September 23, 2020 – Today, 20-year-old farm worker Vicente Reyes urged the U.S. House Judiciary Committee to recognize the essential contributions of the nation’s undocumented workers with a path to legalization and citizenship. Reyes, the only witness who was deemed an essential worker during the coronavirus pandemic, testified at the hearing on behalf of undocumented farm workers who are at the core of the food supply chain and on the frontlines of the COVID-19. In his testimony, Reyes shared his family’s experience as essential farm workers during the novel coronavirus pandemic and shed light on the inequities that undermine their health and safety on the job and within agricultural communities.
“My family are among the 5.5 million essential workers and the 11 million people who are undocumented and live with endless fear about our future,” said UFW Foundation member and California farm worker Vicente Reyes during the virtual House Judiciary Committee hearing. “Farm workers and the rest of our nation’s undocumented immigrants deserve a path to legalization and citizenship that recognizes the essential role that we play in this nation. The country is relying on us and we rely on you to recognize our contributions and the many ways in which our health, lives and well-being are interconnected.”
Reyes works in the table-grape harvest, laboring along his undocumented mother and father. The federal government estimates half of the nation’s 2.5 million farm workers are undocumented. Reyes’ parents have worked in a variety of crops, but primarily in the table-grape industry for more than 15 years. Having labored on California’s fields for years, Reyes has personal understanding of the impact that legislation providing legalization for essential workers would have on the health of the workforce that feeds the nation.
Although the agricultural industry has received billions in support through COVID-19 legislation, Reyes shares that work conditions have not improved throughout the pandemic and that workers have not been provided training on COVID-19 or personal protective equipment. Reyes said, “I certainly don’t feel like an essential employee and the reality in the fields makes us think that picking the crops is more important than protecting our lives and health. Employers know that we don’t speak out because many of us are undocumented.”
The college student has worked in agriculture since a young age and during his college breaks has harvested carrots, beets, oranges, table grapes, onion, lettuce, kale, mustard and more in California’s Central Valley.
“To feed the nation, we are exposed to extreme heat, pesticides, to the risk of getting COVID-19 and more recently, to wildfires and air that’s unhealthy to breathe,” said farm worker Vicente Reyes. “We are at the core of the food supply chain and we’re also its first responders when extreme weather threatens to devastate the harvest. Without our labor, the food supply chain would collapse.”
A full transcript of Vicente Reyes’ testimony is available.