Reaching The Migrant Farmworkers

Posted on May 5, 2017


Each year thousands of agricultural farmworkers from other Southeastern states and countries like Mexico and Honduras, migrate to South Carolina to perform agricultural labor.

This year, we expect that there will be at least 2,700 H-2A temporary agricultural workers and a few H-2B temporary forestry guest workers. This does not include the hundreds of migrant and seasonal agricultural farmworkers (often referred to as “domestic” workers) who come from other Southeastern states to work in packinghouses and to harvest crops like tomatoes, sweet potatoes and various other fruits and vegetables. [1]

Some agricultural farmworkers start making their way to South Carolina in late December to early January to prepare the fields for planting, to plant, prune peach trees, and perform other pre-harvest labor.  However, the majority of the labor force starts arriving to South Carolina between early to mid-April and June, which is generally the start of the harvesting season. The peak harvest season, and outreach season for the Migrant Unit, can last from late May to early October. By end of the harvest season, most crops have been harvested and agricultural farmworkers are preparing to or have already returned to their homes.

The Migrant Unit starts to prepare for the arrival of farmworkers late in the spring. Among other things, we hold the annual South Carolina Farmworker Institute (SCFI) and apply for two Student Action with Farmworkers (SAF)[2] summer interns. The SCFI is a networking conference between farmworker health and social service providers, community leaders and other organizations who work with farmworkers. At this conference participants aim to share in the mission to deliver services to agricultural farmworkers effectively and efficiently during the summer harvest. The two SAF student interns will start at their internship with the Migrant Unit in the first week of June.

This year, we are prepared to once again face and, hopefully, overcome some of the obstacles we constantly face as farmworker advocates. For example, the absence of laws allowing access to farm labor camps is one of the constant hurdles to educating farmworkers about their rights. Because farmworkers often live in isolated rural areas, lack transportation and do not speak English, we are sometimes the only contact they have with a service provider. If we are unable to reach them because of the lack of access, they may not receive information about their rights from anyone else. To overcome the access hurdle, we do get creative. There are times we go to convenience stores, the work fields or scope out local Walmarts for farmworkers.

Because farmworkers often live in isolated rural areas, lack transportation and do not speak English, we are sometimes the only contact they have with a service provider.

Outreach is one of the most important aspects of the work we do because many times it is our only opportunity to educate the farmworker community about their rights and the services we provide. This is true especially when it comes to farmworkers who come to the U.S. to work on H-2A or H-2B temporary work visas. Many, if not all, of these farmworkers do not speak English.  They do not have transportation and live in isolated rural communities.  They are unaware of their contractual rights under the H-2A or H-2B temporary work programs.  As is true with most farmworkers communities, in-person outreach at farm labor camps is the most effective way to get the information to them.

We are looking forward to another summer of outreach in the community we serve.

[1] Agricultural labor includes planting, cultivating, harvesting and preparing crops for market or storage.

[2] For more information see

Karla Martinez

Migrant Attorney
South Carolina Legal Services

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