The Border Agricultural Workers Project is based in El Paso, Texas and works in the US-México border region around El Paso, Texas. This corner region of the states of Texas, New Mexico and Chihuahua, is the historic and most important recruitment place for agricultural workers in the Southwest. From this region, thousands of farmworkers, the majority from México, move to various other agricultural areas of America. Moreover, a significant number of workers stay or reside in this area and work in the agricultural fields near El Paso.
For this region, there is an estimated 12,000 agricultural workers who live or work in the area of whom about 5,000 are chile pickers. They are the backbone of the “picante sauce” industry which brings in $300 million dollars to New Mexico. At the same time, of all the laborers of this region, the chile pickers are the lowest paid with an annual average income of less than $6,000. They suffer the most inhumane recruitment practices and the worst working conditions existing in the Southwest. The farmworker families who live in the farming communities suffer the most oppressive living conditions. These families live in small old trailer houses without drinking water or electricity. In addition, they also lack access to health care programs and medical services, and educational opportunities are rare.
The Border Agricultural Workers Project was initiated with the objective of improving the lives of the poor agricultural workers and their families.
The purpose of this project is to promote and protect the civil and human rights of both documented and undocumented agricultural workers. Our commitment is the empowerment of the farmworker community to develop and to implement long-term solutions to the economic and social problems which are the result of the exploitation and oppression of an agricultural system which places profits on top of human dignity.
This purpose is achieved by (1) organizing farmworkers committees which serve to raise the consciousness of the farmworkers and by (2) organizing collective pressure to improve working conditions and availability of human services.
For more than twelve years, our efforts have played a key role in organizing the farmworker community in Doña Ana County in New Mexico, and El Paso County. During this period, much has been accomplished. Small gains have been achieved in the issues of wages, working conditions, health and housing. Our most important project has been in the development of leadership and in promoting active participation by the farmworkers themselves.
Collective activities, meetings and educational activities around specific issues such as the use of pesticides, labor rights, immigration policies, etc., have been our most important means to unite and organize the farmworkers and their families.
Our project is part of the Farmworker Network for Economic and Environmental Justice and as a such, we work very closely with 5 of the most active farmworker organizations in the nation. We are also active members of the Rural Coalition and the Southwest Network. We have working and fraternal relations with farmers, indigenous, labor, religious and human rights groups of this country, including México and other countries.
We firmly believe that change is the result of the struggle and the work of the same community being affected. Therefore, the farmworkers themselves are an integral part of all aspects of our work. They set priorities and objectives, receive training necessary to represent themselves, and organize collective pressure to solve their problems.