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Vasanthi VenkateshWindsor Law professor Vasanthi Venkatesh has won funding for a project to research how migrant farm workers experience systemic racism in Canada.

Law professor investigating systemic racism faced by migrant farm workers

Windsor Law professor Vasanthi Venkatesh has been awarded a Partnership Engage Grant by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) to examine how migrant farm workers experience systemic racism in Canada.

Her research project, “Racial Difference by Law: Differential Racialization and Access to Justice in the Migrant Farm Worker Program,” received federal funding of nearly $25,000 to explore systemic racism faced by migrant farm workers and support advocacy efforts for legal and policy change.

Canada hosts more than 50,000 migrant farm workers every year. While most are from Central America and the Caribbean, they come from several countries in the Global South. According to researchers, farm employers are known to differentiate between migrant farm workers from different countries and place them in specific agricultural sectors based on racial and cultural stereotypes leading to differential discrimination and racialized labour segmentation.

“The research investigates how the law facilitates this phenomenon of differential racialization in a global agricultural political economy based on racial capitalism,” says Prof. Venkatesh.

Since 2002, Venkatesh’s partner organization on the project, Justicia for Migrant Workers (J4MW), has organized and advocated for migrant farm workers in Ontario who participate in Canada’s Temporary Foreign Workers Programs in agriculture. J4MW is a collective of migrant farm workers, community organizers, academics, and lawyers who advocate for the protection of and collaborations between migrant farm workers.

While representing hundreds of migrant farm workers during the COVID-19 pandemic, J4MW noticed a significant difference in worker claims based on their race and countries of origin. The national policies restricting movement and increased employer power during the pandemic had exacerbated racial segregation. The project is motivated by a felt need of advocates to understand this phenomenon better and will generate creative new legal and outreach strategies in the aftermath of the pandemic, Venkatesh says.

“While the scholarship notes the racism endured by migrant farm workers, a significant gap exists in understanding how racism is differentiated based on their countries of origin and how this differentiation impacts legal claims,” she says.

This community-driven research project will be the first of its kind in generating new, broad empirical evidence to show differentiated systemic racism in immigration laws for use in advocacy and improved justice outcomes for the large numbers of vulnerable migrant workers. Venkatesh expects to release a final report and an evidentiary repository for use in litigation and advocacy by Fall 2023.

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