United States

Activists Call for the Release of Undocumented Farmworkers in Vermont

Chanting that neither rain nor wind could stop their movement, activists braved downpours in St. Albans, Vermont Monday, demanding the release of detained migrant farmworkers Esau Peche and Yesenia Hernández.

Advocates for undocumented farmworkers with the group Migrant Justice said the pair was arrested Saturday by a U.S. Border Patrol agent, following a traffic stop.

They had taken part earlier in the day in a 13-mile march for migrant farmworkers’ rights, in which they called on the ice cream giant Ben & Jerry’s to be a leader in expecting good working conditions in its supply chain.

"Many workers were aware this could happen," Abel Luna of Migrant Justice said. "They knew they had to stand up for their rights. They knew that if they didn’t, nobody else was going to do it. It’s up to the farm workers to make their voice heard."

Even farmhands who are in the country without government permission have often been called critical to Vermont’s dairy industry. It’s estimated the state is home to 1,200-1,500 undocumented farm workers, many of whom are from Mexico.

In the following statement, U.S. Border Patrol called the traffic stop "routine:"

"During the course of normal patrol duties on June 17, a U.S. Border Patrol agent encountered two individuals near the international border in East Franklin, Vt.,” the statement read. “As part of routine operations, the agent stopped the vehicle and during questioning determined the occupants may be illegally present in the U.S. The two occupants were taken to the Border Patrol station for further investigation where they were arrested for immigration violations. Both occupants were turned over to ICE ERO.”

A spokesperson for ICE, or Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, did not respond to a request for comment before necn’s news deadline.

On NECN’s Facebook page, several users agreed with the Feds’ actions.

One reader of this story remarked, “We should be going after illegals any way we can.”

Another wrote, “If they are illegals...then they should not be here...period!"

“No human being is ‘illegal,’” countered Enrique Balcazar of Migrant Justice, through an interpreter. “Migration is caused by many factors—by poverty, by instability, even by natural disasters.”

Migrant Justice activists entered a Homeland Security office in St. Albans demanding their friends’ release, but were told no one could speak with them without an appointment.

Undeterred, the group promised to keep speaking up for the detainees and the rights of all migrant farmworkers, saying the often invisible population is vital to the nation’s food supply.

On Saturday, Ben & Jerry’s said it shares the goal of good working conditions for farm workers, and believes the Vermont dairy farmers who supply the ice cream brand do, too.

However, the company said working out the details of formal agreements on human rights expectations on farms it does not own has been complicated to hash out.

“We really see a future for this and we really believe that we can get this done,” Ben & Jerry’s CEO Jostein Solheim told necn affiliate NBC 5 News Saturday, in regards to the ongoing discussions about human rights expectations on dairy suppliers.

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