Many Florida State Students flock to the Keys or Miami to spend their summer break, surely those that are in their last year of law school would want to spend their last spring break on a beach for a week. Not I. Ever since my 1L year I knew that I did not want to leave FSU College of Law without experiencing the Alternative Spring break Program. The Alternative Spring Break program is a four-day program where 15-20 law students travel to Immokalee in order to assist Florida Rural Legal Services while they work on providing legal assistance with immigration issues when visiting H2A workers at their living camps and other points of outreach in Immokalee. Truthfully, this was the reason I became a lawyer, to do whatever I could in a legal and humanistic capacity assist those who need help so I was more than happy to spend my spring break in Immokalee.
If there was one phrase that would sum up the alternative spring break it would be: people are awesome. Upon the completion of the program, I was in awe witnessing people who work tirelessly, relentlessly and passionately for the migrant farmer workers. They are truly an inspiration. Equally awe inspiring was hearing about, and witnessing firsthand, the deplorable, despicable, and disgusting behavior that the work chiefs, or managers of the farms commit. They are truly rage inducing. The trip was a full representation of the vast spectrum of human decency and behavior that exists in the world, for every person taking advantage of these vulnerable migrant farm workers there is someone working day and night to try and make it right (well in reality the ratio is far from one to one and vastly skewed in favor of the ‘jerks’).
I do find it amazing that there are rules and regulations that are helpful to the migrant farm workers and those that want to assist them considering the vastly disproportionate lobbying power. It is astounding given that these rules are benefiting non US citizens (i.e. non voters and therefore not very likely to gain elected officials backing) at the expense of strong, powerful corporate entities. However, because of this vast difference I feel discouraged on the likelihood of success of future changes to the way things work, and in the ability for pro bono legal services to assist the workers (especially in light of the continued cuts on the budget and resources to them by Congress). I think that if congress wanted the migrant farm workers to be in the best position to not get taken advantage of so easily and continually as seemingly does occur, there should be some pre-work seminar. If there was a requirement that after the workers are brought over, but before they start, they must sit through a seminar laying out all the rights and issues that may arise (there seems to be a big problem with tax fraud being committed against the workers or at least used to take advantage of them because it is a very foreign system to them and ripe for abuse by the worker’s bosses) I think a lot of the issues and problems could be solved. However, I am fairly certain that while it makes complete logical sense that this program would be beneficial and go a long way in extinguishing a lot of the problems of ‘taking advantage’ of the workers such a set up would never happen. That is because it would empower the workers by giving them knowledge and tools to have the confidence to ‘stand up’ to instances of these deploarable behaviors and practices. And that type of power shift is why I am certain that the business side of this all does not want to see happen, which is a shame because objectively such a informational session would make all the sense in the world.
That being said, it was extremely rewarding to go out to these worker camps and inform them of their rights and talk with them about issues they may be having. Honestly, while I figured some workers would be reluctant or hesitant to talk to us, I expected the workers to be kind and friendly to us when we were there. Even with that expectation, I was still surprised at just how much the workers were kind and accepting to us when we were there, they were so giving to us. Much like the pro-bono lawyers and support staff, these workers are equally awe inspiring. Many are over here working extremely hard, doing dangerous work, and potentially experiencing bad behaviors from their superiors, all so they can provide for their family back home and ensure their families have a little better life. It makes the people in charge who take advantage of and dupe them, even more deplorable. Ironically, the migrant farmers workers are probably the closest I have seen to a group of people that best embody the “American Dream.”
All in all, the alternative spring break program was one of my most rewarding experiences in law school. For the last two years I have always had Spring Break plans, after my summer experience I made sure to leave my schedule open for this program because I didn’t want to leave FSU College of Law without experiencing it. I am so thankful I got to participate in this program, this is the reason I became a lawyer, to do whatever I could in a legal and humanistic capacity assist those who need help