From the Northeast Organic Farming Association Interstate Council
November 20, 2018
Over the past two years, NOFA members have observed with indignation the series of arrests in Vermont and New York of dairy farmworkers who have the courage to take action to improve working and living conditions on farms in these states. NOFA stands in solidarity with Migrant Justice in taking peaceful, legal actions that should be protected by the First Amendment to the US Constitution.
The American Civil Liberties Union in Vermont, the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York, the National Center for Law and Economic Justice and the National Immigration Law Center have filed a federal lawsuit claiming that immigration agents are targeting undocumented organizers for their activism in Vermont. The suit accuses Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Department of Homeland Security and the Vermont Department of Motor Vehicles of carrying out a multiyear campaign of political retaliation against members of the group Migrant Justice. According to the lawsuit, Migrant Justice was infiltrated by an informant, and its members were repeatedly subjected to electronic surveillance. At least 20 active members of Migrant Justice have been arrested and detained by ICE. The lawsuit seeks an injunction, asking a judge to put an end to ICE’s targeted campaign of retaliation against Migrant Justice and its membership.
Enrique Balcazar, a former dairy farmworker who became an organizer with Migrant Justice, has been a speaker at several NOFA conferences. In filing the suit he stated: “But as we stand up and fight for our rights, we are hunted down and targeted by ICE. And that’s why we are here today, to stand up for our rights and file this lawsuit against ICE and the Vermont Department of Motor Vehicles. In the past two years alone, there have been over 40 community members associated with Migrant Justice who have been arrested by federal immigration authorities. Many of them have since been deported. And in nine of these cases, we have clear evidence that these arrests were retaliatory, targeting people because of their involvement in Migrant Justice. ICE has been persecuting us. They’ve been surveilling Migrant Justice and its membership, with the objective to repress our voice, to keep us quiet, to stop us from organizing for our rights and to take retaliation against us for the way that we express ourselves and when we expose their abuses of power.”
Background on Migrant Justice
Migrant Justice was key to passing a law in Vermont in 2013 allowing for the creation of the driver’s privilege card, a driver’s license available to anybody regardless of immigration status. Most immigrant farm workers in Vermont live in isolation on rural farms with no access to public transportation, and many were spending years at a time on those farms without the freedom to go anywhere because of lack of access to transportation.
In October of 2017, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream signed an agreement with Migrant Justice, becoming the first dairy company to join Migrant Justice’s Milk with Dignity program, a binding commitment that requires their suppliers to uphold a farmworker-authored code of conduct, guaranteeing rights and wages, housing, health and safety, scheduling, and to be able to organize free from retaliation and discrimination. So far, 300 dairy farmworkers on 72 farms are covered under this program. Ben & Jerry’s pays a premium to the farms in order to redistribute profits down the supply chain enabling the farmers to make improvements and pay increased wages to their employees.