Release: NBC News: Latino farmworkers are frozen out of work after Texas storm iced citrus, other crops

March 23, 2021

“When devastation hits,” a farmworker advocate says, “they are the ones most vulnerable.”

Excerpt from March 2, 2021 article by By Suzanne Gamboa

The Arctic air that whipped into Texas last month put this season's Rio Grande Valley harvest on ice, and it has left many farmworkers with no or very little work.

Paulina, 74, usually harvests crops in the fields of the Rio Grande Valley from 7 a.m. or 8 a.m. until 4 p.m. But she said her work hours have been drastically cut.

“Right now it's very little [work], because the ice fell and we lost work [and] all the plants,” said Paulina, whom NBC News is identifying only by her first name because she is undocumented, like at least half of the country's farm laborers.

There is work with the onion crop, but the yield is expected to be reduced, leaving less work and competition for the jobs.

“We go two or three hours, no more. We are in the house because there is not much work,” she said in Spanish, saying the lack of work affects “many people, many people.”

The citrus harvest usually runs from mid-September to about late May. February and early March are the usual bloom time for oranges and other citrus that will produce next year's crop.

The frost “hurt severely” some of the crops of leafy greens, beets, Swiss chard, celery, cabbage, collards and parsley, according to Anciso.

The storm also caused limb damage, and trees younger than 3 years are “probably dead, as well,” he said. New wood is important for fruit to set.

The early loss estimate from the crops alone is $300 million; that doesn't include the ripples to the area's economy, from the impact on other jobs associated with farming to the decrease in spending by farmworkers.

The ‘most vulnerable'
“The entire U.S. depends heavily on the farmworkers,” said Elizabeth Rodriguez, a farmworker justice advocate with La Union de Pueblo Entero, or LUPE. “When devastation hits … they are the ones most vulnerable, and it is time for the rhetoric to change around undocumented workers. We need to recognize them as human beings and contributors to our community.”

Unlike other migrant farmworkers in other parts of the country, Paulina and her fellow farmworkers in the Rio Grande Valley don't travel because of Border Patrol checkpoints on highways, Rodriguez said.

“We are counties that are right up against the border, and we are caught between the border and checkpoints,” Rodriguez said. “A lot of farmworkers are here undocumented. They can't go through the checkpoint, so they are stuck here.”

Excerpt from March 2, 2021 article by By Suzanne Gamboa


LUPE is a nonprofit organization that helps the community organize for and win a better quality of life. LUPE was founded in 1989 by farmworker and civil rights leaders Cesar E. Chavez and Dolores Huerta. We are a membership-based organization and our strength is found in the participation of our over eight thousand members.