Migrant Legal Aid is a nonprofit organization that has been advocating for migrant workers’ rights since 1973. Facing poverty, language barriers and discrimination, migrant workers often struggle to maintain basic human dignity. Through a myriad of programs and services, MLA stands up for the rights of workers to have proper housing, work under safe conditions, and earn a fair wage. MLA serves as an advocate for legislation and policies that support Migrant and Seasonal Farmworkers. Furthermore, MLA conducts education and outreach to migrant labor camps to empower workers to be informed and help them avoid and reverse injustices.
The agency’s mission is to provide free legal services to those who would otherwise not receive any help. They focus on wage protection, child and family nutrition, food security, health and welfare, and pesticide and housing safety. MLA defends against civil rights infringements for farmworkers, which includes the over-use of pesticides, illegal search and seizure, unfit housing, lack of access to proper medical services, and late or no payment of wages.
MLA is an independent non-profit organization governed by a volunteer board of directors and operated by small staff. The agency also handles referrals from other non-profits, such as the Hispanic Center of Western Michigan, Farmworker Legal Services, Latin Americans United for Progress, Hispanic American Council, Legal Aid of Western Michigan, and private attorneys.
A crew of human traffickers recruited workers in Florida to work in the Kalamazoo area. During the recruitment process, they identified people without connections to the local area and exploited them during their journey up to Michigan. Upon arrival, the workers were forced to work in a greenhouse and give the money they earned to the traffickers. The owner of the greenhouse noticed signs of trafficking and called his lawyer to help. The victims were soon freed, and an investigation began against the traffickers. Migrant Legal Aid helped the victims receive T-Visas.
Four farmworkers working for a grower were not paid the minimum wage and suffered other violations from their employer. Despite threats from the grower to use the farmworkers immigration status against them, Migrant Legal Aid filed on the farmworkers’ behalf and issued a press release to add other farmworkers to the case. MLA received a case evaluation of $225,000 and was able to reassure and protect clients.
A migrant teenager needed surgery while her parents were picking fruit in another state. However, the hospital refused to operate, because her parents could not sign the medical permission forms. MLA helped appoint a guardian, who signed the papers and allowed the girl to have the surgery.
In an attempt to spray an adjacent field, a crop duster pilot sprayed a group of Blueberry pickers in Southwest Michigan, exposing them to various harmful pesticides and fungicides. Migrant Legal Aid filed on behalf of four workers for negligence and settled the case in 2018.