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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with William W. Finlator, April 19, 1985. Interview C-0007. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Migrant workers lack civil rights

Finlator describes his devotion to the rights of migrant workers. Ignorance and poverty rob migrants of their civil rights, he believes. He cites some progress in securing rights for migrants, but notes that the migrants' employers tend to be powerful members of their communities who stifle efforts to protect them.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with William W. Finlator, April 19, 1985. Interview C-0007. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

I don't want to jump around. But I know the plight of the migrant laborers has been one of your concerns for many, many years. Has the situation improved to any appreciable extent?
I would like to think that it has. But then there are moments when I say, you know they're still just about where they were. Some improvements, yes. But it's so spotty, Jay, and the government now—particularly the Federal Government—seems to be backing away from it, leaving them alone again, giving up on them. It's a matter, largely—and I learned this later on—if you're a civil libertarian you have to watch yourself because you tend to see everything from the point of view of the denial of civil liberties. And you tend to say that if civil liberties were really enforced, then all our economic problems would fold their tents like the Arabs and would silently steal away. Yet when you look at the migrants, you'll see that almost every guarantee of the Constitution—of our freedoms—is denied them. They are unprotected by the Constitution. They don't have free speech, they don't have free movement, they don't have free assembly. They don't have equal protection of the law, they don't have due process of the law and they don't go to court because they can't afford a lawyer. They're scared of the law and some of them live in virtual peonage, still. They don't have equal education opportunities, equal protection of health, social security: these things that you and I just take for granted. And I have discovered, that if you're ignorant and poor you don't have any civil rights. And when these civil rights don't come to you, you are doomed to this kind of sad life, and your children after you. And I've discovered unless somebody stands up as an advocate and says, "These people have got to be brought under the protection of the Constitution and the government is criminal in denying them their rights—or not defending their rights … "That's what the Justice Department is for: it's to see that justice is insured. That's what the Constitution says, we have this country to insure justice. But justice is just not insured these people. They enjoy no equal protection under the law.
I know you and your groups supporting the migrants have advocated state legislation. Have you succeeded in sanitation and fields like that to any degree at all?
We have succeeded, but oh so slowly, inch by inch. The main reason of course being that the people who employ the migrants are the people who come to represent their communities in the general assembly and they stand between those migrants and justice.