"We meet as migrant workers in Franklin to discuss issues affecting us and to seek solutions. Migrant Justice supports us asking nothing in return. Learn your rights and join our cause – we need your voice to build a better Vermont for all.” - Eliasar Martinez, Migrant Justice Coordinating Committee Member
Migrant Justice emerged in response to critical issues affecting migrant dairy farm workers. Interviews with workers during 2009 and 2010 led to a participatory education project in which teachers and students in 10 Vermont High School Spanish Classes heard personal stories of hardships and lack of freedom shared by their invisible neighbors. The interviews, translated by students, are now available on our website as part of a package of educational resources.
The actual catalyst for launching Migrant Justice came with the tragic death of a young dairy worker, José Obeth Santiz Cruz, on December 22, 2009. Migrant Justice organized the return of his body to his village in Chiapas, Mexico and documented the complex interdependencies between Vermont agriculture and this largely invisible community. This project ended with the production of the documentary film Silenced Voices and a state-wide tour drawing large audiences and widespread media coverage helping to raise awareness about the plight of farm workers and developing a solidarity network called the VT Migrant Farmworker Solidarity Project. Since then, we have transformed a project into a membership organization through monthly farm worker community assemblies to build a 12 person, all Spanish Speaking coordinating committee that includes 7 dedicated volunteer migrant farm worker leaders, 3 volunteer organizers, and 2 half-time organizers.
In Sept. 2011, Danilo Lopez, one of our emerging leaders, was asked for his papers by Vermont State Police in a routine traffic stop. We organized to turn this crisis into an opportunity by winning, just months later, a strengthened bias-free policing policy and drawing national recognition for our success. At a time when the federal government and states throughout the country are criminalizing and dehumanizing immigrant communities, Migrant Justice is leading Vermont to build communities that value the human rights and dignity of all our neighbors.
In 2011-2012, over 100 farmworkers participated in community assemblies (asambleas), surveys, or connected with us through other means and identified community priorities in a five-point pliego, or platform: 1) Bias-free policing; 2) Stop anti-immigrant policies such as Secure Communities and organize for comprehensive immigration reform; 3) Ensure inclusion of migrant farmworkers in Vermont’s Universal Healthcare system; 4) Improve Vermont’s farmworker labor and housing conditions; and 5) Overcome the barriers of transportation and free movement of migrant farmworkers, including access to driver’s licenses.
In 2012 Migrant Justice launched the Campaign for Immigrant Rights and Agricultural Justice, a multi-issue campaign to defend this community-defined agenda by building and unifying movements for immigrant rights and food justice. As part of this campaign, we prioritized our 'Driving Towards Human Rights' initiative and organized to win support in the State House to create a study committee in order to introduce legislation in 2013 for access to driver's licenses in VT, regardless of immigration status. More importantly, we are building farm worker voice, power and leadership and organizing alliances with farmers, human rights and food justice organizations in order to build communities that work together for social and economic justice for the long haul.
To date some of our key accomplishments include:
• Organizing a powerful grassroots coalition of farmworkers, farmers and allies to address migrant workers' lack of the fundamental human right to freedom of movement, and winning near unanimous support for a bill to introduce legislation in 2013 for all VT residents to access drivers licenses, regardless of immigration status;
• Mobilizing to intervene in racial profiling, stopping the deportation of two migrant workers, and organizing a farmworker-driven campaign to produce a nationally recognized policy directing VT State Police to abstain from immigration enforcement;
• Winning a racial discrimination hearing with the Vermont Human Rights Commission setting a state precedent for police to not profile based on suspected immigration status;
• Partnering with Vermont Workers’ Center to defeat a legislative amendment to exclude migrant farmworkers from Vermont’s universal healthcare legislation;
• Winning over $6000 in migrant worker back wages and workman’s compensation cases through our Immigrant Workers' Rights Hotline, Teleayuda.
“My name is José Martin. A few months ago I was working in a farm in this state…I had to leave the farm because they weren’t paying me and they owed me $1,000.00, but thanks to Migrant Justice and the help of other people we were successful in getting my backwages. I’m thanking you with all my heart and I WANT TO SAY TO ALL THOSE WHO DON’T GET PAID OR ARE OWED BACKWAGES: look for support from this group. Call them at 802-658-6770 and they can support you so you will be respected…DON’T GIVE UP! TOGETHER WE’LL ACCOMPLISH IT!”
Migrant Justice began as solidarity collective comprised of allies but through popular education, farm worker outreach, and leadership development we are now led by a 12 person Coordinating Committee, including 7 farm worker leaders. On January 1, 2012 we changed our name from the VT Migrant Farmworker Solidarity Project (VTMFSP) to Migrant Justice to emphasize this shift in our organizational leadership.
Our Coordinating Committee meets monthly in order to set and review goals and create work plans collectively. We base our priorities on the themes and issues that emerge at monthly farm worker community assemblies. As we identify the need for new information or additional resources, we partner with local allies and draw upon the experiences of successful farmworker led organizations, which has included the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, Coalition of Immokalee Workers, IDEPSCA, the National Day Laborers Organizing Network, SomosUnPueblo, CATA/Agricultural Justice Project, and VozMob.
Migrant Justice is fiscally sponsored by and working in partnership with Wheelock Mountain Farm, which exists to create fundamental social change through education and non-violent action. The board of Wheelock Mountain Farm provides oversight to ensure proper use and administration of resources and overall organizational accountability.
Coordinating Commmittee Members
Paid Full Time Staff Organizers:
Brendan O’Neill is a full-time paid organizer with Migrant Justice. He is a long-time popular educator, community organizer, and Latin American solidarity movement organizer. He co-founded VT Migrant Farmworker Solidarity Project, which was transformed in 2011-2012 into Migrant Justice. Contact: brendan [at] migrantjustice [dot] net
Natalia Fajardo is a full-time paid organizer with Migrant Justice. She has been a leader of student organizing and international campaigns against various free trade agreements and Plan Colombia. She became involved in migrant farm worker issues when a good friend was arrested then deported for being undocumented. Natalia is a founding member of Migrant Justice. Contact: natalia [at] migrantjustice [dot] net
Danilo, from Chiapas Mexico, has been on the CC since its formation in May 2011. He is a core leader and spokesperson of Migrant Justice ever since he was profiled by State Police sparking a huge successful community organizing campaign. Danilo steers up farmworker outreach efforts, organizes community assemblies, and is a leader of our driver's license campaign and all media work. Danilo is a founding member of Migrant Justice. Contact: danilo [at] migrantjustice [dot] net
Ober, from Chiapas Mexico, has been on the CC since its formation in May 2011. He represented the Migrant Justice at the 2011 Jobs with Justice Conference. Ober participated in the original Silenced Voices film tour in 2010 and has been a leader in our driver's license organizing and is a spokesperson for Migrant Justice. Over is a founding member of Migrant Justice.
José, from Chiapas, Mexico, is our newest member joining the CC in November, 2011. He spoke at Vergennes High School during the Silenced Voices speaking tour, has helped produce our farm worker newsletter, and is a leader of the Addison County Farmworker Assembly.
Javier, from Mexico City, has been on the CC since its formation in May 2011. He spoke at the May 1st Health Care is A Human Right rally at the VT State House about life as an uninsured worker with 'farmers lung'. Javier has also written for our newsletter. Javier is a founding member of Migrant Justice.
Eliazar, from Chiapas, Mexico, joined the CC in August, 2011. He is the liason between the Franklin County Farmworker Assembly and the CC. He has contributed to the newsletter, participated in video projects, and was one of 5 farm worker leaders who met with the Governor in October, 2011.
Bernie, from Puebla, Mexico, has been on the CC since its formation in May 2011. He is a leader of the Addison County Farmworker Assembly and helped design and implement our 2011 farm worker survey. He was one of 3 farm worker leaders who met with Ben & Jerry's in November, 2011 to discuss our food justice campaign.
David, from Oaxaca, Mexico is the newest CC member. He has emerged as a leader in the Addison County Farmworker Assembly and a spokesperson in our driver's license organizing work.
Solidarity Ally members:
Monica Collins has worked on the U.S.-Mexico border with organizations including Borderlinks and Centro de Derechos Humanos. She is a founding member of Migrant Justice.
Martha Caswell, is a community organizer who has worked on community education and organizing initiatives in Latino and immigrant communities on both sides of the border. Martha is a founding member of Migrant Justice.
Aaron Lackowski, is a community organizer, labor organizer, and Latin American solidarity activist and near full-time volunteer organizer with Migrant Justice.