“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good (wo)men to do nothing.”
The current state of our immigration policy is something I have tried to publicly ignore but like my Planned Parenthood post I feel the discussion has reached critical mass and I can’t sit idle. The discourse seems to be driven by fear and misinformation and an astonishing lack of logic and facts. My attempt here will be based on my first hand experiences and I ask that anyone with a conflicting point of view to read on with an open mind.
I respect that others have different views and experiences but this is mine, that of a woman who grew up in a place dependent on immigrants. I hope to present the argument that you too are dependent or at least the daily beneficiary of these people and that they do not represent a threat to you and yours.
First and foremost, I was born in a place where “immigrants” both legal and illegal make up a huge part of the population and economy. I have put immigrants in quotes because I am from Saint Cross County, just over the hill from Saint Joseph and south of Saint Francisco.
I was born and raised in Santa Cruz County just over the hill from San Jose (now more commonly referred to as the Silicon Valley) and south of San Francisco. These were not places settled by Caucasians who thought it would be a good idea to call them fun names in a different language. They were founded, settled and inhabited by the Spanish Mexicans until the Mexican province of Alta California was taken in the Mexican American war in 1848. California was accepted into the Union in 1850. During this transition it was not as if all the people who lived there were driven back over the border, my county has always contained a large Mexican population. In fact it is the Caucasian that is the most recent immigrant to my home place.
If you believe that my homeland has no impact on your life, I invite you to first go and look at your refrigerator. If there is not a single thing in your crisper that says “grown in: Santa Cruz, Watsonville, Soledad, Salinas Castroville, Chualar, Gonzales, Greenfield, King City or Monterey county” Then fine- but seeing as California is objectively the greatest producer of produce in our nation and all of that industry is dependent on immigrant or migrant workers I think ‘these people’ are more involved in your life and food than you think.
Their story is one of struggle, hard work and determination. Almost without exception they are paid well below minimum wage. In my county minimum wage is $11/hr since housing in the area is some of the most expensive in the country. As such, many of these workers live in migrant camps with no running water in makeshift structures.
Here are some basic stats from the NCFH (National Center for Farmworker Health) from 2012:
It is estimated that there are over 2.5-3 million agricultural workers in the United States. These agricultural workers travel throughout the U.S. serving as the backbone for a multi-billion dollar agricultural industry.
The majority (72%) of all farmworkers were foreign born.
– 68 percent of all farmworkers were born in Mexico
– 3 percent of farmworkers were born in Central American countries
– 1 percent of farmworkers was born elsewhere
– Twenty-nine percent (29%) of foreign-born farmworkers have spent 20 or more years in the United States, 26 percent have been in the U.S. for 10 to 19 years, 19% have been in the U.S. for 5 to 9 years, and 26% have been here for 4 or less years.
– Fifty two percent (52%) of all agricultural workers were parents.
– Forty-two percent (42%) of farmworkers surveyed were migrants, having traveled at least 75 miles within the previous year to obtain a farm job.
– 35 percent of migrants traveled back-and-forth from a foreign country, primarily Mexico – 26 percent traveled only within the United States, of whom:
– 14 percent traveled to multiple farm locations inside the United States
– 13 percent traveled 75 miles or more to one location inside the U.S.
– Farmworkers surveyed had an average of 13 years in U.S. farm experience. Thirty-two percent (32%) of farmworkers had 4 or less years of farm work experience, 26% of farmworkers had 20 years or more of farm work experience, 24% had 10 to 19 years of farm work experience, and 18% had 5 to 9 years of farm work experience.
–Eighty-two (82%) percent of foreign-born farmworkers obtained a job the same year that they came to the United States.
– Eighty-eight percent (88%) of agricultural workers said they were hired directly, while 12 percent said they were labor contracted.
– Farmworkers had been employed with their current farm employer for an average of four and a half years.
There is no way to mechanize the picking of delicate fruits and vegetables and there won’t be in the near future. These are things that must be done by hand. The laborers are exposed to pesticides and chemicals that are damaging to human systems. It is easy to think of these populations as ‘unskilled’ but they possess knowledge and abilities that have disappeared from the American workforce decades ago. The ability to harvest and sell produce at the prices we currently enjoy buying them at- is totally dependent on a system that doesn’t pay much or provide after care for the resulting exposure to the chemicals and situations inherent in this process.
I have written before about being a patent at Planned Parenthood. Planned Parenthood is one of the few places available to these populations for them to receive treatment from the repercussions of farmwork. Amongst all the bilingual posters and notices on the walls, there was one that was only posted in Spanish. It was a small 8.5 x11 print out with big implications. It said:
“Diga a su doctor si trabaja en los campos.”
“Tell your doctor if you work in the fields.”
It is not just the agricultual community that is heavily impacted by immigrants. I have been working in and managing professional kitchens all my adult life. Immigrants are the life blood of these operations. I promise. The days of working “under the table” for cash are long gone and most operations use payroll services where taxes are automatically taken out of every pay check. Many of these funds that will not be reclaimed. Estimations are hard to come by but “it said that unauthorized immigrant workers and their employers contributed $13 billion in payroll taxes.”
I am not saying that system we have is perfect, right or good only that to represent this population as a danger and drain on our society is factually false. I have only sited the industries I have first hand experience of but it is a proven fact that immigrants preform the jobs that citizens will not, usual due to the low wages these jobs pay. We benefit from a systems that is dependent on underpaying its labor force. “The majority of illegal workers hold service, construction and manufacturing jobs.” The prices we pay for these services are dependent on the labor force being underpaid. If you think that a trip to the grocery store is expensive now imagine how much it would cost if the people picking, manufacturing and packaging your food were being paid a living wage. You simply cannot separate the two, or you can in theory but not in reality.
That brings me to the perceived danger these populations represent to the nation. There have been so many acts of violance on our soil over past years and MOST have been carried out by middle aged white guys with guns and bombs.
Of course, there is a criminal element in every population but to define all immigrants as such is inaccurate. Think about it, why come all that way to commit crime? When you can stay where you are and have a much higher chance of getting away with it. Most of the people who come here do so with no ill intent unless you consider working to feed others as devious.
I can promise you that (according to a recent study) the chances of being killed in an illegal immigrant terrorist attack is 1 in 138,324,873. The chances that the food you eat EVERYDAY was picked by immigrants or prepared by them is 100%. We owe these people our gratitude for believing in America so much that they left everything behind to come here and contribute.
We must ask ourselves in all of our conclusions, are we being driven by fear or love? I wrote this post out of love for a population that I worked with, side by side, for most of my life. There is a lot of work to be done to our immigration policies. Programs must be revised and better tracking and managment would benifit everyone. The answer is not a wall, keeping out people who are trying to come work.
I have not even mentioned refugees; who are fleeing hell, looking for a safe haven only to be greeted with cries of “terrorist.” I can only stomach so much in one day. Kindness and truth are under attack in our nation fueled by lies and fear. That is the state of our union at this point and I can’t go back to talking of farm animals and craft projects without mention of this threat to the land that I love and a nation that has given me everything I am. To do so felt like disrespect of the highest order.
I want nothing more than to write of pretty frivolities but each time I sat to write about such things while the nation’s discourse on other matters spiraled further and further from truth I got sicker and sicker. Now that I find myself bringing a new life into this world; I cannot sit quietly and pretend that all is well- while we spit on those who pick, prepare and package the very food that fills our bellies. I cannot let the word “immigrant” to become synonymous with “terrorist, criminal or rapist”
That would not be right.
There is much to fear about the world today, we must make sure that it is balanced by facts, truth, sciences, logic, informed discussion and compassion. We are falling further and further behind other world powers, we are being made weak by policies that are fear driven. Our loss will be their gain. Sending educated, tax paying contributors back to where they were born will not make us stronger. It is a fool’s errand. The fader of prejudice agendas not based on reality.
We must make our decisions on historical fact, provable data and the ideals that founded this nation or we will become something different from what we have been, a nation of immigrants. A country that proudly proclaimed-
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”
Where is that country that I love so much? It has to be under all this fear, someplace.