FOODSERVICE MONTHLY: Just Coffee … Coffee and US Immigration Policy by Becki Young

Fsm 09-09 hi-res The September issue of Foodservice Monthly is in the mail … and as promised every day for the next week, we will feature a column from the magazine beginning with Becki L Young's insightful take on coffee and immigration. Ms. Young has been working in the field of immigration law since 1995. Her practice focuses on employment-based immigration law. Ms. Young has
represented employers in a variety of industries, including investment banking
and securities, information technology, health care, and hospitality, providing
advice on work permits and related immigration issues, and is the co-editor of
Immigration Options for Essential Workers published by the American Immigration
Lawyers Association. To learn more or to schedule a personal consultation, call
202-232-0983 or e-mail 

Just Coffee … Coffee and US Immigration Policy

Can coffee help solve the
United States’ illegal immigration issues? Café Justo (, a
coffee growers’ cooperative based in Chiapas, Mexico, thinks so.

In the 1990s Mexico’s agricultural economy suffered heavily as the North
American Free Trade AgreementBecki Young Photo (NAFTA) allowed cheap American corn to flood
Mexico, undercutting small farmers. At the same time large international coffee
conglomerates cut their prices, driving small growers out of business. Mexicans
began fleeing north into the United States, in search of better economic
opportunities. According to the Migration Policy Institute (,
population from Mexico increased from two million in 1990 to 4.8 million in
2000 and to 5.3 million in 2002.

So how
can coffee help?

In 2003, with a $20,000 micro-loan from Presbyterian border ministry
Frontera de Cristo,
Café Justo was
established. According to its Web site Café Justo is “a grower cooperative
based in Mexico, formed to address one of the root causes of labor migration
from Mexico to the USA.” The company’s mission is to deliver the highest
quality, organic, environmentally conscious fresh roasted coffee to customers
at a price that is fair and just.

Café Justo produces coffee
that is not just “Fair Trade,” but “Fair Trade Plus.”  A February 8, 2007 article in the Tucson Weekly explains the
difference: Regular coffee, which comes through channels dominated by large
coffee companies, may only fetch 40 to 60 cents per pound. Fair Trade coffee
(raw beans) go for $1.25 to $1.50 per pound wholesale. Fair Trade Plus (which
includes roasting, packing, and selling the coffee) nets $5-6 per pound.

COFFEE 04 Because Café Justo earns a
sufficient profit for its Fair Trade Plus coffee, it can pay a fair price to
its growers and a fair wage to its workers, thus significantly reducing the
incentives for economic migration to the United States. In addition to
providing training and jobs to the local population, the company’s operations
have already had a multiplier effect on the resources coming into the

Café Justo has amassed
substantial support from local church and justice groups on the U.S. – Mexican
border, through which it sells much of its product. 

The next strategic step in
the company’s growth is to make the jump to regular retail sales. The coffee
has been featured at the Tucson Culinary Festival, and the company is
working on a marketing
plan to get its coffee into the critical grocery and restaurant markets.

The U.S. retail/ foodservice coffee market represents a huge opportunity
for Café Justo and other Fair Trade/ Fair Trade Plus producers; according to
In 1999 there
were 108,000,000 coffee consumers in the United States spending an approximated
9.2 billion dollars in the retail sector and $8.7 billion dollars in the
foodservice sector every year. It can be inferred, therefore, that coffee
drinkers spend on average $164.71 per year on coffee.

The National Coffee
Association found in 2000 that 54 percent of the adult population of the United
States drinks coffee daily. They also reported that 18.12 percent of the coffee
drinkers in the United States drink gourmet coffee beverages daily. In addition
to the 54 percent who drink coffee everyday, 25 percent of Americans drink
coffee occasionally.
As Café Justo continues to expand its business, it will increase its
ability to address the root problem behind illegal immigration:  economic inequality. 

The U.S. currently spends billions of dollars each year on border
enforcement, with limited success. The human tragedies caused by the current
flow of illegal migration from Mexico to the U.S. are immense – families split,
and migrants dying trying to cross the desert.  

According to a recent (April 16, 2009) article in the
Tucson Weekly:

Just Coffee has taken a small but profound step toward
easing immigration tensions in the United States. "It always seemed
reasonable to use the coffee-cooperative idea to address migration,"
Bassett says. "And, in fact, over 70 people from Salvador Urbina who were
working in the U.S. in a nonofficial status have returned home. The community
has grown—the schools are actually too small now, because the kids don't have
to work in the coffee fields anymore. They can go to class instead. They have
clean water to drink, and they get to stay in their village."

Isn’t it time to take a closer look at the Café Justo model? 

For more information, see; or check out the book Just Coffee: Caffeine With a Conscience. “a moving, colorful and refreshingly optimistic primer
on how to solve the poverty that drives illegal immigration, one village at a

About the Author

Michael Birchenall is Editor and Publisher of Foodservice Monthly, a regional trade publication covering the foodservice industry of the Mid-Atlantic (DE, DC, MD, VA). Foodservice Monthly has been recognized as the Restaurant Association of Maryland's Allied Industry Member of the Year and by the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington as the Joan Hisaoka Associate Member of the Year.

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