The Case for Giving Farmworkers' Kids a Break

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Rootlessness and fear of deportation make children of migrant workers the unseen victims of our modern food system

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I've been mulling over the article in the New York Times (March 13) about the effects of an itinerant lifestyle and the threat of deportation on the children of farmworkers in California. If ever there was an example of how the political gets personal, this is it.

The article focuses on a third-grade teacher, Oscar Ramos, who is on the front lines trying to give these kids a chance in life, let alone at the American dream. It describes what he's up against: nearly all his students are near the poverty line, and nearly 80 percent have limited English. They move frequently and live under crowded conditions:

But the often disrupted lives of the children of migrants here is likely to grow still more complicated as the national debate over immigration grows sharper.

Efforts by lawmakers to rescind automatic citizenship for children born in the United States to illegal immigrants are already stoking fears among many agricultural workers, and that has consequences for their children.

Some parents, as they move with the crops, are already keeping their children out of school when they get to Arizona because they are worried about the bureaucracy and tougher restrictions in the state.

The article is long but well worth reading. If nothing else, take a look at the photographs.

This is how our relatively inexpensive food gets to us. The costs, as the economists tell us, are externalized. Here is one of those externalized costs—the potential of those kids to become functioning citizens in our democratic society.


This post also appears on Food Politics.
Image: Jessica Rinaldi/Reuters

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Marion Nestle is a professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University. She is the author of Food Politics, Safe Food, What to Eat, and Pet Food Politics. More

Nestle also holds appointments as Professor of Sociology at NYU and Visiting Professor of Nutritional Sciences at Cornell. She is the author of three prize-winning books: Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health (revised edition, 2007), Safe Food: The Politics of Food Safety (2003), and What to Eat (2006). Her most recent book is Feed Your Pet Right: The Authoritative Guide to Feeding Your Dog and Cat. She writes the Food Matters column for The San Francisco Chronicle and blogs almost daily at Food Politics.

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