International Migrants Day

By Jennifer Svetlik 12-18-2008

Eight years ago, the United Nations proclaimed Dec. 18 as International Migrants Day. This day is commemorated around the world to express solidarity with migrants and seek the promotion of migrants' rights.

To observe this day personally, I want to lift up to you the stories of the people with whom I lived a few years ago in western Florida. The town where I lived with Christian Brothers doing neighborhood ministry had a significant Guatemalan, Mexican, and Haitian migrant farmworker population. Though I've visited several less-developed areas of Latin America, the poverty I saw in these U.S. migrant farmworker communities was unthinkable.

While the farmworkers worked up to 60 hours per week doing the backbreaking work of harvesting our oranges and tomatoes, some of their homes did not have running water and their children played in sewage-ridden trenches. The city refused to incorporate the areas to avoid responsibility for providing services there. Some workers lived in effective wage slavery, forced to pay the majority of their meager earnings for company owned substandard housing and food provisions.

Although I rarely am able to bite into a tomato on my hamburger without remembering the farmworkers I befriended in Florida, I know their struggles are not unique. There are nearly 200 million migrants in the world, and many of them migrate to escape violence or seek economic opportunity. In a growing financial crisis with global effects, these are the persons

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