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Getting Students Off Farms and Into Classrooms

A new documentary exposes the plight of migrant children farm workers.
migrant child worker
Victor is a migrant child worker highlighted in The Harvest/ La Cosecha. He hauls up to 1,500 pounds each day while working in the fields. Photo Credit: U. Roberto (Robin) Romano

There are more than 400,000 migrant children working the fields in 48 states across the United States. They begin working as early as age 12, their days begin as early as 4 a.m. and their home moves wherever the crop season takes them and their families. The backbreaking labor and transient lifestyle causes them to drop out of high school at four times the national rate. Although other industries have regulations governing the ages, number of hours and conditions under which children can work, agriculture has been largely untouched by the child employment laws that fall under the Fair Labor Standards Act, which was passed in 1938. The Harvest/La Cosecha, a documentary directed by U. Roberto (Robin) Romano and produced by the nonprofit production company Shine Global, is trying to change this.

The movie trails three children and their families as they follow the crop season through Texas, Florida, Michigan, Tennessee, Mississippi and beyond. These children, Victor, Zumela and Perla, often work as much as 30 hours per week and migrate from May through November.

"The kids are never in one place long enough to ever have a real impact made on them in school. They're so transient that it's hard to get to know them, deal with their learning issues, and track their progress," says Augie Orci, executive director of the American Association of Latino Administrators and Superintendents. Under the high-stakes standards of No Child Left Behind, meeting federal guidelines in a district with migrant children can be nearly impossible.

"The movie depicts a drifting, rootless population. The irony is that the people who feed us can't afford to feed themselves," says Romano.

The Children's Act for Responsible Employment was first introduced by Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.) in September 2009 and advocates stricter limits on child labor in agriculture. Romano and executive producer and actress Eva Longoria have visited Capitol Hill to support this legislation, which currently has over 100 sponsors.

According to executive producer Susan MacLaury, the bill would increase the minimum age for child workers, limit the number of hours they are allowed to work, and raise labor standards for pesticide exposure.

"These children deserve protection under the law," says Romano. "When we legislate the high road, everyone wins."

MacLaury says a free downloadable curriculum is being developed for grades 7-12 so that students can learn more about migrant workers and their impact on society. The film will air on Epics TV on Oct. 5 and will then be available on DVD.

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