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Governor DeSantis: Protect Florida farmworkers during the COVID-19 crisis!
*Spanish version: bit.ly/apoyoagricolacovid19

We write to urgently request that the office of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis immediately take all necessary steps, together with local and federal authorities, to protect farmworkers in Immokalee during the COVID-19 pandemic, starting with the following measures:

1. Set up a field hospital, or alternative care facility, in Immokalee to provide both treatment for COVID-19 patients with severe symptoms, and a separate quarantine space to allow workers with milder symptoms to self-isolate, to stop the spread of the virus in the community and relieve stress on the local health system.

2. Require agricultural employers to provide personal protective gear, particularly masks, to farmworkers for use while they are traveling to and from the fields

3. Ensure comprehensive, free, accessible COVID-19 testing in Immokalee, when widespread testing becomes available

4. Allocate public funds for economic relief for Florida farmworkers

Unless this is done, Immokalee will almost certainly become an epicenter of contagion, with dire consequences not only for the farmworker community in Immokalee and the broader Southwest Florida area, but also the Florida agricultural industry and the food supply of the entire United States.

There is no sugar-coating the facts: Immokalee is uniquely vulnerable due to a combination of critical factors, including: 1) overcrowded housing and transportation conditions; 2) the designation of agriculture as an essential industry during this pandemic; and 3) a near total lack of access to medical care and resources even before COVID-19.

Overcrowded Housing and Transportation. Overcrowding is endemic in and around Immokalee, both at home and at work. As documented in the Collier County Needs Assessment for 2016-2020, “[h]ousing stock in Immokalee is not sufficient to meet the needs of the existing workforce,” but rather consists in large part of mobile homes that are “often run down and overpopulated.” And while grower-provided farmworker housing is generally compliant with the legally mandated 50 square feet per worker, that too is totally inadequate to meet the demands for social separation and quarantine once COVID-19 takes root. The County’s assessment therefore understates the reality on the ground, with farmworkers often living 10-12 persons to a single-wide trailer or 4-6 in single-room bunkhouses. Residents are, therefore, much more likely to contract COVID-19 since social distancing and self-quarantine are simply not possible for most farmworkers.

We cannot emphasize that latter fact enough: There are no rooms in the vast majority of farmworker homes in Immokalee where people who have tested positive can self-isolate. Once one occupant is infected, there is simply nothing to stop the spread of the virus to his or her housemates.

Furthermore, the nature of farm labor, which as you know is the most common occupation of those living in or near Immokalee, also forces farmworkers into extremely close quarters in which the novel coronavirus will undoubtedly spread quickly. Most farmworkers lack their own transportation, and have no choice but to ride fully-loaded busses and vans to and from work each day.

Agriculture as Essential Industry. As of March 19, the federal government has officially declared farmworkers to be part of the “critical infrastructure workforce” with a “special responsibility to maintain [a] normal work schedule.” Accordingly, farmworkers will almost certainly be exempt from any government action in Florida to stem the spread of disease by sheltering-in-place, just as they have been in California.

Access to Care. Most Immokalee residents are too poor to own a car, and public transportation is virtually nonexistent. Thus, anyone in or around Immokalee who becomes sick with COVID-19 will find it extremely difficult to procure care elsewhere in the County.

This brings us to the crux of the matter: Immokalee lacks a hospital, and there are no medical facilities and virtually no medical personnel in Immokalee today. And so those in Immokalee – lacking access to transportation, but uniquely susceptible to spreading infection – will be the last to obtain treatment, with grave consequences not only for themselves and their families, but also our entire region, state, and country when (not if) the disease spreads far and wide as a result.

It must also be stated, however uncomfortable it is to confront, that we have every reason to believe that even when Immokalee residents do seek care elsewhere in the County, they will be less likely to receive effective treatment there. This is due to a variety of factors beyond their control, including but not limited to limited English proficiency, lack of health insurance, lower medical literacy among low-income individuals, and the fact that Collier County will already be struggling to meet the needs of its many senior citizens who themselves are highly vulnerable to COVID-19. If history is any guide, the rationing of critical medical care and resources in Naples will not favor farmworkers from Immokalee.

Following Hurricane Irma, Immokalee was the last town in Florida to have its electricity restored. While disparities of this nature may be tolerated in Florida in the wake of a hurricane, ignoring the people of Immokalee during the current pandemic cannot be, because it will harm everyone by causing a spike in contagion that might well be unprecedented.

We are, in fact, all connected, and we ignore that truth now at our peril. When an infected farmworker shops at a supermarket or elsewhere in Naples, everyone at that store is at risk, no matter how they got there, and so is everyone else that person contacts subsequently. The only way to break the cycle of infection now, before it is out of control, is by placing a field hospital in Immokalee immediately, where the farmworker community can easily and quickly access effective care and, critically, practice self-isolation that is impossible at home.

Sincerely,

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers
Fair Food Standards Council
The Alliance for Fair Food
The Student/Farmworker Alliance

INDIVIDUALS
Kerry Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights
Ethel Kennedy
Amy Schumer
Eve Ensler, V-Day

PUBLIC HEALTH
Council of Florida Medical School Deans
Florida Public Health Association
Florida Voices for Health
National Center for Farmworker Health
Dr. Leslie M. Beitsch, MD, Founding Director of FSU-COM Center for Medicine and Public Health
Dr. Olivia Orta, Epidemiologist at the Boston University School of Public Health
University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine, Urban Medicine Program
University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill) School of Public Health
Clinica Amistad, Tucson, Arizona

HUMAN RIGHTS
Human Rights Watch
Human Impact Partners
Foundation for a Just Society
Futures Without Violence
Human Rights Clinic - University of Miami Law School
Business & Human Rights Resource Centre
Responsible Sourcing Network
Partners for Dignity and Rights
Business & Human Rights Resource Centre
Southern Poverty Law Center Action Fund
Why Hunger
Worker-driven Social Responsibility Network
Graduate Students for Justice in Palestine at UCLA
Students United for Palestinian Equal Rights UW
University of Florida Students for Justice in Palestine

CIVIC RIGHTS
League of Women Voters of Florida
League of United Latin American Citizens Florida
League of Women Voters of the St Petersburg Area
Florida Conservation Voters
Center for Constitutional Rights
IndivisibleEast Manatee
Vote Common Good, Messaging Team
Broward for Progress

COMMUNITY
Progress Florida
Florida Institute for Community Studies (FICS)
Immokalee Soccer School & Academy
Immokalee Fair Housing Alliance, Inc.
Farmworker Association of Florida
American Friends Service Committee
Rural Women's Health Project
Soul Fire Farm
Community Health Innovations of Rhode Island
Dream Defenders
Florida Veterans For Common Sense
We Can't Have That Foundation, Inc
Advocating Opportunity
DC Fair Food
Montclair NJ Fair Food Alliance
Tampa Bay Fair Food
Temple University Student/Farmworker Alliance
Mosaic Family Services
Urban Adamah
Student Action with Farmworkers
Unite North Metro Denver
University of Florida Boot the Braids
Chispas UF
Transition Sarasota
Studio REV-
cinéSPEAK
Miami Freedom Project
Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala
Providence Student Union
Tampa Food Not Bombs
Bay Area Harm Reduction
Swords into Plowshares Peace Center
Indivisible St Johns FL
Aliadas NC
Veterans For Peace - NYC Chapter 34
Reduta Deux
School of Social Sciences & Social Work at McMaster University
Catalyst Miami
Ohio Fair Trade Network
The Latina Institute for Reproductive Justice
Food Not Bombs Lake Worth
Bridges Across Borders
WeaveTales
Trade Justice Alliance

FAITH-BASED INSTITUTIONS
Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility
United Church of Christ
Unitarian Universalist Association
United Methodist Women
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
Pax Christi USA
St. Francis House
South Florida Interfaith Worker Justice
Florida Conference United Church of Christ
National Farm Worker Ministry
Kairos Center for Religions, Rights, and Social Justice
InterReligious Task Force On Central America and Colombia
Interfaith Worker Justice
The Workers Circle
T'ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights
Keshet
Uri L'Tzedek: Orthodox Social Justice
Greater New York Labor-Religion Coalition
Arizona Jews for Justice
Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association
Barat Ellman/CAMMERR (Children of Abraham, Martin, Malcolm, Ella, Rosa, and Rose)
Jews for Racial & Economic Justice (JFREJ)
Jewish Community Action
Reconstructing Judaism
NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice
JCC Harlem
Bread for the World
Congregation Beit Simchat Torah
Tivnu: Building Justice
Farm Worker Ministry Northwest
Cornerstone United Methodist Church
California Church Impact
Franciscan Sisters of Allegany NY
Westminster Presbyterian Church United
Jewish Alliance for Law and Social Action
Sisters of Charity of Nazareth Western Province Leadership
Sisters of Charity of Nazareth Congregational Leadership
Baker Interfaith Friends
First Congregational United Church of Christ, Downers Grove IL
Unitarian Universalist Church of St Petersburg
Methodist Federation for Social Action
Unitarian Universalist Ministry for Earth
Disciples Refugee & Immigration Ministries
Muslim Center of Greater Princeton
The Clergy Team of Hyde Park United Methodist Church, Tampa
Catholic Charities Inc., Diocese of St. Augustine
Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests
Baltimore Nonviolence Center
Catholic Scholars for Worker Justice
Reconciling Ministries Network

STUDENT/YOUTH
United Students Against Sweatshops
Real Food Challenge
Student Action with Farmworkers
Villanova United Students Against Sweatshops
Temple University Student/Farmworker Alliance
University of Florida Boot the Braids
Chispas UF
Youth Rise Texas
Providence Student Union
University of Florida Graduate Assistants United
Feminists at Brown
Yes! Club at Miami Dade College

ENVIRONMENT
Sierra Club
Center for Biological Diversity
Florida Student Power Network
Suncoast Climate Justice Coalition (Sarasota-Manatee)
Rethinking Plastic
Diversified Natural Concepts
Good Cause Eco Sangha
Sunshine Community Compost
Sarasota Climate Change Meetup
Friends of the Earth
Nature Coast Conservation, Inc.

IMMIGRANT RIGHTS
United We Dream (UWD)
Florida Immigrant Coalition
Never Again Action
Unimex
Mijente
Americans for Immigrant Justice
Azul
Presente.org
La Casa Cultural Latina
The Latina Institute Florida

LABOR
UNITE HERE International Union
Jobs with Justice
Farmworker Justice
Brandworkers
WeCount!
Migrant Justice / Justicia Migrante
Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en Lucha (CTUL)
South Florida Council on Occupational Safety & Health
Hand in Hand: The Domestic Employers Network
UNITE HERE Local 737
UNITE HERE Local 362
Alachua County Labor Coalition
Sex Worker Solidarity Network
Construction for Change
Pioneer Valley Workers Center
Ross P. Alander, Labor Arbitrator

ANTI-TRAFFICKING & LEGAL
National Center for Law and Economic Justice
HEAL Trafficking
Freedom Network USA
The Human Trafficking Legal Center
Tapestri Inc.
Give Way to Freedom
VIDA Legal Assistance Inc
Legal Aid Society of Metropolitan Family Services
Florida Coalition Against Human Trafficking
Northeastern University School of Law: Northeastern Employment and Labor Law Association

RACIAL JUSTICE
Showing Up for Racial Justice, Southwest Florida
Organize Florida
Catalyst Project
Race Forward
For the Culture
Community Justice Project

BUSINESS LEADERS & EXPERTS
Center for Regional Food Studies - University of Arizona
FVI Acquisition, LLC
Rilma Avenue Holdings, LLC
Northwest Coalition for Responsible Investment
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