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Appeals court denies request to suspend farm worker testing order

US Department of Agriculture

A federal appeals court in Ohio has denied a request from some Michigan farms to suspend testing requirements for Michigan workers while it makes a decision about the related lawsuit.

The request came from farms that are plaintiffs in that suit, filed against the state in early August in response to a mandatory testing order from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. 


The plaintiffs allege those testing rules violate the civil rights of Latinos, who make up the majority of U.S. farm workers. 


Susan Reed, managing attorney at the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center, called that assertion “absurd.” 


“Racial health disparities are a serious problem,” she said. “And this litigation is unserious in its attempt to turn civil rights law upside down.” 


The state health department says there are 23 ongoing outbreaks at agricultural facilities, five more than last week.


The testing order, which also applies to food processing facilities and migrant labor camps, says farms with more than 20 workers on site at a time must provide free COVID-19 testing. 


Reed says that on some farms, discussion over the order and lawsuit has been confusing for the workers. 


“We’re receiving a lot of calls and inquiries from clients who are being told by their employers that only Latinos are being tested and, quote, Americans do not have to be tested,” she said. "That's ridiculous.” 


The order applies to all workers, regardless of ethnicity. It does not contain the word “Latino.”


The Wednesday action from the federal appeals court was to deny the plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction, which would have disabled the testing order while the court came to a decision about the appeal. 


That appeal is of a decision made by a federal district court — in Kalamazoo, where the case was initially received — to deny an earlier request for injunction, made there. 


So, these recent developments concern only the request for an injunction, not the underlying case. The underlying case — the lawsuit filed by farmers against the state — is still in the federal district court in Kalamazoo. 


But Wednesday’s ruling does show more federal judges agreeing (the motion was denied in a 3-0 vote) that the plaintiffs “did not establish that the [testing order] had a discriminatory purpose."


The Michigan Immigrant Rights Center says it’s hard to tell when U.S. District Judge Paul Maloney, in Kalamazoo, will rule on the underlying case. 

Will Callan, a reporter for Michigan Radio, hails from the Bay Area, where he lived in Oakland and San Francisco and reported for local newspapers and magazines. He enjoys a long swim in chilly water (preferably followed by a sauna) and getting to know new cities. That's one reason he's excited to be in Ann Arbor, which he can already tell has just the right combo of urban grit and natural beauty to make him feel at home.
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