Red Cedar Zen Community, 1021 N Forest, Bellingham Washington

Human Rights Crisis in Sumas

10 Aug 2017 7:07 AM | Tim Burnett (Administrator)

This from Community 2 Community. After this was written on of the farm workers involved, Honesto Ibarra, died at Harborview Medical.

Update on the farm worker human rights crisis underway in our county from Kara Black, BUF Social Justice Committee:

What Happened This Week
H2A workers at Sarabanand Farms (all men) have been experiencing the "normal" conditions of serious overwork at the height of the berry picking season and not enough (and poor quality) food. They were not being offered sufficient breaks, and were told that if they missed three days of work, they would be terminated and sent back to Mexico. Because of this pressure, despite the heat and smoke (Sumas reached the "purple" air quality designation last week--dangerous for anyone, even healthy folks, to exert themselves outside), the workers kept working. Several workers collapsed. One worker went into a coma from heat exhaustion exacerbated by poor air quality and ended up at Harborview. This worker died last night.

Furthermore, Sarabanand Farms had previously not renewed the temporary visas of many (all?) of the workers when they were supposed to--so the workers, while still working for Sarabanand, had become undocumented.

When workers began collapsing, 70 workers went into the company office to say they needed a shorter work day during the bad conditions, more breaks, more water and better food.  They were all fired on the spot and given 30 minutes to collect their belongings and get off company property.  They requested their paychecks so they would have some money to get home and the company said they would send their final paychecks to their home addresses in Mexico. These men were literally penniless when they were put on the street. They speak no English. This was Saturday morning August 5th

Police were called about the workers hanging around on the street (perhaps to help them or perhaps to complain about them). After pressure came from police, the company hired a couple of buses that picked up the workers and took them to the Fairhaven Greyhound station--where they were going to be left (no money to buy bus tickets and no visas and no way to communicate--no way they could have gotten home on the bus). Community to Community (C2C), however, was aware of the situation by now, and activists met the buses and told the workers to refuse to get off the buses and demand to be taken back.

By now, C2C had contacted a local Mexican family of farmers, who agreed to let the workers to sleep on their property while the situation was addressed. This family hires H2A workers and has been aware of for years of the abysmal treatment many of these workers receive locally, and have been very supportive of these workers. This family lives 1.6 miles from Sarabanand Farms.

The bus drivers decided to leave all the workers at a Mexican grocery store in Everson. C2C and other activists picked them up and carpooled them to the friendly family's farm, where the began to establish an encampment.

The farmers then marched the 1.6 miles from the encampment to Sarabanand Farms and staged a demonstration (also on Saturday August 5th). When workers still at the farm saw the demonstration, several more left their jobs and joined them--so the population at the encampment has grown to 120. There are still about 500 workers at the farm.

The police presence during this march and demonstration was large and unfriendly and clearly attempting to intimidate workers. Sherrif's deputies, Lynden, Sumas and Everson police were all there. According to allies present, it was clear that these police were working in close collaboration with border patrol/ICE/homeland security.

However, when the media presence increased (this situation is getting national media attention now--lots of media on-site), the police backed off. Rosalinda (Director of Community to Community) was told that a permit was required for any future marches or demonstrations. Maru Mora of Latino Advocacy is the primary media contact for the situation, and Community to Community is acting as organizer and resource provider.

Rosalinda reports that the encampment is developing well. The The farmers at the encampment have received a number of key donations/loans--tents, blankets, two generators, a refrigerator and two freezers. C2C rented toilets and has been providing transportation.

Last night, C2C supporters transported all the workers in the encampment to Mt. Vernon to meet with Familias Unidas por la Justicia (FUJ)--the brand new local farmworker union. All these workers joined this union last night--though it is unclear what this might or might not mean in their futures, given their H2A worker histories.

Legal aid has been on site at the encampment since Saturday (along with C2C staff). There likely will be a legal report tonight that will help dictate the next steps. In the meantime, the lawyers are busy taking declarations from all the workers.


What's Happening Soon & How to Help

Rosalinda thinks the encampment is likely to go on at least another week or more.  There likely will be a another march & demonstration by the farmworkers tonight or tomorrow.  The legal report will help determine next steps.

There's a town hall type meeting tonight at the Leopold at 6:00. Please attend.

Check Community to Community's Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/Community2Community) for updates on the needs at the encampment--food (prepared is best with limited refrigeration requirements), charcoal, and coolers (with ice/ice packs) are welcome, among other things listed. Also, garbage pick ups are most welcome, as there is no garbage service for them.
Donate. Cash is needed to renew rental on the toilets, gas for worker transportation, some groceries, maintaining the portable hot spots they are using, and for some office supplies. Cash donations are problematic as the farmworkers don't have an official internal encampment structure at this point. As Community to Community is paying for these things out of pocket, please send donations to Community to Community. You can donate by paypal at their site foodjustice.org or drop off or mail checks*** to Community to Development, 203 West Holly Street, Suite 317, Bellingham, WA 98225


***Note: C2C, while a licensed State of WA nonprofit, is not a federal 501(c)3. If you would like a tax deduction for the donation, please make your check out to their fiscal sponsor, "Food First" (a large sister organization in Seattle https://foodfirst.org/) with C2C donation in the memo line but still mail the checks to the C2C office.



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