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April 15, 2014

Monica Carusello, center, translates in Spanish for a medical student doing an eye exam for a young boy in Immokalee, during the FSU Medical-Legal Partnership Clinic’s Alternative Spring Break to assist migrant farm workers.
FLORIDA STATE UNIVERSITY COLLEGE OF LAW 1L Monica Carusello, center, translates in Spanish for a medical student doing an eye exam for a young boy in Immokalee, during the FSU Medical-Legal Partnership Clinic’s Alternative Spring Break to assist migrant farm workers.
Alternative Spring Break
‘Hope on the ground in Immokalee’

By Jan Pudlow
Senior Editor

Witnessing four migrant farm families crowded together in one trailer, Christie Arnold, a first-year law student at Florida State University, received an eye-opening experience during Alternative Spring Break in Immokalee, a stark contrast to the opulence of neighboring Naples in Collier County.

As an international relations major working on her undergrad degree, she’d visited impoverished villages in Third World countries.

“But I hadn’t realized that similar conditions existed here in my own state,” she expressed in writing.

“Migrant families in Immokalee face abject poverty, substandard housing, unhealthy diets, and unfair pay. . . . The houses I saw were barely bigger than one-room shacks. Migrant workers work long, arduous hours and don’t even make minimum wage. They are also exposed to toxic pesticides, and there is no hospital in the town. Abuses on the job often go unreported by the workers, for fear of deportation and immigration issues. There have also been cases of human trafficking there, as many farm working conditions and policies leave workers vulnerable to such exploitation.”

As a student, Arnold said, she realizes she can’t yet make the kind of legal changes she hopes to see one day. But, she said, she can support the community by mentoring Immokalee students who hope to go to college, talk to managers at her local grocery store about ways to help migrant workers receive better pay, and make sure she buys produce from companies with fair supply chains.

“This trip opened my eyes to the injustices here in Florida, and at the same time gave me exposure to how things are in the process of changing for the better,” Arnold said.

Inspiration flowed while meeting Lucy Ortiz, who fights for the legal rights of migrant farm workers to be free of systemic sexual exploitation in the fields across America; Andrea Ortega, who helps migrant farm workers gain access to legal representation on and off the farms; the Coalition of Immokalee Workers coming together for better wages and working conditions; and Maria Segura, from the Family Literacy Academy, who learned English, obtained her GED, and is working on her college degree, as she helps others strive for a life beyond the fields, too.

“There is hope on the ground in Immokalee, and that gives me hope,” Arnold said.

Arnold was one of 16 law students, seven medical students, two faculty members from the College of Medicine, one from the College of Social Work, and Wendi Adelson, a clinical professor at the FSU Medical-Legal Partnership at the Public Interest Law Center, who chose this unique way to spend their break from school from March 7-11, the seventh Alternative Spring Break.

“My students had the chance to expand their notions of what it means to be a lawyer and to use the law as a tool for social justice,” Adelson said.

“We returned to Tallahassee with a renewed sense of purpose and possibility and enthusiasm for the privilege of studying the law and representing those most in need.”

[Revised: 10-16-2014]