Photo Essay

  • A farmworker clears tumbleweeds in Lamont, California.
  • Workers picking during the plum harvest in Kingsburg, California.
  • Deserted storefronts in McFarland, California.
  • Riding to work in a labor bus in Fresno, California.
  • Workers weeding cotton in the field in Allensworth, California.
  • The daughter of farmworkers outside their home in Kerman, California.
  • Farmworkers camp in a dry ditch in Mendota, California.
  • Woman at her home at a labor camp in Huron, California.
  • Watering a tomato field in Huron, California.
  • Workers bathe in an irrigation canal in Mendota, California.
  • A young immigrant couple after work.  Fresno, California.
  • A woman in front of her shantytown home in Fresno, California.
  • A woman returning home from the laundromat in Mendota, California.
  • A mother embraces her young son in Mendota, California. The family is without work.
  • A farmworker shaves at his shantytown home in Fresno, California.
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A broken immigration system hurts workers – and employers

Immigration reform advocates and business owners alike are pressuring Congress to pass legislation to legalize the nation’s 11.7 million undocumented immigrants.

America’s broken immigration system creates challenges for workers, as well as their employers and communities. Migrant laborers without legal status face hurdles in agitating against dangerous working conditions, unfair business practices, or unreasonably low wages for fear employers might report them to the authorities. Businesses say they need immigrant workers in a variety of low-skilled jobs because Americans are unwilling to perform such difficult tasks especially at the low wages that keep their businesses profitable. Without a reliable legal source of workers, they fear business will dry up. 

Photographer Matt Black chronicles the lives of workers in the fields of California, the nation’s top food producing state where the Central Valley pumps out almonds, grapes, broccoli, chard – to name a few. Vineyards line the state, as well as orchards, dairy farms, and floriculture  Immigrant rights advocates and labor unions are lobbying for reform to try to bring these workers out of the shadows where they’ll be able to find work without the threat of deportation. But many Republicans in Congress remain uncomfortable with legitimizing millions of unauthorized immigrants, leaving the likelihood of passing meaningful legislation an uphill climb. For more on this from Matt Black watch the short film Harvest of Shadows: Immigration & Farm Labor in California’s Central Valley produced for MSNBC.com