movement, with its effects being felt throughout the country
(Durand et al. 2000: 11).
Plans to Continue Farmwork
One of the goals of IRCA 1986 was to insure that the agricultural industry had a
stable labor force. Many issues have been studied about farmworkers obtaining work
eligibility or how long they remain in agriculture. One way to assess how long
farmworkers could possibly be in the agricultural labor force is to ask them in a survey.
According to the NAWS report for the 1997-1998 research period, only about half (54%)
of the farmworkers said they intended to continue in agricultural work for more than five
years or as long as they were able. Twenty-seven percent of the farmworkers indicated
that they intended to continue in farmwork for 3 years or less.
The 1997-1998 NAWS report also found that farmworkers had many contacts
across the United States and that their ability to locate work was fairly accessible.
Overall, 59% of the farmworkers indicated that they had relatives or close friends who
already had non-farmwork employment in the U.S. To further examine the farmworkers'
access to other jobs, they were asked if they could obtain a U.S.-based non-farmwork job
within one month; 35% indicated that they were confident they could.
These indicators serve to demonstrate that the current trends for farmworkers to
move on to other geographic locations and forms of employment are going to continue.
The rates of their moves from agriculture and their replacement by unauthorized workers
will only increase in the years to come to meet the demand for agricultural labor in the
While the majority of studies focus on immigrant farmwokers from Mexico
working and living in Texas or California, an objective of this study is to examine some
of the dynamics and diversity found in the farmworker labor force in Florida.
Table 3-1. Current Legal Status of U.S. Farmworkers
Current Legal 1989 1990-1991 1992-1993 1994-1995 1997-1998
Citizen 42% 42% 35% 32% 22%
Legal 13% 13% 20% 25% 24%
Temporary- 35% 26% 14% 4% 2%
Unauthorized 7% 16% 28% 37% 52%
Unknown 3% 3% 2% 2% 0%
Source: Combined tables found in U.S. Department of Labor's National Agricultural
Workers Survey (NAWS) Research Reports for the 1994-1995 and 1997-1998
reporting periods, published in 1997 and 2000 respectively.
Table 3-2. Method of Obtaining Legal Status
Method of Obtaining 1989 1990-1991 1992-1993 1994-1995 1997-1998
Citizen 42% 42% 34% 30% 19%
IRCA Applicant 33% 29% 25% 19% 16%
Family Program 1% 3% 6% 7% 11%
Other Work 7% 7% 4% 3% 2%
Unauthorized 7% 16% 28% 37% 52%
Unknown 11% 3% 2% 2% 0%
Combined tables found in U.S. Department of Labor's National Agricultural
Workers Survey (NAWS) Research Reports for the 1994-1995 and 1997-1998
reporting periods, published in 1997 and 2000 respectively.
IRCA 1986 AND FLORIDA
A Brief Overview of Immigration to Florida
This chapter examines the diversity of the south Florida farmworker labor force, in
which Guatemalans, Haitians, Mexicans, and other ethnic groups comprise a unique
situation found in Florida's agricultural labor. First, I offer a brief overview of how
commercial agriculture began in Florida and how Florida's current farmworker labor
force came to be so ethnically diverse. To demonstrate the unique Florida situation, I
compare a Florida labor supply community with two other agricultural labor supply
communities in California and Texas. Finally, using studies of farmworker agricultural
communities in south Florida, I examine the various strategies used by growers and
farmworkers in Florida in response to IRCA 1986, as well as some of the reasons why
different ethnic groups tend to continue or leave farmwork.
Beginnings of Commercial Agricultural Production in Florida
Florida's east coast contains Dade County, home to the crowded cities of Miami
and Miami Beach, along with more than 80,000 acres of agricultural land that support
more than 1,500 farms. Homestead, Florida, a farmworker labor supply community in
Dade County, has a subtropical climate that allows it to be the harvest home to a variety
of agricultural crops, ranging from tropical fruits to winter vegetables (Heppel 1992:
161). A straight drive from Dade County directly west across Alligator Alley (Interstate
75) through the famous Florida Everglades and Big Cypress Swamp arrives at the
southwestern coast of Florida. On the southwest coast, Collier County is similar
topographically to Dade, with a mixture of resort areas in Naples and MarcoIsland, along
with 220 farms inland that cover over 330,000 acres (Heppel 1992: 161). Collier County
also has a comparable farmworker labor supply town called Immokalee that lies about an
hour's drive inland from Naples.
I attended a Community Advisory Board Meeting sponsored by the Farmworker
Association of Immokalee, Florida. This meeting demonstrated the diversity of the
farmworker labor force in south Florida, since the meeting was conducted in English,
Spanish, and Haitian Creole, accommodating everyone's native language. I offer a brief
overview of immigration to Florida to provide a background to their responses to IRCA
1986, as well as some of the farmworker issues that were discussed.
Agricultural production in Florida, specifically tomatoes, has a long history dating
back to around 1880, when the first commercial tomatoes were grown in the central west
region of the state (Heppel 1992). About 20 years later, the first commercial tomatoes
were grown in Dade County (Homestead), a place considered unsuitable for agriculture
around the turn of the last century. After a farmer discovered the importance of applying
fertilizer to the crop, however, Dade County soon became the number one county in
shipping tomatoes to northern markets. This tomato business became very profitable,
employing hundreds of picker and packers, and for 30 to 40 years, tomatoes dominated
the fields. The numerous consecutive years of planting without crop rotation depleted the
soils and disease took over the tomatoes and soil, so tomato production shifted to the
rocky pineland soils, where tomatoes are produced today (Heppel 1992:163).
The early 20th century history of the area around Collier County (Immokalee,
Florida) sounds like a Western pioneer scene, consisting of a trading post and a mission
to deal with the regional Native Americans (Seminoles). Lack of roads delayed the
commercial tomato production in Collier County, and agricultural production did not
come to the area until 1930, after the railroad brought a means to transport the produce to
northern markets (Heppel 1992:163). Since then, tomato production has continued to
grow, and today, the tomato industry accounts for 45% of the total vegetable acreage in
southwest Florida (Roka and Cook 1998: 8).
Agricultural Labor in South Florida
At the turn of the last century, the labor force for the south Florida tomato harvest
consisted of southern African Americans, regional Seminole Indians, along with some
Bahamians, who had migrated to Miami or came seasonally to Florida to work in
agriculture. Bahamians were brought to the U.S. to work because, as growers claim
today, the agricultural labor supply was reported to be scarce. Therefore, informal
programs were instituted to bring in Bahamians to work during harvest. These labor
programs were formalized, and from 1943 to 1966, Bahamian laborers were given short-
term contracts that were to be supervised by the Colonial and U.S. governments. These
federal labor programs were only intended to supplement the U.S. agricultural labor
supply with foreign-born workers, since domestic workers continued to be the dominant
group harvesting U.S. fields (Heppel 1992: 164). These formal and informal programs,
along with an increasing demand for agricultural labor, would continue to encourage
other immigrant groups to migrate to Florida in search of work.
Florida has a unique immigration history due to various immigrant groups coming
to find work in the U.S. as a point of entry throughout the 20th century. Florida, along
with most of the East Coast states, traditionally relied on a U.S.-born agricultural labor
force, employing only a small number of legal temporary workers from the Caribbean to
work its agricultural sectors, rather than trying to solve their seasonal labor needs by
looking to Mexico. The ethnic make-up of the agricultural labor changed gradually until
the mid-20th century; then it began to change dramatically with different waves of
migration. These trends in immigration continued through the latter half of the 20th
century, and now, almost the entire tomato harvest labor force in Florida is made up of
Latin American workers. In spite of this recent rapid influx of primarily Latin American
migrant workers, Florida has also continued its history of using guest worker programs to
supplement its domestic and immigrant labor. In 1991, the Florida agricultural industry
employed approximately 10,000 Caribbean workers in its sugar cane industry through the
H-2A program (Heppel 1992: 164).
As stated earlier in this study, a housing provider in the stakeholder analysis
explained that south Florida is home to two farmworker labor supply communities,
Homestead (Dade County) and Immokalee (Collier County). These towns have two of
the largest government-subsidized farmworker housing complexes, which are key home-
bases for some of the U.S. farmworkers.
Dade County: Waves of Immigrant Farmworkers
In Dade County (Homestead) before 1950, most of the tomato fields were small,
ranging from 50-60 acres, but when tractors replaced mules, fields began to expand. As
stated earlier, around the 1950s, many of the laborers in southwestern Florida came from
the Bahamas, who were eligible to work in agriculture through guest worker programs
(1943-1966). In the 1950s and 1960s, Puerto Ricans began to enter the farmworker labor
force, though Mexican workers would soon replace them in the 1970s. During the late
1970s and early 1980s, there were a growing number of undocumented workers; and
throughout the 1990s, Central Americans, primarily from Guatemala, joined Florida's
increasing numbers of its primarily Mexican/Mexican-American labor force (Heppel
Collier County: Waves of Immigrant Farmworkers
During the 1960s, the labor force of Florida's southwestern Collier County
(Immokalee) primarily consisted of African Americans, some living up to 30 miles away
in Fort Myers. Only a decade later, the general ethnic make-up of the farmworker labor
force around Immokalee would change significantly, as well as where the workers would
live and be housed in Immokalee. By the 1970s, most of the farmworkers lived in
Immokalee, and its farmworker labor force was comprised of Mexicans and Mexican-
Americans, who had moved to the area from Texas, along with African-Americans, and
Caucasians. Only a relatively small percentage of the Collier County labor force was
undocumented during this time (Heppel 1992: 164).
By the late 1970s and early 1980s, the number of undocumented Mexican
farmworkers along with the number of Haitian workers increased dramatically. The
influx of Haitians had come in response to President Kennedy's explicit encouragement
of immigration by Haitians to the U.S. due to the human rights violations of President
Francois Duvalier's office. In 1965, the U.S. Immigration Act went into effect, allowing
family members to bring close relatives to the U.S. Therefore, by the late 1960s, almost
7,000 Haitians became U.S. permanent residents each year, while approximately 20,000
came on temporary visas each year (Stepick 1998: 4). With the passage of the
Immigration Reform and Control Act in 1986, Haitians, who had been recorded by the
INS prior to January 1, 1982, were able to receive permanent residency. In addition,
Haitians also had the opportunity to apply for permanent residency under one of the two
seasonal agricultural worker programs of the Special Agricultural Worker program
(Burns 1989: 43).
Guatemalans were the last of the newcomers to enter the Florida agricultural labor
force, arriving from the mid-1980s to the present. During the last century, Guatemalan
Mayans migrated due to the political and armed violence in Guatemala. As of 1982,
about 46,000 Guatemalan refugees had fled to Mexico; some of them migrated later to
the United States (Montejo 1999: 190). Guatemalans were able to apply for political
asylum as a means to obtain a temporary resident alien document for 12 months (Burns
1989, 1993). Today, there are more than 200,000 Guatemalans in the United States, and
Indiantown, Florida, has the most recognizable community of Mayan people in Florida.
The influx of Guatemalan Mayans into the Indiantown community more than doubled its
population by the 1990s (to a little over 6,000 people), where they obtained jobs as
farmworkers (Burs 1999: 139).
While the shifts in the composition of the agricultural labor forces in places such as
Indiantown, Immokalee, and Homestead, have a unique historical dynamic that is
different from other immigration trends in the United States, the common theme within
all of the changes and history of Florida's agriculture has been the employers' search for
the cheapest possible labor (Heppel 1992).
Competition Over Labor
In both south Florida counties, competition between agriculture and non-
agricultural industries for labor is troubling for farm employers. Another underlying
tension found in south Florida comes from the various immigrant groups that have
migrated to the area, such as Cubans, Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, Guatemalans,
Bahamians, and Haitians. These immigrants groups, as well as others, sometimes interact
uneasily among themselves and more often with African-Americans, Mexican-
Americans, and Caucasians (Heppel 1992: 161).
Agriculture and tourism dominate industry in south Florida, with the service
industry of tourism being the largest non-farming employment category for both Dade
and Collier Counties. Agriculture has always been a major industry in both counties; in
1987, the market value for agricultural products sold in Dade and Collier Counties totaled
$250 million and $118 million, respectively (Heppel 1992: 162). These figures indicate
the financial investment and return that the state of Florida, its growers, and many others
enjoy as revenue.
One significant indication of Florida's continued dependence and investment in
agriculture around the time of IRCA 1986 was that the values of agricultural products
from Dade County had increased 28%, from 1982 to 1987; meanwhile, the market values
of the agricultural products from Collier County had increased 78%, from 1982 to 1987.
These figures demonstrated that the agricultural sector was dynamic, and that a stable,
cheap labor supply would be necessary in order to continue to develop the agricultural
land and increase its size and sales (Heppel 1992: 162).
A recent report (Evans 2000) found that agriculture is the second most important
industry in Florida, generating $18 billion in economic value a year, which is the
foundation for all other contributing economic segments, such as food wholesaling and
retailing. These economic sectors that are directly related to agriculture add about $35
billion to the Florida economy, while the agricultural industry is responsible for creating
more than 500,000 jobs, along with a payroll of over 10 billion dollars each year.
Although these two south Florida Counties are similar in their dependence on agriculture
and tourism, they differ in some aspects within these industries.
The structure of agriculture in the two south Florida Counties is different. In
Collier County (Immokalee), farms are larger than those in Dade County (Homestead),
with Collier's average farm size in 1987 being 1, 483 acres, compared to the average
farm size of only 51 acres for Dade. The population sizes of the two counties also differ
substantially. In 1986, Dade County had a population of about 1.8 million, while Collier
County had a population of about 121,000. It was estimated that both Collier and Dade
Counties employ an average of approximately 20,000 seasonal agricultural workers per
year (Heppel 1992: 162).
Comparison of Ethnic Diversity: Three U.S. Farmworker Labor Supply
Florida, along with Texas and California, is one of the top three states in labor-
intensive agriculture in the U.S. The majority of the acreage in Florida is designated for
citrus, sugar cane, and vegetables, which are mostly perishable and require hand
harvesting (Heppel 1992). Florida has a unique situation, given its compatible
agricultural climate and geographical location, along with a diverse population in south
Florida's labor supply communities of Immokalee and Homestead. A study by Griffith et
al. (1995a) demonstrates the diversity of farmworkers that live in south Florida, as
opposed to two other agricultural labor supply communities in California and Texas. The
Griffith et al. study (1995a) of the ethnicity of different labor supply communities reveals
that Immokalee, Florida, has a much more diverse farmworker force than the
predominantly Mexican labor forces of the agricultural labor supply towns of Parlier,
California or Weslaco, Texas (Table 4-1).
The differences in ethnic composition of the farm labor force reflects the reliance
on extended family and village networks in farm labor recruitment, which results in
ethnic clustering and the institutionalization of immigration flows to different
communities. Labor market dynamics and geography are found to play important roles in
the processes through which immigration flows become institutionalized; however,
participation of federal and local governments in the formation of the farmworker labor
force has often proven to be more powerful than either the labor market or geography
(Griffith et al. 1995a).
I offer a comparison between labor supply communities in three of the key
agricultural labor states, California, Florida, and Texas. The labor supply community of
Weslaco, Texas, was the only community with low rates of immigration. These lower
rates might be attributed to the large portion of Mexican-Americans in the farmworker
labor force (46%), or deterioration in agricultural job opportunities in Texas. Lower
immigration rates in Texas are significant due to its geographical location, since Texas
relied on immigrant laborers from Mexico in the first half of last century. Furthermore,
each winter, a stream of Mexican migrants passed through southern Texas en route to
other labor demand communities in Florida (Immokalee and Homestead) and California.
In 1995, California was still the dominant destination of Mexican immigrants.
The greatest diversity, however, was in the farmworker labor force in the
community of Immokalee, Florida. In Immokalee, the numbers of Guatemalan and
Haitian farmworkers (38%) were almost equivalent to those of Mexican descent (43%).
Many other ethnic groups comprised the remaining 19% of the agricultural labor force
(Figure 4). Cyclical migrants from Mexico and Guatemala formed the largest group of
unaccompanied migrants (43%) in Immokalee, Florida (Griffith et al. 1995a).
Grower's Responses to IRCA 1986 in South Florida
Heppel's (1992) study revealed that in response to the Immigration Reform and
Control Act's sanctions and regulation, growers in both Dade (Homestead) and Collier
(Immokalee) Counties organized a badge system in order to centralize the bookkeeping
requirements of the law. For the growers to be protected against hiring undocumented
workers, they created a "badge," a plastic ID card, which a farmworker would present in
order to be hired by either a grower or a labor contractor in south Florida. To become
work-eligible, the workers were to present the required documents along with an I-9 and
a picture ID. To accommodate the large numbers of farmworkers applying for amnesty
under IRCA 1986, both south Florida counties created an office to process these
applications shortly after IRCA was passed.
The South Florida Tomato and Vegetable Growers' Association of Dade County
(Homestead) established a Labor Division in the fall of 1987, and by April 1990, 14,000
badges had been issued. Over half of the workers' cards that were issued for legalization
were through the Special Agricultural Worker (SAW) program or through the INS. Of
these workers obtaining cards, one-third of the cards were based on documents showing
citizenship, and about one-tenth of the cards were given to permanent resident aliens
(Heppel 1992: 174).
In Collier County (Immokalee), about 85 growers from the area founded the
Immigrant Agricultural Worker ID office in 1987; by 1990, the office had issued almost
29,000 ID cards. The majority of these were for farmworkers who had gone through the
Special Agricultural Worker (SAW) program (Heppel 1992: 174).
The south Florida badge systems were developed with a significant amount of input
from the INS, which intended to regularize the hiring of a portion of the farmworker
labor force. Conscientious growers who complied with IRCA's provisions found their
paperwork requirements easy to maintain, and enforcement by the INS was made easier,
although not necessarily more effective. However, the badge system again placed the
burden on the farmworkers, forcing them to pay for the costs of the cards, as well as the
time spent away from work to obtain them (Heppel 1992: 174).
Agricultural employers throughout the years have asked for guest workers because
they feared that they would have a labor shortage. South Florida has had a substantial
surplus of labor for many years, with refugees and immigrants from the Caribbean as
well as Mexico, Central and South America, who were confident that they could obtain
A major complaint from growers concerned the management of the Immigration
Reform and Control Act's Special Agricultural Worker program, specifically the amount
of false documentation that was supplied for a price by dishonest contractors. When the
IRCA-abiding growers denied employment to unauthorized workers themselves, they
would find out that local competitors were still hiring anyone, placing the conscientious
growers at a competitive disadvantage (Heppel 1992: 177).
Farmworker Responses to IRCA 1986 in South Florida
Undocumented workers often had difficulties finding employment, so they used
various strategies to find work. They typically found work with "pin-hookers" or labor
contractors who were flexible with work documentation requirements. Pin-hookers, who
were entrepreneurs who picked and sold tomatoes on a small scale, were a relatively
unique feature of the south Florida tomato industry and had been around for more than
thirty years. With the help of family members or a few hired workers, the pin-hookers
bought a field of tomatoes from a grower with the agreement that the tomatoes would be
sold in-state, since the majority of Florida's tomatoes were shipped out of the state for
commercial use. The majority of the pin-hookers in south Florida were Mexican
permanent residents, who either hired resident aliens or friends and relatives, documented
or not, to help. Pin-hookers were usually paid in cash by the growers, but gave up their
benefits, since taxes were not included in their wages (Heppel 1992: 175).
Another south Florida farmworker strategy was to pick with a legally badged
worker and receive a portion of that authorized worker's wages. Desperate for work
authorization under IRCA 1986, many workers either eventually obtained the required
documents or falsified documents, in order to receive the south Florida ID badge and
permission to work (Heppel 1992: 175).
At the time of Heppel's study on agriculture in south Florida in 1991, there had
been limited enforcement of IRCA 1986. She noted that one large raid had occurred
since IRCA, but that it had conveniently taken place at the end of the season when there
was a surplus of unemployed workers in the Immokalee area. Heppel also found that the
Immigration and Naturalization Service had been unable, or chosen not to do follow-up
investigations of irregular documentation referred to them by Florida's Department of
Burns (1989, 1993) found that undocumented workers obtained work with the
smaller agricultural businesses, or did day labor in agriculture, through contracts with
crew bosses that paid them in cash. The subcontractor crew bosses are often given all of
the wages for the workers that they oversee, and then they are expected to pay social
security and unemployment benefits for each worker. Unfortunately, crew leaders are
notorious for paying farmworkers in cash, retaining the social security and benefits
money for themselves.
Crew Leader Control Over Farmworkers in Florida
For more than seventy years, agricultural workers in Florida have been organized
into crews under the supervision and control of a crew leader, sometimes called a
subcontractor in other studies (Bums 1989, 1993). The primary function of the crew
leader or subcontractor is to secure enough labor for a grower to be insured of having a
sufficient labor supply during harvest times. Crew leaders in Florida also assume a
number of other responsibilities on behalf of the growers, including labor recruitment,
housing, transportation, supervision, record-maintenance, and the ultimate control-factor,
payroll. Exploitation of workers and abuses of power continue today in Florida, as
licensed labor contractors must compete with unlicensed contractors. Both kinds of labor
contractors continue to underpay or mistreat their work crews, often failing to turn in
social security or other withholding (Heppel 1992: 167).
One way that employers maintain control over their labor forces is through the
constant threat to the undocumented workers that they may either lose their jobs or even
be turned over to the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Therefore, the workers
cannot complain about their exploitation and working conditions (Burns 1989). While
many of the farmworkers join social or recreational unions, such as churches, soccer
leagues, or music groups, they are often not familiar with labor union organizations so
these organizations have had limited success. Bums (1989) offers an example from
Guatemalan farmworkers' perspectives to demonstrate some of the reasons why having
labor unions with different ethnic groups are often difficult. He states, because they
come from the Mayan highlands of Guatemala and have limited experience with unions,
the farmworker union organizers have difficulty forming relationships with many migrant
labor communities. Another reason cited by Burns (1989) why some ethnic groups do
not adhere to labor organizations are the language differences between the organizers and
the Guatemalan Maya, impeding further success for a labor union.
Similar situations regarding labor control in agriculture occur today in Immokalee,
Florida. John Bowe's (2003) article of the New Yorker magazine, "Does slavery exist in
America?" examines the control that labor contractors exert over their workers. Bowe
demonstrates how labor contractors, who provide farmworker crews to tend and harvest
crops for growers in south Florida, can exert near-absolute control over their workers'
lives. These contractors are often in charge of groups of workers ranging in size from a
dozen to hundreds, accompanying them as they work and travel the crops' seasons.
Bowe also explains that the labor contractors maintain the payrolls, deduct taxes,
and are often the only source of food, housing and transportation to and from the fields
for the farmworkers. They provide these benefits and services for a fee. The
farmworkers are further subjected to the control of the labor contractor because they are
often not knowledgeable of their rights, unlikely to speak much English, might speak
different languages from their co-workers, and are sometimes bewildered by the
American culture. The labor contractors are able to insure that they will be able to
maintain a labor supply, since about 90% of the laborers in south Florida are new each
season (Bowe 2003:107).
In Bums' study on farmworkers in Indiantown, Florida, he found that construction
companies allow their employees 72 hours to obtain a work permit. This regulation
insures that these industries maintain a large labor pool of transient workers, since many
of them move from job to job every 72 hours or simply change their names and
information to extend the job another 72 hours (Burns 1989:44).
Housing has been a central component of the U.S. farm labor market for decades.
After the Civil War, the Southern agricultural features of sharecropping and tenant
farming retained the newly freed laborers to the land, providing housing as a major way
of coercion. Today, housing remains a cornerstone of maintaining a farm labor force,
one that must be ready to travel the migrant streams across the United States. In the
stakeholder analysis, a housing provider explained how crucial housing is to maintaining
an agricultural labor force (Appendix A). This farmworker housing provider stated, "If
we have housing, then we can get labor; without housing, we cannot harvest our crops.
That is the bottom line."
Farmworker housing in the labor demand regions in the North differs in many ways
from the housing in the farm labor supply communities of California, Florida, and Texas.
The quality, quantity and design of housing available in a northern labor demand area
directly affect the composition of the farmworker labor force. For example, labor
demand areas that provide housing for farmworker families are able to recruit U.S.-
citizen farmworkers and employment-authorized workers. In contrast, the labor demand
areas, which neither provide housing nor housing designed only for unaccompanied
males, attract and become dominated by new immigrant workers (Griffith et al. 1995a).
Housing in traditional home base labor supply communities is characterized by
low-cost housing, and much of this housing is extremely crowded, dilapidated, and
minimally affected by zoning regulations. The infrastructure of rented rooms, garages,
trailers, and shacks that has developed in such labor supply towns as Immokalee, Florida,
enables the single-male workers to cluster together. This clustering of farmworkers
facilitates the drive-by recruitment by labor contractors, who are often also landlords or
friends of landlords, keeping the rental units occupied while supplying labor for their
crews. These crowded housing accommodations also facilitate the networking that
underlies labor recruitment and farmworker migration (Griffith et al. 1995a).
I conducted a focus group of farmworkers in Homestead, Florida, as a part of a
stakeholder analysis of farmworker housing in Florida. Many of the responses by the
stakeholders and farmworkers to the questions on farmworker housing concerned the
issue of documentation and access to housing. Some of the respondents advocated that
the issue of documentation dictated where a farmworker would live: government-
subsidized farmworker housing or privately owned housing. These responses lead to this
study on immigration policy, documentation, and farmworker housing. The correlation
between housing, documentation, and labor control was portrayed in a farmworker's
response to a focus group question (Appendix B).
I asked the Homestead subsidized-housing focus group, "What is the best housing
that you have lived in here in the U.S.?" A farmworker focus group participant
responded, "...this one (Everglades Community Association, the nation's largest
government subsidized farmworker housing complex) is good, but if you get a
different kind of job, you might lose your house here."
Many of the home-base labor supply communities, such as Immokalee and
Homestead, Florida, have low-income housing and continue to promote more public-
housing efforts. However, public housing is only able to accommodate those
farmworkers who are U.S. citizens or have proper documentation in order to live there.
As stated earlier in this study, according to the National Agricultural Workers
Survey (NAWS) report from the 1997-1998 research period, only about half (54%) of the
farmworkers intended to continue in agricultural work for more than five years or as long
as they were able. Twenty-seven percent of the farmworkers indicated that they intended
to continue in farmwork for 3 years or less.
Agricultural labor is often left by immigrants soon after arriving in the United
States and is seen by many of them as merely a point of entry into the U.S. labor markets.
There are many reasons why immigrants exit from farmwork in the U.S. One reason is
that they do not enjoy working in U.S. agriculture, finding little fulfillment in the manner
in which it is organized. Some farmworkers claim to find greater satisfaction in working
in agriculture in their homelands because they often perform many parts of the labor in
the agricultural production process. In U.S. agriculture, they usually perform the only
available job, often picking the same crop from sunrise to sunset. Another reason that
some farmworkers leave agriculture is labor competition. For example, although migrant
workers from Guatemala have many agricultural skills, they too often find themselves
competing with the faster, physically larger Mexicans workers in the fields; this pushes
Guatemalans to exit farmwork to pursue other jobs. Mexicans who have done migrant
farmwork for many years remain longer in the agricultural labor force than Guatemalans
and Haitians (Burns 1989: 34).
Another reason why migrant farmworkers do not stay in agriculture is that it
requires mobility, and immigrants are often married. The costs of transportation,
establishing new residences several times a year, locating schools when accompanied by
children, and finding off-season jobs make it difficult for them to earn a living to support
their families (Burs 1989: 34).
The danger involved in agriculture also causes some workers to leave farmwork,
since pesticides, accidents in the fields or while commuting to or from work, and
robberies are all reasons to exit the agricultural labor force as soon as possible. Burns
(1989, 1993) found that recently arrived men and women farmworkers around
Indiantown, Florida, were sometimes susceptible to developing skin rashes and other
maladies due to chemicals found in pesticides and fertilizers applied to the crops. The
farmworkers, who are not familiar with U.S. agricultural practices, seldomly take proper
precautions, such as wearing protective clothing, washing themselves and their clothing
upon returning from the fields, and avoiding the spray of crop-dusting planes.
Farmworkers often search for less dangerous, year-round jobs, often similar to
agriculture. For example, golf course construction and maintenance, as well as nursery
work, are some of the occupations that former farmworker immigrants enter, if given the
opportunity. In his farmworker study on Indiantown, Florida, Burns (1989: 35) found
that many of the golf course grounds keepers and construction bosses preferred
Guatemalans as workers. The specific agricultural skills that the Guatemalans had
developed working back home enabled them to give proper care in planting and caring
for the delicate golf course greens. Another reason that the golf course supervisors tend
to favor hiring Guatemalans is that they work hard all day without complaining, which is
sometimes related to their limited English proficiency (Burns 1989: 35).
Table 4-1. Ethnicity of Current Farmworkers in Traditional U.S. Farm Labor Supply
Communities: Immokalee, Florida; Parlier, California; Weslaco, Texas
Ethnic Group Immokalee, FL Parlier, CA Weslaco, TX
Mexican 34% 74% 54%
Mexican American 9% 17% 46%
Mixtec 5% 9% 0%
Guatemalan 21% 0% 0%
Haitian 17% 0% 0%
African American 3% 0% 0%
Anglo 3% 0% 0%
Puerto Rican 2% 0% 0%
Other* 5% 0% 0%
TOTAL 99% 100% 100%
Source: Heppel, Monica L. and Sandra L. Mendola. 1995 "Characteristics of the Farm
Labor Market." In Working Poor: Farmworkers in the United States.
Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
Note: Percentages may not total 100% because of rounding.
* Includes Jamaican, Cuban, and other Latino
Implications of IRCA 1986
One of the purposes of this study was to determine if the Immigration Reform and
Control Act of 1986 (IRCA) had accomplished its two main objectives: to curb illegal
immigrants to the United States and to legalize long-time resident undocumented
immigrants through its amnesty program. IRCA 1986, however, did not reach the first of
its two main goals, stemming the tide of illegal immigrants to the United States.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor's National Agricultural Workers Survey
(NAWS), about a decade after IRCA 1986 was implemented, 52% of the farmworker
labor force was undocumented (US DOL 2000). These figures indicate that many new
undocumented immigrants had come to fill the gaps left in the agricultural labor market,
once many recently legalized workers exited its labor force.
The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 also did not achieve its second
goal, to stabilize the U.S. agricultural labor force by legalizing many long-time resident
undocumented immigrant farmworkers through its Special Agricultural Worker (SAW)
programs. The data from the U.S. Department of Labor's NAWS reports indicate that in
1989, 35% of the farmworkers interviewed were in the temporary-pending status; by
1998, however, only 2% of the farmworkers were seeking temporary-pending legal
status. The significance of these figures is found in the small increases in percentages of
the legal permanent resident category of the NAWS reports, where the newly legalized
numbers should have been found, if they continued in farm labor. In 1989, 13% of the
farmworkers interviewed had legal permanent resident status, and by 1998, this
category's percentage had only increased by 11%. These figures indicate that in this time
period, about two-thirds of those farmworkers seeking legalization, had already exited the
farmworker labor force. This massive exit by farmworkers from the U.S. agricultural
labor force indicated that IRCA 1986, specifically its Special Agricultural Worker
programs, did not maintain a legalized farmworker labor force.
Because of these shortcomings by IRCA 1986, increases in cyclical migration were
perpetuated by the IRCA policy for two reasons. Migrant farmworkers who were
legalized under the Special Agricultural Worker program (SAW) were able to travel back
and forth from the U.S. to their homeland more economically and safely. When they
were undocumented, they had to pay fees to get across the border, and now they were
able to return home during the off-season. Furthermore, cyclical migration encouraged
new migration, as people gathered information and learned about labor networks,
reducing their fears about coming to work and live in the U.S. (Griffith et al. 1995a).
The intent of the SAW program was to implement a requirement to hire only
authorized workers, while legalizing and recognizing the contributions of many workers
who had been in the U.S. illegally. The SAW program, however, did not fulfill the goal
of stabilizing the immigrant agricultural labor force for the long term because it failed to
improve farmworker wages, working and living conditions, which would have
encouraged immigrants to continue to work in U.S. agriculture. They were now entitled
to find stable employment with better wages in other industries, and since about three-
fourths earned less than $10,000 annually, many did so. This occurrence has been
evident with the flow of Latin American immigrants to rural areas in the United States.
Although the attrition of people from agriculture who were legalized under the SAW
program has been gradual, it has still been cumulatively substantial (Scalise 1998).
Growers often voiced concerns about limited labor supplies, but these were found
to be unnecessary, even though they sometimes reported that they had greater difficulty
finding workers. Heppel (1992: 174) found that in Dade County (Homestead) in 1990,
there were plenty of available workers; in Collier County (Immokalee), however, both
labor contractors and packing houses reported an increased difficulty finding workers,
even though production was not affected.
In other parts of the U.S. where research has been conducted, many growers,
farmworkers, and others involved in agriculture, viewed IRCA 1986 as a an
unenforceable law designed to fail. Growers argued that they were asked to take on the
task of the Immigration and Naturalization Service and be a second form of border patrol,
in which their industry was delegated the job of providing documentation for workers
who wanted to become legal. In south Florida, a difficult issue surfaced, as the Florida
Rural Legal Services sued many growers in Dade County (Homestead) over labor
contractor abuses. The evidence for the cases became known once the farmworkers'
employment histories indicated that they had been underpaid and lacked proper
deductions for social security (Heppel 1992: 176).
Another objective of this study was to determine how growers and farmworkers
responded to IRCA 1986, and what kinds of strategies they used for employment
purposes. Many growers developed strategies to avoid documentation accountability by
using subcontractors, who would serve as a liaison between the farmworkers and
growers. This grower strategy allowed them to be absolved of their responsibilities found
under IRCA's employer sanctions, while they were assured a certain quantity and
consistency of cheap labor through the subcontractors.
Undocumented farmworkers also developed strategies to gain employment, in spite
of IRCA's documentation requirements. Some of their strategies were evident in their
use of the south Florida badge system, "pin-hooking" for crops on fields they purchased
to sell produce locally, or obtaining false documentation to have work eligibility (Heppel
1992). Bums (1989) also found that some industries, such as construction, already have a
built-in system for people that do not have documentation because of the 72-hour time
rule to obtain proper work documentation.
Through my research and findings from many stakeholders in south Florida,
housing was always an issue that was closely associated with documentation. The
possibility of a discrepancy in what the U.S. government requires for immigrant
farmworkers to work in its fields versus what it requires for workers to live in its housing
was brought to my attention in a focus group interview in Immokalee, Florida.
I asked the Homestead private-renting focus group, "What would you like to
change about farmworker housing if you had the opportunity?" (Appendix B) One
of the farmworker participants said, "...to work here, they don't ask for any
documentation for the illegals, but to live in their housing, they ask for too much
This response, as well as many others concerning farmworker housing in Florida,
lead me to further investigate whether there were any discrepancies in what the federal
government required in order to work and in order to be housed in the U.S.
Discrepancies were found in what the U.S. government requires of farmworkers to
work in its fields versus its requirements to live in its subsidized housing. To become
work-eligible, farmworkers may present one of many easily obtained documents (a
driver's license or social security card) to their employers or subcontractors. In addition