Labor advocates file in support of order requiring COVID-19 tests for migrant workers

    Ottawa County farm | Nick Manes

    A coalition of worker advocates, unions, community organizations and health experts have filed an amicus brief in support of a state order requiring COVID-19 tests for Michigan’s migrant worker population, as the state’s agriculture lobby pursues a legal challenge to strike down the order as a civil rights infringement.

    “Plaintiffs’ effort to discern some sort of nefarious intent in this ordinary process of governance is unavailing,” the amicus brief in support of the emergency order reads, which was filed Thursday by the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center and others.

    The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services’ (DHHS) order in question was announced earlier this month as a way to prevent COVID-19 from continuing to spread disproportionately among people of color. Hispanic/Latino people make up 5% of Michigan’s population, but currently represent at least 8% of the state’s confirmed COVID-19 cases.

    Latinos make up the majority of workers in Michigan’s agricultural sector, the Aug. 3 emergency order notes.

    But a number of farm workers and their employers affected by the testing mandate filed suit against the Gov. Gretchen Whitmer administration eight days later, claiming that the order violates their civil rights by intentionally discriminating against Latino workers.

    State requires coronavirus testing for farm workers

    Castillo et al v. Whitmer et al, brought by the Grand Rapids-based law firm Varnum LLP on Aug. 11, seeks an injunction to the DHHS emergency order.

    Michigan’s Western District Federal Court denied the plaintiffs’ request for a restraining order of the emergency order on Aug. 14, but legal reply briefs from the parties are ongoing.

    According to a Thursday press release from the Michigan Farm Bureau, which supports the lawsuit and whose political action committee has endorsed President Donald Trump, the plaintiffs are seeking a judgement before the Monday deadline for workers to get mandatory COVID-19 testing.

    “Plaintiffs’ allegations are not truly about the civil rights of Latino farmworkers, but an argument that farmworkers and migrant camp residents who fear being tested are not entitled to a safe workplace and housing — and that agricultural employers should not be held to account,” the amicus brief in support of the DHHS order reads.

    Laina G. Stebbins
    Laina G. Stebbins covers the environment, immigration and criminal justice. She is a graduate of Michigan State University’s School of Journalism, where she served as Founding Editor of The Tab Michigan State and as a reporter for the Capital News Service. When Laina is not writing or listening to podcasts, she loves art and design, discovering new music, being out in nature and spending time with her two cats Rainn and Remy.