Sigma: Journal of Political and International Studies


Rachel Milliron


American Dream, immigrants, agricultural industry, labor reform


The concept of the “American dream” lures many immigrants to the U.S. each year. Patterns of immigration to the U.S. throughout history may be categorized into waves, including major waves from Asia, Europe, and Latin America (Nelli 1987: 200–01). American industries have welcomed and capitalized from the influx of cheap labor in the workforce. The agricultural industry employs many immigrants, and, more specifically, child immigrants or children of immigrants (Human Rights Watch 2014a). The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 exempts minors in agricultural jobs from the maximum-hour and the minimum-age requirements that apply to other working minors (Human Rights Watch 2014a: 642–54). This means children work upwards of ten hours a day in dangerous conditions on farms. These dangers include the risk of exposure to pesticide, heat illness, injuries, life-long disabilities, nicotine poisoning (in the case of children working on tobacco farms), and death. These dangers apply not only to immigrants but also to citizen minors. Human Rights Watch reports that 75 percent of the deaths from work-related injuries of children under the age of sixteen occurred in the agricultural industry in 2012 (2014a). In the time leading up to the passing of the Fair Labor Standards Act, the debate centered on the manufacturing and mining industries, though President Franklin D. Roosevelt and other advocates often mentioned the “ancient atrocity” that was child labor (Roosevelt 1938, 2: 275).