Black Ministries :

Mass of Welcome and Reception for the Haitian farm workers

By Corlis Sellers, Associate Director of Lifelong Faith Formation for Black Catholics, Diocese of Camden

In search of their piece of the American Dream, more than one thousand Haitian migrant workers travel from Florida to Hammonton, NJ, each summer to harvest blueberries. The work is backbreaking and arduous and the journey can be prove deadly.

Although this migration has taken place for over 20 years, their presence was virtually unknown by the Diocese until recently. I learned of these workers during the course of my previous position with the U.S. Department of Labor, as Regional Administrator for the northeastern U.S. The U.S. Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division enforces labor standards (e.g. minimum wage, overtime pay, child labor, and migrant housing and transportation safety) for some of the nation’s most vulnerable workers.

As a result of migrant camp investigations during the June and July blueberry harvests in South Jersey in the early to mid 2000s , wage and hour investigators came across hundreds of Haitian workers and their families often housed in overcrowded conditions. As these workers are transported from Florida up to NJ and elsewhere in the migrant stream by crew leaders in vans and buses, vehicle safety inspections are also conducted by Department of Labor investigators. In fact, last summer, a tragic van accident in Florida claimed the lives of three Haitian workers on their way to NJ. Two of these workers sustained critical injuries.   Read more….