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From Texas to Minnesota, Migrant Farm Workers Find Advocacy by Human Rights Fellow

Farm workers in America often migrate to follow seasonal employment opportunities in various agricultural zones around the country. In addition to this seasonal migration, a great number of farm workers are also immigrants to the U.S. from countries of Latin America. Many Mexican immigrant farm workers travel seasonally between the Rio Grande Valley of south Texas and southern Minnesota and Iowa. These workers face a number of legal and labor challenges as they work in this industry to support themselves and their families.

Matthew Webster, a 2009 Otto Bremer Upper Midwest Human Rights Fellow, is a migrant worker of sorts himself. Before Law School, Matthew taught high school English in Brownsville, Texas, in the heart of the Rio Grande Valley. There he became involved in his students’ lives and thus became very active for immigrant rights in Texas, where he organized and led a 126-mile march to raise awareness of these issues. Matthew came to the University of Minnesota Law School because of his interest in advocating for the rights of immigrants and migrant workers. During his Fellowship with the Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services (SMRLS) in Rochester, Minnesota, Matthew has come full circle. He spent his summer working with families and students from Texas who had migrated to Minnesota as farm workers.

In supporting SMRLS this summer, Matthew contributed to the direct client services and the education projects in Rochester. He stated that working with clients gave him a great opportunity to be involved in all the issues that migrant farm workers face, not just the legal ones. He assisted with immigration issues, employment questions, housing problems and other legal conflicts. But he also listened. “Most people don’t want to press charges or take direct actions; they just want someone to listen to them and tell them they were right,” Matthew stated. “During this summer,” he recounts, “I learned that the law is all about relationships.” Building on that aspect of his work, Matthew supported SMRLS’s community education program. Hearing from communities about their challenges and educating them about their rights, Matthew advocated for positive solutions in migrant farm workers’ lives and work.

Matthew, who lives in Rochester, plans to practice immigration law in southeastern Minnesota after graduating from the University of Minnesota Law School in 2011. His prior experience with immigrants in Texas and his legal training in working with immigrants in Minnesota as a Human Rights Fellow will allow Matthew to be “an advocate” rather than a lawyer or an attorney. Legal service is one element of the holistic support and advocacy that Matthew will provide as he works for the human rights of immigrants and farm workers.




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