Introduction to Migrant Issues

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Migrant child Truman’s observations are as true today as migrant laborers continue to function at the bottom rung of the American economic ladder. Those working in farm labor tend to be either newly arrived immigrants with few connections or individuals with limited opportunities or skills who rely on farm labor poorly regulated for survival. Increasingly, such laborers are filling needs in other industries with high demand for low-cost labor. Employment in construction and meatpacking is also common. Other than low pay, these jobs also share high risk; the construction industry has the third highest rate of occupationally-related injury, behind farm work and mining.

The risks for these workers and their families, are not limited to those faced while on the job. This population, largely from Mexico and other Central American countries, also face a myriad of environmental exposures in their “home environments”, such as they are. A mobile lifestyle combined with the vicissitudes of economic insecurity, language barriers and the discomfort of prejudice imposed by the outside world, result in the isolation of these workers and their families from mainstream community life and its related services. The United States has had a spotty history of providing a consistent level of health care, housing, and sanitation for migrant workers. Today, migrant workers still suffer mortality and morbidity rates greater than the vast majority of the American population, due in part to the combination of poverty, limited access to health care, and hazardous working conditions.

A migrant is defined as an individual who is required to be absent from a permanent place of residence for the purpose of seeking employment. National data on all migrants is largely unavailable. The best data comes from the migrant farmworker population.