As the US Heatwave Continues, Migrant Farm Workers Fight for Their Lives

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On June 26, Sebastian Francisco Perez, a Guatemalan immigrant, died while working at the tree farm during the Pacific Northwest’s heatwave where temperatures reached a scorching 115 degrees.

Perez arrived in the U.S. on May 5 to work at the Ernst Nursery and Farms in rural St. Paul. He was saving money to pay for his wife’s fertility treatment in Guatemala.

He would never make it back home.

The Pacific Northwest areas of the U.S. and Canada were hit with dangerously high temperatures since the ending of June.

Reyna Lopez, executive director of the farmworker union, PCUN, organized a vigil for Perez. She told the crowd that Perez was “one of ours – he was a farmworker, Indigenous,” who arrived in the country to fulfill his family’s dreams.

She is calling for the state to act.

“We’re demanding for justice from Oregon, accountability from the government of Guatemala, and asking for contractors and growers and all of our labor unions to stand up and look out for our farmworkers … and to pass policies that will protect farmworkers, like standards, and of course, one of the top things, that is across the board, the thing we’re hearing about still every single day, is legalization and a pathway to citizenship,” Lopez said.

The spike in temperatures has been attributed to global warming, which has raised average temperatures by nearly 2 degrees Fahrenheit since 1900.

During Donald Trump’s brief term in office, he dismissed concerns about the impacts of climate change, dismissing them as “alarmists” who wanted to “control every aspect of our lives.”

Trump decided to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement, which committed the U.S. to keep rising global temperatures below 2C. He also rolled back President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan and replaced it with the Affordable Clean Energy rule — which had looser restrictions.

For many migrants, farm work in the U.S. pays them a healthy salary to take back home… but it is not worth losing their lives.

“It would be really good to have a broad rule so when farm owners see that temperatures are way too high they need to stop and allow people to rest. Things as they are right now, you can see when it’s really hot that by 1 or 2 in the afternoon, people just can’t work any more. But there’s this real pressure to keep working and keep working,” Tere Cruz, a farmworker for 15 years in Immokalee, Florida, told The Guardian.

“We’re not animals, we’re human beings, but there’s this feeling that no matter what happens, even when people can’t seem to work any more, the bosses keep pushing and pushing.”

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