Hispanic farmers are in D.C. this week to express their dissatisfaction with a Justice Department proposal that would resolve a discrimination lawsuit they brought against the Department of Agriculture.
In May, the DOJ offered $1.3 billion to settle the lawsuit brought by dozens of Hispanic and female farmers who allege the USDA discriminated against them in the allocation of government loans and other aid. Stephen Hill, the lead lawyer in the Hispanic farmers’ case, Garcia v. Vilsack, said that the DOJ proposal is “woefully inadequate.”
In the 1990s, a group of African-American farmers successfully filed a similar suit against the Agriculture Department, alleging discrimination against them in the awarding of government loans and other assistance. The farmers received more than $1 billion under a 1999 class action settlement with the government — called Pigford after the suit’s lead plaintiff. The plaintiffs could get another $1.15 billion under a deal Congress is expected to vote on sometime this year.
Hill and the Hispanic Farmers have said the government should settle their suit in a manner similar to the way it resolve the Pigford case.
The administration, Hill said, “seems to think that they can single Hispanics out for different and less favorable treatment when it comes to the administration of justice, and we’re not going to abide by it.”
“We have been repeatedly and systematically discriminated against by USDA’s farm loan program,” plaintiff Modesta Salazar said in a statement. “The Secretary may think that things are improving — but they are not. Nothing has changed. The situation is as bad as ever and our Hispanic farmers are suffering because of this administration’s policies.”
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in May that the Barack Obama administration is committed to the fair and equal treatment of Hispanic and female farmers.
“We have made significant progress on addressing USDA’s civil rights record and look forward to providing substantial relief to Hispanic and women farmers in an expedited manner,” Vilsack said in a statement to Main Justice.