Texas May See Tougher Enforcement For Farm Workers’ Housing

by David Martin Davies, Texas Public Radio—

Texas farm workers say they are being forced to live in horrible conditions. With open air toilets, no beds, and buildings so old they were built for World War II prisoners of war. Bills are being filed in the legislature to toughen enforcement for farm workers housing.

When Daniela Dwyer – attorney for Rio Grande Legal Aid – spoke about the unacceptable living conditions that Texas farm workers face – she brought a prop – an extra large mason jar filled with scorpions – which she said came from farm worker housing.

“Their housing was so infested that they could actually fill a jar filled with scorpions.”

Dwyer said farm worker housing is so infested with vermin that workers have to take extreme measures.

“They have slept in all of their clothes and wrapped  Duct tape around their pant legs  – and around the sleeves on their sweaters – and around their hoodies so that bugs and animals could not crawl in their orifices at night.”

The Texas $25 billion dollar agriculture industry depends on migrant labor to pick the crops during harvest season – but advocates say there is a housing crisis which is forcing the workers to live in inhumane conditions.

Laws require farmer provide workers adequate housing but in 2015 the state spent less than $3 thousand dollars on inspections.

State Senator José Rodríguez, an El Paso Democrat,  is sponsoring legislation to increase enforcement. He himself was once a farm worker –forced to live in chicken coops and other unsanitary conditions.

“It is simply unacceptable – unconscionable that the state of texas in the 21 century still is apparently providing that type of housing to our farm workers.”

An investigative report by the Austin American Statesman found that Texas hasn’t levied a single enforcement action to enforce migrant worker housing for more than 10 years.

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