Food Sovereignty and Immigration Reform

DFTA photo 15The Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013 is a massive and complex piece of legislation with dramatic implications for anyone who cares about fair, healthy, and sustainable food and farming systems.

In their recent Huffington Post article, “Care About Food Then Care About Immigration Reform Too!”, authors Navina Khann, Joann Lo and Catherine Tactaquin draw the connections between food, immigration, and worker justice while analyzing the current immigration reform proposals.


This proposal is a huge deal for everyone who eats, and therefore matters for those working for healthy, fair and sustainable food systems and food sovereignty. Food sovereignty is the right of people to determine their own food and agriculture policies — it’s the democratization of food and agriculture. This democratization includes food chain workers having a voice in their workplace, in their communities and in government.

Unjust free trade agreements and international trade policies have forced family farmers off their land and decimated domestic industries in other countries. Many people then face few choices other than migrating from their home countries in search of work, in search of safety, and in search of a better life for themselves and their families. Many of these migrants cross the border to become farmworkers and other food system workers in the U.S.

Almost 20 million people in the U.S. work in the food system, and more than half of the workers in some food industries are undocumented immigrants. The Food Chain Workers Alliance 2012 report The Hands That Feed Us concludes that undocumented workers are often vulnerable to abuse and exploitation because of their immigration status. In fact, a survey of over 600 food chain workers found that workers were over 2.5 times as likely to earn less than the legally required minimum wage.

The need for fair and humane immigration reform is critical to achieving fair and sustainable food systems…


DFTA is proud to have several members in common with the US Food Sovereignty Alliance (USFSA), which recently released a bold statement of principles for immigration policies. USFSA encourages organizations and individuals to:

  • Contact Congressional representatives – tell them you want immigration policy based on the principles of food sovereignty, on family unity, and a quick and fair pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

The Domestic Fair Trade Association also reiterates and affirms its own core principles as guidance for a comprehensive reform. For DFTA, any discussion about the composition of the work force in agriculture should be grounded in human rights principles that affirm: the values of a living wage, the right to act collectively, and universal workers protections as the fundamental basis to delineate the ethical approach in determining workforce needs.

Furthermore, DFTA believes that taking advantage of free trade policies that result in job loss and displacement of workers from other countries, such as Mexico, and then using these same workers as a cheap labor source represents a violation of the most basic human rights principles. Instead, the guiding principle should be that in order to develop a stable work force in agriculture, it must be based on creating adequate working and living conditions so that agricultural work is attractive to domestic workers.