Will Threat Of Rotten Produce
Be Enough To Solve Immigration Issue?
Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, December 4, 2007
The Washington Post ran an editorial entitled, Rot in the Fields, that pretty much reads as if it were written by a coalition of produce grower groups:
ROT IN THE FIELDS
As farmworkers become scarcer, Congress dithers.
CHECK OUT the asparagus you have for dinner, the cucumber in your salad and the pear on your plate for dessert. Chances are none would be there if not for the undocumented farmworkers who plant and pick most of the fruit and vegetables grown in this country. Nonetheless, faced with a serious and growing shortage of legal agricultural labor, Congress has followed the same playbook it has used for the broader issue of illegal immigration: political cowardice and empty slogans followed by inaction.
At least half, and possibly as many as 70 percent, of the 1.6 million farmworkers in America are undocumented immigrants, and their employers are painfully aware that there are not enough U.S.-born citizens and legal immigrants to do all the labor-intensive work they require. Agribusiness, farmworkers unions and enlightened lawmakers from both parties have pleaded for solutions, only to be foiled by congressional Republicans and swing-state Democrats who dare not support legislation that would provide undocumented farmworkers with a path to legalization — the dread “amnesty” of 30-second attack ads.
By doing nothing to ensure a steady, reliable and sufficient labor force for farms, it’s a good bet that Congress will make things worse, and soon. Faced with understandable public pressure to tighten border security, federal authorities have added personnel, technology and fencing to make it increasingly difficult for people to enter America illegally. Reports in the past year of vegetables and fruit rotting in fields and orchards for lack of hands to harvest them have failed to give Congress sufficient impetus to act. Look for the labor shortages, and instances of rotting produce, to grow more acute next year.
As Congress dithers, fair and balanced legislation to deal with the problem languishes. The so-called AgJobs bill would allow some 800,000 undocumented workers — qualified farmhands who have been working here for several seasons — to register, pay fines and legalize their immigration status by working in agriculture three to five more years before they could qualify for green cards. At the same time, it would provide a more sensible way to ensure an adequate supply of farm labor by streamlining the current H-2A visa program for agricultural guest workers, which is so cumbersome and unreliable that farmers use it for only an estimated 2 percent of all farmworkers.
Having failed to pass comprehensive immigrations reform this year, Congress has tried to deal with the problem piecemeal. The AgJobs piece is among the most critical. The realistic alternative to it is not arrest and deportation, as anti-immigration activists may imagine. It is the prospect of undocumented workers leaving the farms for higher-paying, year-round jobs in the cities; of a country increasingly unable to meet its own demand for food; and of hundreds of thousands of workers in a vital industry doing backbreaking work without basic employment protections. That amounts to a moral blight on America and an indictment of a political system incapable of fixing fundamental problems.
Getting a piece such as this in such a prominent venue and with the endorsement of the Washington Post is a big win for the industry.
Unfortunately the Washington Post editorial page is unlikely to turn those “congressional Republicans and swing-state Democrats” that blocked comprehensive immigration reform earlier this year.
The key point is probably this one:
The so-called AgJobs bill would allow some 800,000 undocumented workers — qualified farmhands who have been working here for several seasons — to register, pay fines and legalize their immigration status by working in agriculture three to five more years before they could qualify for green cards.
To those who focus on the law, this will seem unfair to the countless millions that lined up patiently waiting their turn at US embassies.
To those who fear what immigrants may do to our political institutions, this provides a path for 800,000 voters that they don’t want.
To those who respect the immigrants, the question is why should anyone be compelled by law to work in agriculture — and only agriculture — to get a particular benefit? They will be concerned about the power this will give to ag employees.
To those who want to limit future illegal immigration, this seems to hold out the possibility that if you come here illegally, maybe one day a path to a legal status will be created for you. This seems a likely incentive to future illegal immigration.
Everyone knows that we are not going to deport over ten million people, but the Constitution does solve the problem over time. Anyone born in the U.S. is a citizen, even if the child’s parents are illegal, so if we can restrict new illegal immigration, in the end, everyone will be legal.
The threat of rotten produce may be real in certain places at certain times but is probably not a sufficient threat to get people or their representatives to view immigration through the lens of the produce trade.