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Need to Know: March 1, 2013: Down in the Salinas valley

As the debate over immigration reform continues in Washington D.C., Need to Know offers an inside look at the lives of Latino farm workers. With the continuation of our “Main Street” series, correspondent John Larson reports from Salinas, California — home to John Steinbeck and some of the richest farmlands in the world.

Read the transcript.


Web exclusive: Taking on poverty in Salinas

Poverty trends in Salinas may be an important case study for the United States, as shifting demographics create new challenges for policy-makers across the country.

Steinbeck’s The Harvest Gypsies

Before he wrote his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck was commissioned by The San Francisco News to write a series of newspaper articles on the migrant laborers of the Salinas Valley.

Slideshow: Steinbeck’s Salinas

John Steinbeck’s hometown came to worldwide notice through The Grapes of Wrath. Not all city fathers were pleased by the portrait. Explore what has changed and what remains the same in Salinas.

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    Down in the Salinas Valley
    As the debate over immigration reform continues in Washington D.C., Need to Know offers an inside look at the lives of Latino farm workers.
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    Dying to get back
    For those coming into the country illegally, it is now more deadly, more lethal, than at any time in recent U.S. immigration history.
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      Searching for answers
    19-year-old Gladys Dominguez shares her search for information about her father who was lost crossing Arizona state's border desert.


  • Gladys Heffern

    Beautifully told stories of the true Amercans. Well done Need To Know.

  • Jolene Rutherford

    I’d like to know the names of the corporations that are treating their workers as though they don’t acknowledge them as human beings. They overwork and underpay them, deny them safe drinking water, verbally abuse them – and worse. I want to be sure that I never buy any product that comes from these bloodsucking villains.

  • Rod

    Man’s inhumanity to man never ceases to amaze me. When are we going to elect officials who’ll require real wages and protections for the people growing our food?!

  • Rita

    Very well done report. Thanks for sharing the stories of those who also make California rich.

  • truthhurtsgood

    This sort of treatment of desperate farm workers is the logical consequence of a civilization that puts money first. Capitalism needs to go.

    And how stupid is industrial agriculture? It is simply insane to poison one’s water supplies.

    It’s nice to see how bravely those snared in this migrant work nightmare are facing up to its challenges, but changes are needed. If we work hard enough to create the sort of world we really want to live in, perhaps one day humanity will live in harmony with Nature, share resources equitably, and treat all with respect.

  • discountbrains

    Its good that you expose to us the plight of those who produce the food we take for granted and I surely hope these people will have better lives in the future; however, I often wonder about the point of these stories. Is it that we are obligated to provide all the education, healthcare, etc these people might want? They or their parents came to the US on their own free will knowing it is against our laws. They tearfully describe their plight yet Mexico must be even worse because they are not going back. Their past president was calling them heroes to cross our border. Is that what you do with your surplus population? Send them to the US? Obama is an idiot and woefully out of touch when he recently stated “we are the richest nation on Earth”. WE BORROW 40% OF EVERYTHING WE SPEND to try to provide services for our own people. We can’t sustain ourselves!

    I heard some years ago that the Univ. of Calif had developed many machines that could do much of this harvesting, but this cheap source of labor doesn’t give the farmer the incentive to buy them. This could be a whole new industry and create thousands of jobs. I believe we should scrap our decadent economic system and replace it with one that gives everyone a stake in the benefits of their production. All companies should be organized like employee owned companies and in many respects modeled after the Twin Oaks commune system. Those of all walks of life should have to put in some time working in the fields and in all other job functions. It could be fun. That way everyone would have a sense of what it takes to produce what we consume.

  • Bret

    Socialism has a top and bottom as well, China’s, Soviet Union’s, Venezuela’s, Cuba’s, and Vietnam’s Government class and military class lived far better than farmers, miners, bakers …. Socialism isn’t the cure.

    Personal fortitude, morals, selflessness, and honour are what will minimize despair and produce a winning government.

    Utopia is a dream, a dream worth having but still a dream. As that the human brain, body, and the works of man kind are fallible.

  • Chris Cooper

    When I was a single mom in Texas, a family of illegal immigrants raised my children during the day so I could work to support us all. I was invited to their weddings. I couldn’t have survived without them. I helped get them legal status. My children consider them family.

  • Anonymous

    Why would anyone believe there is a solution in amnesty after seeing that gentleman who was legalized under IRCA living in squalor? And he with a year of university! By the way his education is likely more than any other single factor why his children do well in school (and we were not told the mother’s ed level). Education level of parents is the most influential factor in school success which is still another argument against legalizing millions who have less than a high school degree and three or four children. What happened to the honest and fair journalism that used to be part of PBS? Its so disappointing to see all these propaganda productions that use anecdote and emotion rather than factual, skeptical reporting…

  • Anonymous

    Why did the producers leave out the true impact of immigration Salinas? I suppose the gang culture and violence isn’t as easy to portray sympathetically. Salinas has had the highest murder rate per population a couple of times. Stabbings and shooting are a daily occurrence. There is frequent controversy regarding administration of schools, districts and city government run by activist Latinos. Note the following: I’m sure need to know producers would love to spin this one in favor of the left having shown they don’t care about the quality of life that mass illegal immigration has produced on the Central Coast. This in no way compares to the first decades of the 20th century or the Depression era dust bowl.

  • Anonymous

    What are some of the ideas out there having to with the issue of low Hispanic educational attainment? Why are so many Hispanics not finishing high school? The state can go to great lengths to provide educational opportunities but what is to be done if the intended beneficiaries refuse to take advantage of these opportunities? So, they remain uneducated and the uneducated remain poor. They pay little in property taxes and the schools get worse. It’s no wonder that there is so much poverty in California. These uneducated people are unable to contribute in a more meaningful way to the growth of a competitive modern economy. Sure, picking celery has to get done but it doesn’t add much to per capita GDP. If this is the future of California and California is the future of America we are in a very bad way. What I found most scary was the very nice 2nd generation man who was unable to speak to the interviewer in English. This man was born, raised and educated in the US and can’t speak English. What does that say about his intellectual curiosity? If you were born, raised and educated in a country wouldn’t you want to be able to speak the the native language? What does it say for about hopes for assimilation of the massive Hispanic demographic wave? Fortunately, his son made it to college. If the future of California is to be heavily Hispanic and many of these Hispanics don’t assimilate, is California destined to become a lot more like Mexico? Is this where we want to go as a nation? I don’t think Mexico is the best model upon which to build a future for the US. And please don’t respond to these comments if the level of your analysis doesn’t go beyond simple-minded accusations of “racism”.

  • Anonymous

    Well, in an effort to right this wrong, how much more are you prepared to pay for your food? Maybe there should be “fair trade” options for food grown in the US. People who don’t want to support this kind of exploitative agriculture could choose to pay more for food that was more humanely produced. You could also go to a local farmers’ market and support your local farmers.

  • Poul Rasmussen

    This article is so full of crap! You came to my property illegally and I allow you to do your article and then you create this crap. My residents live there by choice. They don’t want to move, and I could show each of them how to make $50k + a year and most of them will say no. Please leave us alone. People don’t choose to come from Mexico because they have a crappier life living here in Freedom vs the total desperation that they live in under the oppression of the corrupt Mexican government. They pay $10k a head to get here illegally with the threat of ICE and E-Verify and changing immigration laws, and still come to California for the opportunity. They may never reach it, but often their kids do. Oh and why are you lying about education. Education is crap. Its the dream inside someone’s heart that drives them to attain what they need to become successful. I am proud of most Mexican people because they unlike those White racist people who stand on the street waiting for a handout. Mexican people are always working or doing something to make an honest income.

  • Anonymous

    I won’t dispute any facts in you story,but I will ask one question.If they are so hardworking ,industrious and determined to succeed why didn’t they put their efforts into making their home country a better place.I read many stories and have seen many shows about how they have earned their place in America,but not one that asked that simple question.Right now Germany has one of the best functioning economies and social welfare systems in the world,but I don’t here anything about American citizens fleeing there to make a better life for their families.America isn’t perfect,we aren’t the greatest people in the world,but what made this county work for so long was that we were a nation of laws.The heart of Americas problem is that the group of people who are actually following the laws these day is getting smaller everyday.

  • Al73

    Well, as you’ve said, “If they are so hardworking, industrious and determined to succeed why didn’t they put their efforts into making their home country a better place?”

    Many of the migrant workers simply do not have that sort of power in a country where corruption and bribery exists. I’ve heard the same argument over and over again for years. You have compared Germany to a Latin America country such as Mexico, whose argument has no bases and not relatable in any form. Germany got its people together after one of the most blood sheading and gruesome wars in the history of the world that’d occurred in the backyard of Germany, all after leaving the country in utter destruction. When you compare Mexico to Germany, there isn’t one thing in common with each other. In Mexico, bribery and corruption is so high, that standing up for what’s right and creating distortion to the ones in power from corruption, will cost you a beating and in some cases your life. Now, why would anyone want to risk their own lives and hard work for a country that’s not going to appreciate nor help to move forward to a brighter future. With all of that said, you have failed to notice that, in many cases the companies themselves bring illegal migrants to work for them, set them up with false papers in order for them to exploit their cheap labor for major profits.

    Just as well, reading from your poor grammar, you mentioned “you don’t here from American citizens fleeing to Germany to make a better life for their families.” well, this might be news to you, however there is a major factor you have failed to acknowledge. That would be the fact that there’s an entire ocean between the U.S. and Europe, unlike the southern border, there’s only the Rio Grande, the Arizona Dessert and the rest of the border. Which is relatively easier to cross than trying to get across the entire ocean to achieve a better life.