Dudley – With their skin browned by the sun and their hands marked by harvesting tomatoes, sweet potatoes or tobacco, migrant workers in North Carolina are holding out the feeble hope that Congress will free them from the fear in which they are trapped.
A tour through some of the camps near the town of Dudley quickly reveals the working and living conditions facing the workers, conditions that one might suspect would prevail in a poor country but not in the world's most powerful nation.
Interviewed by Efe on a recent workday, some of the migrants, most of them from Mexico, said that they had not come to the United States "to beg or to be a burden" but rather to make a dignified life for themselves.
"They don't want us here, but they need us, and they keep saying that we Latinos are taking work away from the Americans. I want to see them out here in the early morning, whether it's cold or hot, and spending all day (in the fields) like us," said Sergio Juarez, at the end of a nine-hour shift harvesting sweet potatoes for the Carson Barns company.
"Who wants to come and earn 40 cents per bucket of sweet potatoes? We fill 7,600 buckets in a day among 20 workers. They are nine really tough hours, and then to come back to this," added Juarez gesturing around the camp, where air conditioning is like manna from heaven.
There, the migrants share a communal kitchen and bathrooms that, although they are segregated by sex, do not offer any real privacy. There are rows of toilets without anything to cover or protect people's modesty, rusty pipes and yellowish floor tiles covered with thick layers of mildew.
In some of the living quarters, sheets separate metal-frame beds from one another and some of the migrants who sleep there have hung pictures of Jesus nearby to comfort themselves.
"Let them give them a pink or blue card, or whatever color they want, but let them give them something so they can work legally," said Juarez, who has his immigration papers in order but feels "the pain of my countrymen."
Beside him is his brother Efrain, who drives a truck carrying the harvested crops to a processing plant, and he said: "We go where there's work, harvesting tomatoes in Virginia, then we come for tobacco and sweet potatoes here, and we'll continue on to Florida. We never stop."
If harvesting potatoes is tough, tobacco is worse. So that they don't get wet from the dew, the workers improvise ponchos out of plastic garbage bags that they wear over their clothes, but that aggravates dehydration.
These workers consider the tobacco leaves a "green monster" because they absorb harmful nicotine and tar just by touching them, a situation which produces fainting, vomiting, headaches and other symptoms.
The Farm Labor Organizing Committee, which in September released with Oxfam America a report about the abuses occurring in the tobacco industry, said that North Carolina leads the United States in deaths from sunstroke, especially in July and August.
"As long as the corporations don't change their supply and production chains, things are not going to change," FLOC chairman Baldemar Velasquez, who began working in U.S. fields at the age of 6, told Efe.