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Judge won’t stop virus tests for migrant farm, food workers

Associated Press

Kalamazoo – A federal judge on Friday refused to block a requirement that Michigan’s migrant farm workers get tested for the coronavirus, rejecting claims that it violates the rights of Hispanics.

FILE - Migrant farm workers hunker down in the strawberry patch to hand pick berries at a farm in Lake Leelanau.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of a handful of workers as well as some fruit producers. But farm worker advocates told the judge they’re in favor of the tests. Compliance starts Monday under an order from the state health department.

“The emergency order is facially neutral,” U.S. District Judge Paul Maloney said. “It applies to all owners and operators of migrant housing camps and all agricultural employers, as defined in the emergency order, with over 20 workers on site at a time. … The emergency order does not mention Latinos or any other racial classification.”

The state said the tests are intended to protect vulnerable people who live in close quarters.

“The department welcomes today’s ruling by a federal court rejecting an attempt to undermine this critical program to save lives,” director Robert Gordon said.

There have been virus outbreaks since April at a poultry farm, an asparagus farm, a meatpacking plant and other agricultural sites, according to the state.