As farmworkers were reframed as "essential" workers during the COVID-19 pandemic, US growers demanded unfettered access to foreign farm labor. After initially announcing a freeze on all immigration processing, the Trump administration bowed to farmers' demands, granting a single exception for agricultural guest workers under the H-2A visa program.
Through a focus on H-2A farmworkers in Georgia, this paper highlights how the pandemic exacerbated farm labor conditions in the US South. The author interrogates these conditions through the lens of racial capitalism, exposing the legacies of plantation political economies and a longstanding agricultural labor system premised on devaluing racialized labor.
These histories are obscured by the myth of agricultural exceptionalism—the idea that agriculture is too different and important to be subject to the same rules and regulations as other industries. Agricultural exceptionalism naturalizes the racial capitalist system and informs state responses that privilege agricultural production through the exploitation of farmworkers, remaking "essential" farmworkers as sacrificial labor.
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Keegan, C. (2022). Essential agriculture, sacrificial labor, and the COVID-19 pandemic in the US South. J Agrar Change, 1– 11. https://doi.org/10.1111/joac.12522