Reed Magazine February 2005
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Discrimination on the Farm

Dawson Morton '95 works for justice for U.S. workers

By Daniel Cox

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Dawson Morton '95 represented Mary Alice Leach in a discrimination suit.

When Mary Alice Leach stopped by Bland Farms in May 2000 to inquire about a laborer job at the country's largest producer of Vidalia sweet onions, she received a rude reception and was told to seek work at a neighboring farm 60 miles away. The 53-year-old resident of Glenville, Georgia, who walks with a slight limp as a result of reconstructive surgery on her ankle, may have seemed a likely target of discrimination. After all, she is black. She is disabled. And she is female.

Yet in an ironic twist, it turns out that Leach was discriminated against for the one reason she would've never guessed: being an American.

Leach is a member of a growing category of job-seekers denied employment in the agricultural industry: American citizens. Some believe qualified U.S. workers are being passed over for farm laborer jobs in favor of foreign workers willing to work long hours under excruciating conditions for low pay. Under the federal government's H-2A Agricultural Guestworker Program, producers are permitted to temporarily hire non-immigrant foreign workers when qualified American laborers are not available. However, many growers have shown a decided preference for foreign labor, improperly using the program to hire–and ultimately exploit–non-U.S. workers, says Bruce Goldstein, executive director of the Farmworker Justice Fund, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit dedicated to improving working conditions for migrant and seasonal farmworkers.

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Reed Magazine February