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A Hispanic Migrant Community Assessment

by Victor M. Fernandez RN, Kathleen M. Fernandez RN, Gayle Davis RN (1995) 

In this report we present and evaluate data collected on the Hispanic migrant workers' community at DeCoster Egg Farms in Turner, ME. This community assessment is based on our observations and interviews with the various agencies involved with this community, and the many hours spent visiting and talking with its residents. Several attempts to contact the management at DeCoster Farms were unsuccessful. Since the management at the farm did not want to comment or divulge information concerning present condition at the farm, we could not provide specific numbers and percentages in this report. We have come to know these people, their strengths and their weaknesses. We understand their fears and concerns, and recognize their needs. Yet believing this community even exists is hard.

The autumn leaves glistened in the afternoon sunshine as the car left route four and winded its way through the acres of woods and green fields. Two deer stopped munching the leafy vegetation to stare curiously at the vehicle as it passed. Interspersed between the woods and fields sat several barns and other large buildings comprising the Turner, ME location of DeCoster Egg Farms. Among the barns are small trailer parks, consisting of about twenty trailers each, neatly lined up along a single lane road. 

The pastoral setting which greeted our group as we journeyed to investigate the migrant community at DeCoster, hardly seemed to be the origination of headline news. Yet the farm community has been the subject of television reports and newspaper articles outlining complaints of illegal dumping, poor living and working conditions, and racial controversy for the past two decades. In existence since 1966, DeCoster is the largest brown egg producer in the nation ("State loses," 1992).

The streets look relatively clean and grounds well maintained, but no churches, store or recreation centers exist that would contribute to a sense of community. Information obtained from the Androscogin Sheriff Department suggests a low crime rate with no violent crime reported. A fire station nearby and emergency medical services are coordinated by the town of Turner. 

The community suffers from moderate air pollution. A major source of pollutant in the area is the farm, which contributes nitrates various chemicals, dust and the smell of chicken manure that permeates the area. According to the DEP (Department of Environmental Protection) DeCoster claims to have installed a safe drinking water supply for residents when the well water at the farm was found to be high in nitrates. They caused the contamination by burying manure near the water supply, but no current information on the drinking water quality was available. 

The community exists to house migrant workers and their families, exact figures were not available, but an estimated 160 adults and 50 children live in this community. Residents are Hispanics from Latin America and the Caribbean Nations, and many live at or below the poverty level. We estimate adult mean age at 32 years, and children range in age from infant to 16, of the general population 85% are male, and 15% are female. Males work as farm laborers while they assign females work in the packing plant. Most do not speak English and have an average seventh grade education level with some remaining illiterate. 

Rent free housing was provided to residents as part of their working contract. Now DeCoster management is beginning to charge each worker $30 per week. No information is available regarding this recent change. Population is dense with an average family size of three, with two or three families living in one trailer. One trailer is reserved for single male workers which currently houses 16 residents. The trailers we visited were very clean and neat, but the pest infestation and many safety hazards were obvious. Most trailers had broken windows and doors, leaking plumbing, defective or missing smoke detectors, holes in walls and flooring, exposed electrical wiring, frayed and torn furnishings, cockroach and rat infestation, and appliances in disrepair. As we toured the trailer one resident stated "This is a concentration camp, something out of the nineteenth century, this is not for humans. . . ." 

No recreational facilities exist, and they prohibit residents from holding meetings or informal social gatherings in the community. As a result, leisure time for males is largely spent drinking alcohol. They prohibit news letters, bulletin boards or other forms of communication as is the installation of cable television services. Many residents we spoke with expressed concern with the level of social control in the community, a worker explained to us that they threatened them with losing their job and sending them back to their country if they were seen talking to outside agencies. Most of the residents that were willing to speak with us had the same horror stories of social control, unsafe working conditions, wage violations, housing violations, and all expressed the same fear of reprisal, verbal abuse and loss of employment if they sought outside help. 

Several large shopping centers/malls are found outside the community and are accessible only by automobile. Most residents do not have automobiles, and the few that do often charge $20 to $30 for a trip to the shopping center or medical appointments. Many also report incidents of harassment by the local people when they venture out of the community. 

The community is part of School Administrative District #52. The school district has approximately 40 to 50 immigrant children, these numbers fluctuate as people move in and out of the area. Linda Parkin, Assistant Superintendent of Schools and head of the English as a Second Language Program, explains that a 3-year grant funds six interpreter positions, this is the final year of the grant, and it is unknown how they will fund the program in future years. School nurse, Amy Hart, states the immigrant children blend in with the American children well and do not experience social problems. All dress properly and none seem hungry, absenteeism and drop out rate is not a problem. 

Sandi Crites a Spanish speaking employee heads, a program called Project Impact. Through the program Sandi does much translating for the children and acts as an intermediary between children, parents and teachers. She sees language, mobility of the workers, parents long working hours and above all the children's inaccessibility to medical care as barriers to learning. The lack of adequate transportation and interpreter services adds to the problem. They have offered English classes in the evening hours in the community, but according to several residents, no one has attended classes. Reasons given were long working hours, reluctance to give up their leisure time, and the fear of reprisal from their employer. 

Outside the migrant community, but within a twenty-mile radius, are various health care facilities, including many physicians and dentist offices (most requiring full payment at the time of service). Most residents use the two local hospital emergency department services for acute and emergency care and the Russel Medical Center for outpatient services. The medical center accepts the migrant workers and the cost is based on a sliding fee scale funded under a federal grant migrant program. Health problems commonly referred to the clinic include communicable diseases and rashes, pregnancy, chronic illness and minor first aid problems, residents generally seek crisis oriented care. Interviews with residents and medical providers suggest preventive health care is not a priority to the community mainly due to the lack of transportation and their language barrier. Many residents expressed feelings of frustration with health care providers. It is felt that the medical personnel do not understand them and they are not receiving the care they should. 

Health and social related associations and organizations outside the DeCoster community, which provide services to those who need it include: Russel Medical Center, Rural Community Action Ministry, Rural Health Centers of Maine and Pine Tree Legal. The following is a description of services offered by these organizations: 
1. Russel Medical Center: Outpatient clinic serving the community dealing mostly with chronic illness and minor first aid problems. Fees are based on a sliding scale supported by a migrant worker federal grant. Two of the doctors speak some Spanish, but admit it is quite difficult to communicate with patients. They are not involved in preventive health care or health education for the residents of the community. 
2. Rural Community Action Ministry: This organization provides one interpreter and transportation to medical facilities. They provide the service only one day per week, on Thursdays. 
3. Rural Health Centers of Maine: With offices in Manchester this organization provides onsite preventive health care and other medical services and education to migrant workers in the state. They operate a mobile clinic staffed with medical personnel and supplies which visits various migrant sites in the northern part of the state. East Coast Migrant Health Project, Inc. funds these services. Tina Prince, a nurse with the East Coast Migrant Health Project, explained that her organization hires local health care providers to provide it's services. She also admits that the lack of funding and the fact that the DeCoster community is a year round migrant population excludes them from many of these services. 
4. Pine Tree Legal Migrant Worker Division: Office in Bangor, provides legal advice and representation to migrant workers. Staff consists of a Hispanic lawyer and a Spanish speaking paralegal. They have helped the community in solving many legal problems and continue to help the DeCoster community with housing and wage violation issues. 

After many days of interviewing and visiting with members of the migrant community and others associated with them, we are left with the impression that the community suffers from learned helplessness. We observed that the members of the community are less motivated to try different responses that might bring relief from the unpleasant situation. And even if a response does bring relief, they do not seem to recognize the response had anything to do with the relief. Carlos, a resident of the community, is the informal leader. He is the one some come to for advice and help with various health and work related issues. He tells us the people have given up hope. They are afraid of DeCoster. Holding up his crippled right hand, and pointing to the missing digits he says, "I'm not afraid. I have nothing to lose. I lost my hand here and they don't care. I know I won't be around here long, but before I leave I will do what I can to help these people, they are my people, we are all Hispanic. You see, look." Looking out the window he points at the company vehicle that has been riding up and down the street in front of the trailer since our arrival, "they are watching us. This is how we live here like animals. You know they will try to intimidate you too." 

The publicized history of the farm and its community of migrant workers divulges 29 years of a less than perfect management record. A brief summary follows: 
* The U.S. Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division has penalized DeCoster many times since the early 1970s, for wage and overtime violations (Kukka, 1992). 
* In the 1970s, DeCoster was criticized for hiring children, some as young as age 10 and 11. At least two children under the age of 16 were injured when they were working near machines that were not equipped with safety guards. State labor laws did not apply to children on the egg farm since it is an agricultural operation. Federal regulations did not include egg packing machines as "hazardous" equipment (Kukka, 1992). 
* May 1987, the Department of Environmental Protection began investigating the farm when evidence was supplied that a rotting pile of 10,000 chicken carcasses had been dumped in one of DeCoster's fields (Kukka, 1992). 
* August 1987, the Attorney General's Office filed 14 counts complaining against the company, alleging six illegal dumps, three waste water lagoons that drained into the ground water, nine buildings built without permits and other violations. Also in that month, under federal investigation, the U.S. Border Patrol caught three Mexican nationals working at the farm. Other illegal aliens were also arrested at the farm. The U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) in Portland contends violations continued until legal action was taken against DeCoster ("DeCoster Fined," 1989). 
* 1988, the state required DeCoster to provide bottled water to workers living at the farm, as well water there was found to be high in nitrates. According to the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), the contamination was from burying manure on the farm ("DeCoster Fined," 1989). 
* Summer 1988, New York removed DeCoster eggs from its supermarket shelves because of a salmonella scare. DeCoster had to destroy at least 200,000 hens (Kukka, 1992). 
* 1989 DeCoster claimed to have installed a safe drinking water supply for residents of the trailer parks (Kukka, 1992). 
* March 1989, INS in Portland brought 185 counts against DeCoster's operation, seven were withdrawn. Of the remaining 178 counts, nine were for knowingly hiring or continuing to employ illegal aliens. One hundred sixty nine counts were for failing to complete or improperly completing forms required on each employee hired after November 6, 1986. DeCoster paid a $32,850 fine to INS in settlement charges ("DeCoster Fined," 1989). 
* March 1990, Pine Tree Legal represented twelve Hispanic farm workers, filing suit against DeCoster in U.S. District Court, claiming housing and wage violations. As a result, in December 1990, DeCoster promised to disclose all wage, benefit, and housing terms when they recruited workers, provide written documentation when deducting travel or housing expenses from workers paychecks and comply with federal wage laws (Kukka, 1992). 
* January 1992, in a consent decree with the state, DeCoster agreed to pay a $165,000 fine and spend nearly $1 million on environmental cleanup, including extensive ground water tests, construction of new underground septic systems and capping of an abandoned landfill (Kukka, 1992). 
* May 9, 1992, they summoned DeCoster manager Doucas J. Goranites on a charge of class D criminal threatening of Richard Hartford, a DeCoster neighbor. According to affidavits filed by the Attorney General's Office, Goranites blocked Hartford's vehicle on DeCoster land on May 11, 1989, threw Hartford's camera to the ground and told him, "You know accidents happen and maybe it will happen to you on this property" (Kukka, 1992). 
* May 11, 1992 17 illegal Mexican immigrants working and living at DeCoster's were arrested by federal immigration officials and ordered to leave the country within 30 days. Charges were filed against DeCoster with the usual fine being $2,000 to $5,000 per worker. In June 1992 a Federal Grand Jury indicted DeCoster's company and farm manager Homero Ramirez for knowingly hiring the 17 illegal aliens (Kukka, 1992). 
* May 20,1992, the Maine Attorney General's Office filed suit against DeCoster for violating his farm workers' civil rights. Teachers, healthcare workers, social service providers and friends were all required to gain clearance from a supervisor before entering the complex. Court Justice James Archibald denied the state's request for a temporary restraining order against DeCoster's restrictions ("State Loses," 1992). 
* December 1992, a landmark court ruling established that farm workers have the same civil rights as other Maine citizens, even if they do not pay cash rent for company owned housing. Androscoggin Superior Court Justice Carl O. Bradford ruled that DeCoster's Mexican and Mexican-American employees living in a trailer park on the farm had a right to receive visitors previously barred from the farm. He ordered a sign prohibiting unauthorized visitors removed. DeCoster was not fined but ordered to pay all legal costs of the lawsuit, including reasonable attorney fees ("DeCoster Employees," 1992).

Community Analysis

People: An average of 160 adults and 50 children, figures constantly vary with season and work loads. 
Place: The community exists within the DeCoster Egg Farm properties, in the town of Turner, ME 
Common Interests or Goals: Children's education, employment and an opportunity to save enough money to return to their native land. 
Criteria for Membership: Hispanic migrant farm workers and their families. 
Permeability: The community boundaries are relatively impermeable. Entrance into the community is contingent on individuals meeting employment criteria set by DeCoster Egg Farms, unknown to us. 
Supra System: Rural Community Action Ministry, Rural Health Centers of Maine, Pine Tree Legal, DeCoster Egg Farms management, School Administrative District #52 in Turner, ME. 

Provide housing, promote survival and provide socialization for its members. 
Physical Characteristics. In existence since 1966 
Demographic data: 
Ages: Adult mean age 32 years, children's ages infant to 16 years. 
Race: Hispanic 
Sex: Exact figures not available. Approximately 85% are male; 15% are female. 
Ethnicity: Hispanic. 
Housing: Trailer parks consisting of about twenty trailers each. Most of these trailers are in disrepair. Inspection of units revealed many safety hazards: broken windows and doors, holes on floors, defective plumbing and heating systems, torn and frayed furnishings, rodent and pest infestation (cockroaches roam freely), weak and rotted wooden steps and landings, inoperable or missing smoke detectors and defective appliances, stoves and refrigerators. Of the units we visited, most were kept very clean and neat. Most live rent free, but now DeCoster has begun to charge workers $30 per week, details as to the criteria for rent charges were not available. 
Density of population: The population is dense, with an average of three persons per family. Two to three families occupy each trailer, and 16 single male workers reportedly occupy one trailer unit. 
Physical Features of the Community: DeCoster Egg Farm is a rural, relatively clean, residential and farming area. 
Psychosocial Characteristics 
Religion: Mostly Catholic 
Socioeconomic Class: This community is poor, with a mean income of $15,000 annually. Workers average 75 to 80 hours per week with out over time pay. 
Education: The average level of education is seventh grade, most do not speak any English, and some are illiterate. 
Occupation: The two job categories for workers in this community are farm laborers and packing plant operators. Most women work in the packing plants, a few remain at home to take care of the children. 
Marital Status: No accurate information available, but from observation and personal interviews, we can expect most are married. Many of those who are married have a spouse and children remaining in their native land. 

Resources: They provide no funds to the community from outside 
Demands: They need funding to provide basic health care needs and education. 
Resources: Russel Medical Center, two hospitals, shopping centers and malls. 
Demands: Most facilities are inaccessible to members of the community due to lack of transportation and/or language barriers. No insurance exists to pay for health care and most perceive they are not treated with respect and do not receive quality health care from the health care providers. 
Human Services Formal 
Resources: Emergency medical services, a community health nurse who provides sporadic visits only during summer months, Pine Tree Legal, Project Impact which provides interpreters and serves as an intermediary between children, parents and teachers. Rural Community Action Ministry provides transportation and interpreter services one day a week. 
Demands: They offer none of the services above on a full time basis. 
Health Information 
Demands: Lack of information relating to access and use of available services. Area social and health agencies do not provide health information and education to the community. 
Resources: Recent court ruling established farm workers have the same civil rights as other Maine citizens and that employees living in a trailer park on the farm have a right to receive visitors previously barred from the farm. They no longer require that teachers, health care workers, social service providers and friends gain clearance from the supervisor before entering the community. 
Values of Supra System 
Resources: The existence of Project Impact and English as a Second Language program suggests that the school system values the immigrant children and their education. 
Demands: Lack of funding for health education, nursing, medical services and transportation to available facilities. With only one day/wk during summer months of funding for the nurse, and one day/wk transportation and interpreter assistance to reach health care facilities, it appears health is not a high priority. 
Human Services 
Demands: No human services are available within the community, either formal or informal. 
They generate no revenue within the community. 
Demands: No parks or recreational facilities. Lack of recreational equipment for use by children. Environmental hazards such as rats, cockroaches and stray dogs. 
Demands: The education level of this community is low, many members are below the poverty level. All are employed in occupations that require little advanced education. Adult education classes have been offered to the DeCoster community at the farm, but were not attended due to the long work hours. Most are afraid of what management will say or do to them. 
Analysis of Economy 
This community has relatively few resources to meet the health related needs of its members. The community is struggling with housing and wage violations that effect the provision of services. Any new health programs would have to be inexpensive or require additional funding. 

Organizational Structure: This community does not have its own organizational structure. 
Leaders: No formal leaders exist in this community. An informal leader is Carlos, who some members of the community come to for advice and assistance with problems relating to health care, legal issues and work related issues. During our interview it was obvious that others from the suprasystem did not intimidate him, and he showed an interest in attempting to organize and unify the community to deal with health care, housing and wage violation problems. He is outspoken and ready to do whatever is necessary to aid in the struggle with problems that effect the provision of services. 
Patterns of Decision Making: No obvious patterns of decision making exist. Each member of the community deals with their problems rather selfishly. Survival of the fittest. 
Methods of Social Control: Rules regarding social gatherings, group meetings and to some extent visitors come from the suprasystem, with DeCoster management particularly mentioned in relation to all social control. DeCoster does not allow that residents have any parties, birthday celebrations, cook outs or meetings within the community. 
Analysis of Polity: The community has no real organization and most live in fear of retaliation from DeCoster management with threats of losing their jobs and housing for any attempt at organizing the community or merely socializing with other members of the community in groups. DeCoster has also discouraged contact with outside agencies by intimidating those who try to help the community. There are norms of conduct and there is no information to suggest that norms are being ignored or violated. 

Nonverbal: Adult members of the community appear frustrated and apprehensive, those willing to talk often described their community as a concentration camp, something out of the nineteenth century. Children at play would stop and disappear behind a trailer at the sight of a stranger; a young couple holding hands separated and went inside their trailer, it felt cold and hostile. During our interview they explained that there are members of the community that act as moles, reporting to management who has visitors, what they have said or done. Fearing retaliation most members of the community would rather live in isolation and have no contact with outsiders. 
Verbal: Communication among the community members is egalitarian, social and minimal. They discourage newsletters, posters and fliers as are informal gatherings and formal meetings. DeCoster management has even gone as far as prohibiting cable television hook up to the trailers preventing access to Spanish channels that may be available to the community. 
Analysis of Communications 
There is no evidence to suggest the community has the capacity to communicate easily with all its members and there is no opportunity for social gatherings and exchange of information. In planning health care, the nurse must be aware that the only apparent means to gather and disburse information to members is a door to door campaign. In all probability this would result in some intimidation by DeCoster management. Concerning communication on health related matters, the residents have expressed their concerns that health care providers do not seek out or listen to community or individual concerns. From interviews with health care organizations, health care providers apparently do not communicate among themselves and are not involved in coordinating services. Not only does a language barrier exists between the community and health care providers, but there also may be a lack of interest in the suprasystem to address the health care needs and human rights of this community. Minimal information was available about who determines the care and service needs of this community. Information available was incomplete and at times contradictory. We need more information. 

Traditions: The traditions that reflect the ethnic background of the community such as birthdays, holidays and transitional events cannot be upheld. DeCoster management prohibits the celebration of traditions that provides a sense of identity to the communities members and stability to the community. The intimidation by management has resulted in an individuality and they expect that each individual cope with his or her own problems. 
Subgroups: There are a number of subgroups that national origin can identify. From observations and personal interviews, there appears to be a great deal of distrust between these groups. All the groups we spoke with blame DeCoster Farms for the alienation and mistrust among them. 
Environment: The streets are clean, yards are well maintained, free of litter and debris. They permit no flowers or decorations. There are stray dogs and many voice their concern with the infestation by rats, flies and cockroaches. The air reeks of chicken manure, a smell that permeates everything in sight. The reported low crime rate suggests that the residents are concerned with adhering to laws related to private property and personal safety. 
Health: There are no health care facilities within the community and residents rely on the nearby health center and local hospital emergency department for their health care needs. Interviews revealed members place a greater priority on getting health care services when ill than on seeking preventive health care. Some obvious reasons for this trend are language barriers, lack of transportation and above all attitudes toward health professionals. Most feel health care providers do not listen to their concerns and fear the interpreters provided by DeCoster are not accurately relaying their concerns and health care problems to the providers. This is especially true when dealing with work related injuries. Some residents report that even in cases of an emergency there is great deal of delay in obtaining transportation to the medical facility, delays of up to several days. In general, residents seek only crisis oriented care. 
Homogeneity vs. Heterogeneity: This community is very homogeneous with respect to race, socioeconomic status, education, and residential maintenance. 
Analysis of Values: The homogeneity suggests that the community members share similar values. It seems that they do not value education and preventive health care, based on the level of education and the type of health care services used. The nurse would need to consider the factors affecting these values (e.g., lack of transportation, language barriers, and above all the level of social control by means of intimidation used by DeCoster) in planning health programs and services to ensure community participation. 

People Factors 
Size: There is inadequate information to identify trends related to the size of the community. Most of those residents who were surveyed reported that the community has remained relatively stable in number, this seems to suggest a population that is not very mobile but remains within the community limits. The reason for this, however, is that as a certain number of the population leaves, a like number moves in to replace them. No additional information is available. 
Mortality and morbidity: There is no information on causes of death, if any have occurred. Major diseases and conditions are communicable diseases (specific diseases unknown) and rashes, accidents requiring first aid, work related injuries, chronic illnesses (non specified), and dental problems. Problems that we might expect in the general population include substance abuse; depression and suicide; sex education needs; pregnancy; sexually transmitted diseases; trauma and violence; communicable diseases; and upper respiratory illnesses. Vulnerable or high risk groups include substance abusers, sexually active teenagers, and farm workers (environmental/chemical exposure). 
Social functioning: No information is available to calculate an accurate dependency ratio. Observations and interviews would suggest a low dependency ratio. Surveys would be necessary to get additional information. 
Types of disabilities or impairments present or expected: Learning disabilities are likely to be present because of the language barriers and lack of adequate health care. Work related injuries with disabilities due to unsafe farm machinery and chemical exposure. 

Environmental Factors: 
Physical environment: They have crowded and not well maintained housing. The air contains many pollutants, and pest infestation is a major concern. We do not have information about the quality of the water supply which has been a problem in the past. 
Social environment: Residents appear dissatisfied, suggesting a stressful environment. Many residents have remained in the area for some time and are subject to a high stress level that accompanies concern for personal and family safety, job security, and constant fear of retaliation from the employer. 
Level of Health 
Actual needs: We can identify several health needs from the existing data including: heart disease, sexually transmitted diseases, and health information needs related to hygiene and pregnancy. A knowledge deficit regarding community resources and their unacceptability and inaccessibility. 
Potential needs: Substance abuse mental health counseling, lower accident rates, and a safe working and living environment. 
Community action:  The community has taken some action related to health needs. One way to ensure the community's response to health needs would be to make health care facilities more accessible and provide a full time bilingual community nurse who can help address health issues effectively. 

DeCoster employees win right to receive visitors. (1992, December 11). The Maine Times, p. 9. 
DeCoster fined for using illegal workers. (1989, March 10). The Maine Times, p. 7.
Kukka, C. (1992, May 29). DeCoster again. The Maine Times, p. 12. 
State loses a round on visitor checkpoints. (1992, August 8). The Maine Times, pp. 2, 4

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