Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Who Needs Immigrants? Apparently Some Republicans

The continuing saga of immigration as a Republican wedge issue has claimed another victim and this one is not an undocumented immigrant. As we reported yesterday, the Repubs are targeting a group of freshmen Democratic representatives with the issue of immigration. With ICE actively promoting local enforcement, farmers are finding it hard to find workers for their fields. As reported in today’s New York Times:

“Over the last couple of growing seasons, farmers have been feeling a tremendous amount of stress over the way this issue has been playing out,” said Gary Swann, governmental relations director for the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau. “And if people think all we have to do is raise wages and hire local workers, they are simply mistaken.”

(Immigration Issues End a Pennsylvania Grower’s Season, By Paul Vitello, The New York Times, April 2, 2008).

“And if people think all we have to do is raise wages and hire local workers, they are simply mistaken.”

Accordingly, Keith Eckel, stalwart Republican and owner of a large tomato farm is foregoing planting this year.

For 35 years, Keith Eckel, 61, one of the largest tomato growers in the Northeast, had the workers and the timing down to a T: seven weeks, 120 men, 125 trailer loads of tomatoes picked, packed and shipped.

This year, however, the new politics of immigration — very much on the mind of many of Pennsylvania’s voters, even if overlooked by the presidential candidates campaigning in this state and around the nation — has put him out of business.

State, local and federal crackdowns on illegal immigration have broken his supply chain of laborers. Most of those were Hispanic men who had come every year for decades, and whose immigration status Mr. Eckel recorded with the documents they provided to him. He kept them all in the file cabinets at his neat farm office — the Migrant Seasonal Farm Worker Protection Act forms, the Labor Department’s I-9 forms, the H-2A agricultural visa privilege forms — though he knew that, for the most part, it was a charade.

“It’s a ludicrous system,” he said the other day, sitting behind his desk in a light brown windbreaker that matched the fallow hillside beyond his office window here, 10 miles north of Scranton. “If the national statistics are correct, 70 percent of the documents in those cabinets are fraudulent.”

For years Mr. Eckel went along. “But in the current political climate,” he said, “I just can’t take the risk of planting two million tomato plants and watching them rot in the field.”

A ludicrous system indeed, but one which encouraged generations of immigrants to come and work in the United States. It should come as no surprise that of the million or so migrant farm workers who work the fields every year, some choose to stay. To nativists it is perfectly acceptable to exploit these workers and then kick them in the teeth. The reality of immigration is far more complex than Lou Dobbs and other nativists would have us believe. A reasonable immigration policy would recognize that having invited generations of immigrants to come and work in the United States we cannot pretend that the consequences were unforeseen. It is only reasonable to treat people that we encouraged to come to this country in a humane manner.

No comments: