In 2014, the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting began exploring the conditions of the temporary housing that migrant farmworkers live in while working in America’s fields.

Our ongoing investigation continues with the first-ever national database of migrant farmworker housing inspections, released in 2016.

This story would not have been possible without the Freedom of Information Act and similar state-level open-records laws.

The Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting team spent countless hours filing FOIA requests for migrant camp inspections across dozens of government agencies in the Midwest.

Many more hours were spent reviewing the responses, analyzing the results and writing reports.

It’s this type of work that is celebrated during Sunshine Week, a week during which the press celebrates the Freedom of Information Act and its value for making sure the public can exercise its right to know about its governments, including the governments tasked with overseeing the health and safety of America’s farmworkers.

Migrant farmworkers help plant, pick and process the fruits and vegetables that make their way into consumer households. Their work is so vital to the U.S. agribusiness industry that it is nearly impossible to name a food product sold at local grocery stores that did not first pass through a migrant worker’s hands.

But an ongoing investigation by the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting has found that chronically poor living conditions persist because the government agencies responsible for enforcing housing standards are often overwhelmed by workload or rendered ineffective by inadequate budgets and toothless policies. Abusive housing practices of both multi-billion dollar agribusiness corporations and small-scale growers continue to flourish as a result. And migrant farmworkers season after season are left to live in rundown apartments, ramshackle trailers and converted motels.

See the results from our FOIA requests below:

More than half-century after ‘Harvest of Shame,’ migrant farmworkers in the U.S. still face deplorable conditions | Robert Holly (Nov. 7, 2016)

Blighted Housing: Inspections fail to stem poor conditions for migrant farmworkers | Robert Holly & Claire Everett (April 13, 2016)

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