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Center for a Livable Future


March 11, 2014

CLF Urges Immigration Reform to Protect Public Health and the Nation’s Food Supply

LivableFuture blogpost   |  Letter to President Obama

In a letter to President Obama calling for immigration reform, Robert S. Lawrence, MD, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, provides new context to the immigration debate and outlines what many in public health see as the clear link between immigration reform and the nation’s food supply.

“The contributions of undocumented immigrant workers to the U.S. food production system are clear,” said Lawrence, who is also a professor with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Department of Environmental Health Science. “Despite their significant contributions, immigrant workers in industrial food animal production and produce production face serious health threats that can lead to broader public health implications for us all. Individuals involved in the production of produce and food animals are at an increased risk for exposure to antibiotic resistant bacteria, arsenic, novel flu viruses, respiratory problems and airway sensitivity. And when sickened by these exposures, the workers rarely have access to quality healthcare or are too concerned about their undocumented status to seek help. It is time to acknowledge the critical role of immigrant workers by considering immigration reform in the context of the public health.”

According to Farmworker Justice, up to 75 percent of the 4.5 million U.S. farm workers and their families are undocumented immigrants. Thousands more are employed in slaughter plants and processing facilities that are part of our agricultural production system. Industrial food animal system workers face additional health threats through exposure to various bacteria and viruses, which can then be introduced into the communities where they live and work. 

Similar letters were also sent to Senators McConnell and Reid, Speaker Boehner, and Congresswoman Pelosi.

- Natalie Wood-Wright