Coronavirus Shutdown Leads to more East Valley Teens Working in the Fields

Coronavirus Shutdown Leads to more East Valley Teens Working in the Fields

Regina Yurrita

With boxes filled of locally grown bell peppers, Jose Castillo from Desert Mirage High School has been working hard to provide.

“To provide for ourselves, but also to provide for my family in case something goes wrong,” said Castillo. 

Castillo has been working in the fields in the east valley and plans to attend college in the fall. However, this spring was difficult since he had to adjust to distance learning during the coronavirus shutdown.

“It was very difficult to get used to for sure,” said Castillo.

Castillo, just like many children of immigrant parents, felt an obligation to work instead of quarantine. Minors can work at the age of 12 but they need a permit verifying classes are not in session. With financial struggles because of the pandemic, activists believe students have been working under the table without permits during the shutdown.

“The appropriate agencies need to monitor more. if a minor is working in the fields they need to have the protections that they need to have. As minors there are certain tools and jobs that they cannot be doing,” said Mily Trevino, who is a leading advocate for ‘Lideres Campesinas in the Coachella Valley.’ An organization that helps fight for immigrant justice in the agricultural sector. 

 According to a U.S. Government Accountability Office, in 2018 there were nearly half a million youth in the country working in the fields. Activists argue these numbers are now higher because of the pandemic.

“Right now we know because of covid there’s a lot of stress with families, there’s less opportunities for jobs and there’s more people getting ill,” said Trevino. 

Castillo graduated this spring, but he still faces the burden of financially supporting his family and paying for his own education at UC Riverside.

“It’s very expensive and I don’t want them to worry about that debt. I want to pay that debt myself because I don’t want to be a burden to them,” said Trevino.