BURLINGTON, Wash. — Four-year-old Rosa Iselda Ramires painted her nails pink in the cluttered one-room cabin that she shared with eight to 13 others since June, when the berry season began atSakuma Brothers Farms. Industrial plastic sheets taped to the ceiling trapped rain that leaked from the roof; a blue cooking flame burned in lieu of a heater. There was a communal bathroom used by dozens of farmworkers a short walk from the cabin, at the center of Labor Camp 2. When her parents were at work in the berry fields, Rosa and her three siblings went to professional day care if they were lucky and public child-care subsidies came through. When they didn’t, the kids spent all day at the home of a babysitter who charged their parents about $1 an hour.
Lack of child care and dangerous conditions in migrant labor camps lead many farmworkers to take their children along with them to the fields. The younger ones may play or wait in the car; the older ones often end up picking crops themselves. A 2010 report by Human Rights Watch found that “hundreds of thousands of children are working as hired laborers in agriculture.” Under federal and most state laws, children as young as 12 are permitted to do agricultural work, with few limitations or protections.