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What 'home' looks like for a migrant worker

Oct 8, 2013

This week I’m bringing you segments from my documentary, “Voices from the Fields," a story of migrant workers in Michigan. It will air on Stateside on Wednesday.

When migrant workers travel to multiple states throughout a year, following the crops that are ready to harvest, they never really have a place to call home.

They can’t afford to pay for multiple apartments or houses to only live in a few months or weeks out of the year, and it’s hard to find hotels to stay in when you are traveling from state to state usually during peak tourism season.

That’s why farms that hire migrant workers often provide housing for very low prices, or even for free. But as the saying goes, sometimes you get what you pay for.

Making $1.50 an hour to pick blueberries

Oct 7, 2013
Chuck Grimmet / flickr

This week I’m bringing you segments from my documentary, “Voices from the Fields,” a story of migrant workers in Michigan. It will air Wednesday on Stateside.

Michigan is the nation’s largest producer of blueberries. But getting blueberries to our bowls means long tedious work for the people who pick them. And in some cases, workers complain that the pay is far too low.

When I was reporting for this documentary, I visited the Hamilton Family.

When I met up with them they were living in a broken down trailer behind an old flea market garage and a vacant parking lot cluttered with tall weeds in southwest Michigan.

Seven people were living in the trailer. One of them was Randy Hamilton Sr., the father of the family. They are white and are a minority in the fields. Hamtilon Sr. has been doing migrant work since he was in 8th grade. That's when he dropped out of school in order to make money picking in the fields.  

“There’s no other jobs for us that you’ve got a high school diploma, and we don’t have it,” he says.

The Hamilton’s were out of work and out of money.

They quit their job picking blueberries in southwest Michigan. That’s because they couldn’t keep up with the picking demands in order to make minimum wage.

courtesy photo

From urban farming in Detroit, the Traverse City Cherry Festival, to farmers markets in hundreds of Michigan cities, this state prides itself on its agriculture.

And we should.

We are the most agriculturally diverse state, behind only California. And after manufacturing, agriculture is the state’s largest industry.

But when you see that Michigan seal on apples and blueberries and cherries in the grocery store, do you ever wonder who are the faces and voices behind these products?

This week, we’ll hear from these farm workers that bring these fruits and vegetables to our tables.

We’ll hear about the struggle for fair wages, good housing and how the immigration debate can affect the lives of the 94,000 migrant workers and their families in Michigan.

This week, I will post segments from my documentary that will air Wednesday on Stateside.

It’s called “Voices from the fields: a story of migrant workers in Michigan.

Let’s start by introducing you to a migrant farm worker I met.

courtesy Tim Fazio

The Department of Veteran Affairs may be overprescribing opiates to veterans — and in some cases, prescribing to those with known opiate addictions.

An investigative report from PRX and the Center for Investigative Reporting revealed that the VA agency “has issued more than one opiate prescription per patient, on average, for the past two years.”

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

The State of Michigan spends a huge part of its budget on prisons. In recent years a new program has helped reduce the prison population and helped prisoners stay out of prison. Despite its success, the state plans to cut much of the program’s funding.

Some people who’ve been in and out of prison are getting out and staying out thanks to a program called Michigan Prisoner Reentry Initiative or MPRI.

“After 33 years of doing time, they finally got it right. And today I’ve got a life. I own my own business. I’m living the American dream and it started at MPRI,” Harry Hampton said.

Hampton has been in prison four times. When he’s been released before, he got no help.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Detroit’s bankruptcy proceedings involve massive amounts of money. A lot of creditors and possibly city retirees are likely to lose a lot of money. But, there are some people who are going to make a lot of money because of this bankruptcy.

Filing bankruptcy, restructuring debt, reorganizing Detroit’s operations are all incredibly complicated and incredibly expensive.

The Detroit Free Press suggested legal fees could top $100 million.

Dustin Dwyer

 This is the second in a three-part series from State of Opportunity about a gun battle that happened in Muskegon on July 9th, and how violence continues to plague the city. Part one of the series is here

I met Carmesha Rogers as she recovered in her room at Hackley Hospital in Muskegon. She was surrounded by humming medical equipment and cellophane balloons. She was hooked up to tubes, but she was able to sit up in a chair to talk.

This was less than a month after a bullet hit her in the head, and  passed through her brain.

Dustin Dwyer

Last month, a disagreement on a residential street in Muskegon turned into a massive gun battle. Six men were armed. Dozens of shots sprayed in all directions.

At the house directly behind the gunfight, three children played on a porch.

And one woman ran into the line of fire to try to save them.

Today we begin a three-part series about the incident, and look at how the dramatic rise of gun crimes in Muskegon is putting more kids at risk.

The Heritage Foundation

A Washington think tank is warning Congress that Detroit is just the first major example of financial troubles facing the nation.

user: The Ohio State University / Flickr

The FBI recently completed a national sweep that led to the arrests of 150 pimps and the rescue of 105 children who were forced into sex slavery. The sweep was called the Innocence Lost National Initiative.

There were ten children (as young as 13-years-old) rescued in Detroit and 18 arrests were made, which put the city in the number two slot in the national sweep's ranking.

Elizabeth Campbell, a staff attorney for the Human Trafficking Clinic at the University of Michigan, wasn't surprised by those numbers, even though they were higher than many of the cities that were included. 

"Every American community has this problem, this is just the tip of the iceberg. I'd like to believe that [higher numbers in Michigan] are because we have great cooperation with law enforcement, but we also have certain factors that have made us susceptible to such operations."

Sam Beebe / Ecotrust

Detroit’s bankruptcy is getting the headlines right now, but many governments in Michigan could be facing similar financial troubles in the future. Detroit might be just the first of many financial catastrophes in the state.

Detroit’s debt is supposed to be as much as $20 billion. About half of that is blamed on underfunded pensions and benefits for Detroit city retirees.

Dustin Dwyer

Today at 3pm on Michigan Radio, our State of Opportunity team presents its latest documentary.

Dustin Dwyer takes a look at men in our society. It’s a story in six parts.

It features the voices of men and young men from River Rouge High School, a church in Grand Rapids, and a martial arts gym in Lansing.

It even takes us to the Davis Primate Center in California, where we learn about a species of ape where the females – not the males – are dominant.

Flickr/jnn1776 / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

The Fourth of July is a time for family, fireworks, picnics, and pies.

But it is also a time when many reflect on what it means to be an American.

Here at Michigan Radio, we’re putting together some special stories for Fourth of July. We want to know, what does America mean to you?

We each have a deeply personal story about being an American. Perhaps you have a story about immigration or maybe you or a loved one has served time in the military. Others may appreciate a particular American freedom that is not universally a guaranteed right in other countries.

http://buildthedricnow.com/

A Canadian official says construction of a new bridge between Windsor and Detroit can start soon, maybe 2015.  It’s just a matter of waiting for some money from the U.S. government.

While Canada is putting up the money for the bridge, the U.S. has to build a new customs plaza which is expected to cost about 250-million dollars.

Until then, the Canadian government will continue to negotiate land purchases in and around the Delray neighborhood of Detroit where the New International Trade Crossing will land in the U.S.

Adoptions by LGBT parents are at the center of this controversy.
user stevendamrun / Flickr

If you’re gay or lesbian and you want to adopt a child, not every adoption agency in Michigan will be willing to help. If you do find an agency that will help, you might run into more discrimination.

Even if you have a home, pass the background checks, and otherwise meet the state requirements for adoption, you can be turned down by an adoption agency if you don’t meet its standards.

user Samahiaka18 / wikimedia commons

About a decade ago, judges stopped approving adoptions for lesbian and gay couples. It stopped after a controversial move by a Supreme Court Judge.

Nancy Wheeler is a judge in Washtenaw County who used to preside over the juvenile court where adoptions are recognized. She granted dozens of what are called ‘second-parent adoptions’ to same-sex couples.

“I thought that it was an outrage that we encouraged and, in fact, had a lot of gay and lesbian foster parents, but didn’t allow both parties to adopt the children. So, these children had been in foster care with these same parents sometimes for a number of years and then they were adopted by one,” Judge Wheeler explained.

She reasoned if one person could be an adoptive parent, then two could.

Love-Ramirez family

In Michigan, if you’re gay or lesbian, you can’t get married.

And for LGBT partners who adopt children it’s nearly impossible for both to have parental rights. That causes legal difficulties in providing a secure future for the kids they’re raising.

Two-year-old Lucas has two dads, Kent and Diego Love-Ramirez.

Diego is an airline pilot, and Kent works at Michigan State University.

“We’ve been together just over ten years. And we married in a religious ceremony five years ago and just legally married in Washington, D.C.," said Kent.

Kent and Diego are the only parents Lucas has ever known. But, the State of Michigan does not recognize one of them as a parent.

michigan.gov

Some members of the legislature are once again proposing changes to no-fault auto insurance in Michigan. They say it will save auto owners money. Opponents say the plan is good for insurance companies, but not for accident victims.

Everybody seems to agree auto insurance in Michigan costs too much.

Governor Rick Snyder and the chairs of the Senate and House insurance committees explained the latest plan to reduce the cost.

“In this legislation it would specify that premium costs would come down by $125 per vehicle in the first year and then hopefully because of competition and other things could even see that increase in later years,” Governor Snyder said.

That one-year guarantee of savings would come because of a reduction in the Personal Injury Protection part of auto insurance.

Former Marine Adam Fields, 27, of Modesto, Calif., has been waiting since November 2010 for a ruling on his claim for benefits for traumatic brain injury.
Michael Short / Center for Investigative Reporting

Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., says we are failing when it comes to providing health care to those who have served in the military:

"Our nation has a moral obligation to provide quality health care to the men and women who put on our nations uniform and are injured and wounded fighting our nations wars… Our responsibility ends only when the wounds are healed…I am sad to say that we as a nation are not meeting this obligation."

He made these remarks in early April during an opening statement to the Senate Armed Services Committee Joint Hearing on Department of Defense and Veteran Affairs.

Back in August of 2012, we reported on the long wait time for veterans filing disability claims.

At the time of our report, veterans in our area were waiting an average of 319 days for a decision from the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs on their disability claims. The national average was 257 days.

Unfortunately, there have been few improvements.

Today, the average wait time in our area is 321 days, a slight increase since 2011. And according to a Missouri Watchdog report published last week, the national average has increased to 290 days.

This map shows the number of backlogged VA claims around the country. The Center for Investigative Reporting updates the map every Monday to show changes in each office's pending claims.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Three townships in the Lansing region will be considering proposals to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender expression.

In a coordinated effort, Delhi, Meridian, and Delta township officials could vote on protecting lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people from employment, housing, and public accommodation discrimination with the next several weeks.

Photo from the 2011 Capital Pride Parade in Washington, D.C.
user ep_jhu / Flickr

Public polling and recent court cases have prompted greater discussion about adding protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people in Michigan’s civil rights law. Advocates for the change say it’s time to stop legally discriminating against LGBT people. Others say changing the law say it would mean people opposed to homosexual behavior would be discriminated against. The issue is beginning to play out in the Michigan legislature.

Michigan’s civil rights law is known as the Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act. It prohibits discrimination based on religion, race, color, national origin, age, sex, height, weight, family status, and marital status.

Advocates for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and opponents of gay rights have one thing in common: both sides say discrimination should not be allowed. Where they go from there is very different.

LGBT advocates say sexual orientation and gender expression should be included in the Elliot-Larsen protections.

Anti-gay rights advocates say there’s no need for creating special classes of people to be protected.

courtesy U.S. Housing and Urban Develompment / HUD

Some Michigan residents are turned away for housing even if they can afford the rent for an apartment or the mortgage for a home. In many cases, landlords and bankers can legally discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. This discrimination happens even in communities with laws protecting LGBT people.

Michigan has no state law protecting lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people from being discriminated against when it comes to housing. Anti-gay rights advocates say no law is necessary because there are no documented cases of discrimination against LGBT people.

But, in a widely cited report, Michigan’s Fair Housing Centers found there is discrimination by landlords, real estate agents, banks and others involved in housing even in cities where laws prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation.

user Marlith / Flickr

Some Michigan legislators have pushed bills calling for religious liberties to be honored through law. But one person’s religious liberty might be another person’s religious suppression.

Much of the debate about same-sex marriage is centered in people’s religious beliefs. The religion with the most followers in Michigan is the Catholic Church. It opposes same-sex marriage.

“Marriage from the Catholic perspective is between one man and one woman because that promotes the creation, the procreation of life,” explained Thomas Hickson, Vice President of Public Policy and Advocacy for the Michigan Catholic Conference

It should be noted that a survey of Michigan voters last year found the majority of people who identified themselves as Catholic approved of same-sex civil unions or marriage. But that’s not the Church’s official position.

Recently the Catholic Conference announced its advocacy priorities for the current legislative session.  Among the religious liberties it intends to defend is a 2004 amendment to the Michigan Constitution. That amendment defines marriage as between one woman and one man. It also bans recognition of similar unions- in other words Michigan cannot grant any of the rights or privileges of marriage to same-sex couples. No adoption rights. No survivor’s benefits. No health insurance for public employees.

But, some other religious organizations view same-sex marriage differently and feel gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people should be treated equally under the law.

user Marlith / Flickr

Michigan’s Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act protects many people from discrimination.  You cannot be fired from your job because of your religion, race, color, national origin, age, sex, height, weight, family status, or marital status. But you can be fired for being gay. 

Advocates for LGBT people ask why should gay people be singled out for who they are?

But gay rights opponents say this is not about who they are; this is about their behavior.

Gary Glenn is with American Family Association – Michigan.

“We don’t believe that, for example, a Christian bookstore should be forced to hire some guy who claims to be a woman and wants to wear a dress to work and use the women’s restroom. We don’t believe that a Catholic school ought to be forced to hire an openly homosexual man as a football coach, for example.”

Glenn says it would be an infringement of employers’ rights if Michigan were to amend the state’s Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act to protect LGBT people.

user Marlith / Flickr

We’d like to think all people are treated equally in America.

In fact, we think our system is set up to make sure that happens. There are, though, people who are not protected.

If the pollsters are right, here’s something you probably don’t know:

It’s perfectly legal to discriminate against gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people.

A Gallup poll reported nearly nine out of ten people think LGBT people are already protected.

They are not.

screen grab from National Geographic / YouTube

When gang violence breaks out in the roughest parts of Detroit, even the police call for help.

The gang squad is a special, paramilitary unit of the Detroit Police Department.

They're either necessarily tough, or notoriously brutal, depending on who you ask.

But if the city’s Mayor and the Police Chief have their way, the squad's days are numbered. 

Big guys with big guns

Think about it: big guys, with big guns, cruising the city’s toughest streets in the name of law and order. You know what we have here? A reality TV hit.

But dang it, a quick Google search shows the National Geographic Channel beat us to the punch.

Their “Inside Detroit Gang Squad” aired a few years ago, with all the dramatic music and drug raids you’d expect.

A task force says electing Michigan Supreme Court justices should not be as partisan, or as much about money, as other political offices. But according to one watchdog group, last year the Michigan Supreme Court campaign was the most expensive, most secretive judicial election in America. Several recommendations to get some of the politics and secret money out of the Supreme Court elections were ignored by the legislature last year.

It’s coming up on a year since the Judicial Selection Task Force issued a report recommending changes to how we elect Michigan Supreme Court justices. Since then we elected three to the bench. Although the candidates ran on the non-partisan section of the ballot, politics was involved from the beginning.

“Michigan is unusual in that our Supreme Court race is so partisan. The candidates are nominated at a party convention,” said Susan Smith, President of the League of Women Voters of Michigan. Continuing, she said, “And, even though it doesn’t say on the ballot how they got nominated or which party nominated them, it’s really a farce, then, to put it up as a non-partisan election.”

And if politics is not far removed from electing Supreme Court justices, neither is money.

Correction:     An earlier version of this story spelled "Corunna" incorrectly. It has been fixed.

The Corunna Public School District is facing a federal lawsuit after a lesbian teacher was fired. The controversy started with a Diversity Club at the high school in the small town west of Flint.

Brook Johnson was a teacher/advisor to the Diversity Club. In 2009 the club decided to put up a display in honor of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender History month. It featured photos of celebrities who had come out as gay or lesbian. It caused controversy and the school board ordered it removed.

The ACLU challenged the decision. The Corunna Board of Education changed its position and allowed the display.

The lawsuit alleges the administration then turned on Johnson, ostracizing her and then forcing her out.

A new draft report finds allowing discrimination against gays and lesbians hurts Michigan’s economy. The state’s Civil Rights Commission is reviewing the report and might take action.

In Michigan it’s legal to discriminate against people who are Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, or Transgender. Housing and job discrimination are a couple of the examples that are allowed by law.

Andy Nguyen / Flickr

The State of the State speech outlines what the Governor sees as spending priorities for the state. But state taxes and spending are only part of the story.   Michigan Watch has learned recovering from the Great Recession will not go as well in Michigan as the rest of the nation this year.

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