A migrant minor in Tapachula told me how she became an orphan — explaining of her parents, “They died because of the hurricane, and, truthfully, I was destroyed.” She had migrated alone to Mexico hoping to eventually request asylum and reunite with family in the US.
Migrants from El Salvador told me stories of fleeing desperate hunger in their homeland, of placing white strips of cloth outside their homes to indicate that their families were on the verge of starvation. Kind neighbors and strangers, if they could, would leave food outside their door.
In recent months, workers at Tyson plants in Arkansas that I’ve interviewed told me they have been asked to work seven days a week with no break and to forgo their 2021 Christmas break. A notice from Tyson shown to me by one of my interviewees at a Springdale plant advised workers, “Any Team Member who has taken a December vacation in the past 3 years will not be available for a vacation in December unless there is room available.”
Derek Burleson, a spokesperson for Tyson, denied that the company is asking workers to work seven days a week. Burleson noted that Tyson “briefly tested a crew rotation pilot program at one facility in Arkansas” on a volunteer basis to work Sundays with overtime pay and making sure they’d get time off so as not to work the entire week. He said, “All team members, company-wide, are given Christmas Day off. But like most companies (and newsrooms), we can’t have everyone at the plant take the same week off.” He added that the company staggers the week between Christmas Day and New Year’s because much of its workforce needs to travel abroad during the holidays. “So, we’re actively working to ensure our entire workforce has an equal and fair opportunity to take vacation time,” Burleson said.
Several workers from Central America told me they requested notes from the priest at their church to get an exemption from working on Sunday. They wanted to go to church and spend the day with their loved ones rather than accepting a brutal work cycle which put strain on their families and other relationships.
Indeed, in many countries in Central America, citizens measure the risk of Covid against the chance of themselves or their families starving. Given these conditions, many are migrating to the US where they know they will be hired — even without documents — to work in restaurants, meat processing plants and the agriculture sector.
By not acknowledging their work, by not providing a legal means for them to contribute their valuable labor in the US, by forcing migrants who want to work to cross into the US illegally and work without documents, we put them at a greater risk of being exploited. As an increasing number of migrants arrive at our borders, the Biden administration should offer them a range of legal options to work in the US.