Mapping the Impacts of COVID-19 on Farmworkers in Immokalee, Florida

BETTY AKOH and SEAN HANSEN (Northeastern University)


July 2020

Presentation Slide - Immokalee
Immokalee Team Slides from Virtual Presentation on July 27, 2020

COVID-19 has had a disparate effect across racial and ethnic groups in the community of Immokalee, Florida. Immokalee residents are mostly Latinx, while Collier County is a majority white county. There are 15,000 to 20,000 migrant farmworkers in Immokalee – a statistical outlier when compared to Collier County as a whole. Immokalee, an agricultural community home to many farmworkers, has experienced a disproportionate number of COVID-19 cases compared to the rest of Florida.

Farmworkers were deemed “essential workers” by Florida governor Ron DeSantis and have thus been required to work throughout the pandemic. Why is it that despite being one of the most significant contributors to the US agricultural economy and food/retail sector, the Immokalee community of farmworkers were thrown into the line of fire during the pandemic? Immokalee remains one of the most significant COVID-19 epicenters in the United States. As “essential workers” on the frontlines, it is imperative that we fully understand the legal and economic conditions that explain why Immokalee farmworkers lacked access to legal protections and to care. Why does this matter? What can Immokalee reveal about the shared challenges facing workers during the pandemic across the United States and beyond? How have advocacy efforts of prominent organizations such as the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) fared during this time of crisis and what must be done to strengthen emergency response during the pandemic?



On this page:


Key Insights and Further Research

Community Engagement

Any further research or policy recommendations concerning the COVID-19 outbreak amongst Haitian and Latino farmworkers in Immokalee would require input, engagement, and ultimately leadership from farmworkers themselves.

Refocus on Structural Policies

Structural policies have shaped Immokalee over the past decades and have produced an environment ripe for the spread of a disease like COVID-19.

Beyond WSR Campaigns

The Worker-Driven Social Responsibility organizing model, remarkably successful in improving working conditions on Florida farms, requires long and hard fought campaigns in conjunction with consumer solidarity to pressure buyers and growers economically.

Future of the NRLA and Labor Legislation

Many advocates seek to amend the NLRA to extend organizing protections to farmworkers.

Policy Recommendations


Annotated Bibliography

Background and History of Immokalee
Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) Advocacy/Sources
COVID-19 Coverage
Data, Statistics, & Official Sources
Racial Dimensions


Background and History of Immokalee 

WGCU Public Radio. “Immokalee, Florida: Evolving Opportunities.” Youtube, 2019.

WGCU Public Radio. “Immokalee, Florida: Outpost of Opportunity.” Youtube, 2019. 

Collier County. “Immokalee Rural Enterprise Zone (EZ).” Immokalee Area CRA, accessed October 5, 2020. 

Stanley, Greg. “Feeling Left behind, Immokalee Chamber to Push for Incorporation.” Naples News, September 4, 2016. 

Regional Economic Research Institute. Immokalee Economic Overview, 2019. Fort Myers: Florida Gulf Coast University, 2019.


Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) Advocacy/Sources

Asbed, Greg, and Steve Hitov. “Preventing Forced Labor In Corporate Supply Chains: The Fair Food Program And Worker-Driven Social Responsibility.” Wake Forest Law Review 52 (2017): 497-531.

Coalition of Immokalee Workers. “Boycott the Bell! End Sweatshops in the Fields! Boycott Brief.“ CIW – Taco Bell Boycott Headquarters, 2001.

Coalition of Immokalee Workers. “Worker-Driven Social Responsibility (WSR): A New Idea for a New Century.” Coalition of Immokalee Workers, 21 May, 2015. 

Dias-Abey, Manoj. “A Socio-Legal History of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers.” In Theorising Labour Law in a Changing World. Edited by Alysia Blackham, Miriam Kullmann, and Ania Zbyszewska. Oxford: Hart Publishing, 2019.

Dias-Abey, Manoj. “Justice on Our Fields: Can ‘Alt-Labor’ Organizations Improve Migrant Farm Workers’ Conditions?” Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review 53 (2018): 167-211.

Coletta, Amanda and Gabriela Martínez. “Migrant Farmworkers Die in Canada, and Mexico Wants Answers.” Washington Post, June 19, 2020.

Marquis, Susan. I Am Not a Tractor!: How Florida Farmworkers Took On the Fast Food Giants and Won. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2017.

Oxfam America. “Like Machines in the Fields: Workers without Rights in American Agriculture.” Make Trade Fair, 2004.

Sean Sellers and Theresa Haas. “The Worker-Driven Social Responsibility Model,” Counter Human Trafficking Compliance Solutions (CHTCS), January 23, 2018.

Fair Foods Standard Council. “Fair Food Code of Conduct, Overview.” Accessed October 5, 2020.


COVID-19 Coverage

Asbed, Greg. “What Happens If America’s 2.5 Million Farmworkers Get Sick?” New York Times, April 2, 2020.

Artiga, Samantha and Matthew Rae. “The COVID-19 Outbreak and Food Production Workers: Who Is at Risk?” KFF, June 3, 2020. 

Democracy Now. “Doctors Without Borders Warns of Spike in Coronavirus Cases Among Florida Farmworkers.” May 28, 2020.

Denz, Jacob. “Weekend News & Commentary-June 14, 2020.” OnLabor, 15 June 2020. 

Feliz, Mariano. “Life after the Virus: Social Reproduction in a Post Pandemic World.” Futures of Work, 14, June 5, 2020. 

Florida Deptartment of Health. “Florida’s COVID-19 Data & Surveillance Dashboard.” Accessed October 5, 2020. 

Doctors without Borders (MSF). “Florida: MSF and Local Health Partners Bring COVID-19 Testing and Mobile Health Clinics to Migrant Farmworkers.” May 18, 2020.

Crampton, Liz. “In Absence of Federal Action, Farm Workers’ Coronavirus Cases Spike.” Politico, June 9, 2020.

Mazzei, Patricia. “Florida’s Coronavirus Spike Is Ravaging Migrant Farmworkers.” New York Times, June 18, 2020.

Reiley, Laura. “Migrant Farmworkers, Many Coronavirus Positive, Move North from Florida to Other States.” Washington Post, June 11, 2020.

Sugar, Rachel. “The Scramble to Feed the Kids Left Hungry by the Coronavirus Crisis.” Vox, April 17, 2020.


Data, Statistics, and Official Sources

The New York Times. “Coronavirus in the U.S.: Latest Map and Case Count.” Maps and Cases, Accessed October 8, 2020.

Ron Desantis, 46th Governor of Florida. “COVID-19 Resources.” Florida COVID-19 Resource Center, accessed October 5, 2020.

USCIS. “USCIS Temporarily Amends Certain H-2A Requirements During COVID-19 Public Health Emergency.” H-2A Temporary Agricultural Workers, April 21, 2020.

Florida Department of Health. “Florida’s COVID-19 Data & Surveillance Dashboard.” Accessed October 5, 2020. 

Douglas, Leah. “Mapping Covid-19 Outbreaks in the Food System.” Food and Environment Reporting Network. July 31, 2020. 

Ewg. “Farmworkers Are at Heightened Risk of COVID-19.” Interactive Map, accessed October 5, 2020.


Racial Dimensions

Cooper, John L. The Police and the Ghetto. New York: Kennikat Press, 1980.

Leong, Nancy. “Racial Capitalism.” Harvard Law Review 126, no. 8 (2013): 2151-2226.

Perea, Juan F. “The Echoes of Slavery: Recognizing the Racist Origins of the Agricultural and Domestic Worker Exclusion from the National Labor Relations Act.” Ohio State Law Journal 72 (2010): 95-138.

Powell, Jim. “Why Did FDR’s New Deal Harm Blacks?” Cato Institute, December 3, 2003.