On a recent afternoon in a citrus orchard west of Fresno, 34-year-old Yoni Carrillo used clippers to swiftly cut mandarins from a branch and drop them into a large canvas bag strapped to his waist. Other workers climbed ladders to reach higher fruit and made conversation between the treetops.

“The truth is, we all need (legal status). Because now with the pandemic, we can’t shelter at home,” Carrillo said. “Who does the work? We do.”

For every large plastic bin he can fill with mandarins, Carrillo will make $53. He and the other workers are out in the orchard, or in another field, nearly every day, he said.

“We don’t stop unless it rains,” Carrillo said. “If we shelter in place, the crop goes to waste. Who harvests it? The food, the vegetables … who is going to put it on the table, if not us?”

Carrillo has worked on U.S. farms, without legal status, for five years, he said. Another man nearby said he has worked in the country for 18 years. When asked about a bill to grant legal status to undocumented farmworkers, Carrillo said the law should already exist.

“I don’t know why they are delaying,” he said. “It’s not just in California. In every state you see immigrant farmworkers.”

Under a bipartisan bill now headed to the Senate, more than a million undocumented farmworkers like Carrillo, almost half a million in California, could gain legal status in the U.S. — and, eventually, a path to citizenship.


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