First-ever Joint Legal Aid Complaint Submitted to UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights

Complaint argues that denying social service providers access to migrant farmworker labor camps is a violation of human rights law


Lauren Bartlett, Local Lawyering Project Director, American University Washington College of Law, 202-895-4556
Reena Shah, Human Rights Project Director, Maryland Legal Aid Bureau, Inc., 410-951-7654

WASHINGTON, Dec. 13, 2012
—A coalition of 28 non-profit legal and social services organizations submitted a complaint today to the U.N. arguing that the practice of denying farmworkers the right to have visitors and social services providers the right to meaningful access to migrant farmworker labor camps is a violation of human rights law.

Maryland Legal Aid, with technical assistance provided by Center for Human Rights & Humanitarian Law at American University Washington College of Law, spearheaded the complaint submitted to Magdalena Sepúlveda Carmona, U.N. Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, by legal services, healthcare, workers’ rights, anti-trafficking organizations, and other community service programs that serve migrant farmworkers, representing all 50 states.

“This is the first time in history that these types of organizations have  joined together to submit a complaint  to a U.N. Special Procedure,” said Lauren E. Bartlett, director, Local Human Rights Lawyering Project at the Center for Human Rights & Humanitarian Law at American University Washington College of Law. “The legal aid and other organizations are making history by taking such a strong stance on expanding the rights of migrant farmworkers across the United States.” 

Migrant farmworkers often live on the rural farms and ranches where they work. “They are completely cut off from the rest of society,” said Reena Shah, Human Rights project director at Maryland Legal Aid, one of the organizations that signed the complaint. “They cannot get legal help or go see a doctor when they need to – even if they suffer from HIV/AIDS or pesticide poisoning or fall prey to domestic violence or even child abuse.” 

 “Farmers and ranchers regularly harass outreach workers and even threaten violence if they attempt to talk to migrant farmworkers,” said Nathaniel Norton, supervising attorney, Maryland Legal Aid’s Farmworker Program. “Without the right to receive visitors and access justice, the ongoing human rights violations will continue to go unaddressed and will likely be exacerbated.” 

The U.N. Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights is expected to review the complaint and communicate with the U.S. government towards a solution to the issue of migrant camp access and the right of farmworkers to receive visitors.  The joint legal aid complaint argues that a coordinated federal solution is necessary, given the widespread problem and the inconsistency in state-based policies.

The signatories to the complaint include:


The American University Washington College of Law Center for Human Rights & Humanitarian Law Program in the U.S. works to implement human rights norms on a national, state and local level in the United States. Its Local Human Rights Lawyering Project works with legal aid attorneys to integrate human rights in their daily work. The Center for Human Rights & Humanitarian Law was established in 1990 to provide scholarship and support for human rights initiatives in the U.S. and around the world. The Center works with students, academics and practitioners to enhance the understanding and implementation of human rights and humanitarian law domestically, regionally and internationally. The Center explores emerging intersections in the law and seeks to create new tools and strategies for the creative advancement of international norms.

In 1896, American University Washington College of Law became the first law school in the country founded by women. More than 100 years since its founding, this law school community is grounded in the values of equality, diversity, and intellectual rigor. The law school's nationally and internationally recognized programs (in clinical legal education, trial advocacy, international law, and intellectual property to name a few) and dedicated faculty provide its 1700 JD, LL.M., and SJD students with the critical skills and values to have an immediate impact as students and as graduates, in Washington, DC and around the world. For more information, visit

Maryland Legal Aid Bureau, Inc. (MDLAB) is a private, non-profit, multi-funded law firm providing free legal services to low-income people, children and the elderly since 1911. MDLAB’s mission is to provide high-quality legal services to Maryland’s poor through a mix of services and to bring about the changes poor people want in the systems that affect them.  In 2010, MDLAB was the first legal services organization to adopt a human rights framework to guide its mission of finding legal remedies for the problems that afflict the poor—and to advance the recognition and protection of basic human rights.  MDLAB serves Baltimore City and Maryland's 23 counties from 13 office locations. MDLAB’s clients are provided necessary legal assistance to gain protection from domestic violence, retain custody of children, fight unlawful evictions, prevent foreclosures on homes, secure educational services, and obtain needed medical and disability benefits, unemployment insurance, and other forms of temporary financial assistance. Special statewide programs provide representation and assistance for children who are victims of abuse and neglect, the elderly, nursing home and assisted living residents, migrant and seasonal farm workers, tenants working to preserve affordable housing, and home owners facing foreclosure due to predatory lending.   For more information, visit