David Bacon

David Bacon is a California writer and photojournalist; his latest book is In the Fields of the North / En los Campos del Norte (University of California / El Colegio de la Frontera Norte, 2017).

Recent Articles

Trading on Migrant Labor

Why we won't be able to enact true immigration reforms until we re-examine our trade policies.

Raul Dominguez, a Mixtec immigrant from San Miguel Cuevas, Oaxaca, picks grapes in Madera, California. (Photo by David Bacon)
The comprehensive immigration bill may have stalled in the Senate last week, but the debate over immigration policy will undoubtedly continue -- especially over the status of the millions of undocumented workers presently in the United States, as well as those who will come in the next few years. In fact, that continued flow of workers is inevitable, since Congress is also considering new trade legislation that is guaranteed to increase the number of undocumented workers in the United States. Our nation's trade and immigration policies have never been as closely connected as they are today. Four new agreements are currently being considered, while President Bush is pushing for "fast track" authority to negotiate even more of them. All will exacerbate our current immigration issues by displacing thousands of workers and farmers, most of whom will join the cross-border flow of migrant labor that already tops 200 million people worldwide. Over the last two years, all of the immigration...

Feds Crack Down on Immigrant Labor Organizers

Recent immigration raids in North Carolina weren't just about deporting undocumented workers.

Julio Vargas was fired after leading the walkout among contracted workers for higher wages and safer working conditions at the Smithfield pork-processing plant in Tar Heel, North Carolina. (Photo by David Bacon)
RED SPRINGS, North Carolina -- To organizer Eduardo Peña, "the raid was like a nuclear bomb" -- more precisely, a neutron bomb, that ingenious weapon of the Cold War whose radiation was meant to kill a city's residents but leave its buildings standing. After the immigration raid of January 24 at the Smithfield pork slaughtering plant in Tar Heel, North Carolina, the factory was still intact, the machinery of the production lines ready to clank and clatter into its normal motion. But many workers were gone, and much of the plant lay still. That day the migra (agents of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, part of the Homeland Security Department) picked up 21 people, while trying not to alert the rest of the plant's laborers. One by one, supervisors went to Mexicans on the line. You're needed in the front office, they'd say. The workers would put down their knives, take off their gloves, and walk through the cavernous building to the human resources department. There ICE agents took...

Murder and Migration

Development projects anywhere in the world often have a high human cost. In Colombia, the price is often measured in human lives and blood. Esperanza (she would risk her life, she says, if her real name appeared in print) saw her neighbors pay that price in 2001. Her house sits on the bank of the Rio Salvajina, in the Afro-Colombian municipality of Buenos Aires in Cauca province. “I saw armed men arrive in cars,” she remembers, “with two, three, four, even five people tied up. They dragged them onto the bridge, shot them two or three times and threw their bodies into the river.” When the paramilitaries came to her own home, she was so frightened she lost the baby she'd been carrying for five months. Today Esperanza is a community activist organizing against the hydropower project for which her neighbors were killed. If ratified by Congress, the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement, which President Bush and Colombian President Alvaro Uribe signed in mid-November, could lead to more such...

Justice Deported

In 1947, Woody Guthrie wrote a song about the crash of a plane carrying Mexican immigrant farm workers back to the border. In haunting lyrics he describes how it caught fire as it flew low over Los Gatos Canyon, near Coalinga at the edge of California's San Joaquin Valley. Observers below saw people and belongings flung out of the aircraft before it hit the ground, falling like leaves, he wrote. No record was kept of the workers' identities. They were simply listed as "deportee," and that became the name of the song. Far from being recognized as workers or even human beings, Guthrie lamented, the dead were treated as criminals. “They chase us like outlaws, like rustlers, like thieves." Some things haven't changed much. When agents of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) arrested over a thousand workers in six Swift and Company meatpacking plants on Tuesday, they too were called criminals. In Greeley, Colorado, agents dressed in SWAT uniforms even carried a hundred handcuffs with...

And the Winner Is ...

Hiding from the U.S. border patrol in an air-conditioning duct for nine and a half hours, Jorge Mendez couldn't even come down to urinate. As agents passed below, he had to keep from making the slightest noise.