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NYT Column Reveals Real Economic Effects of the Failure to Find Real Solutions to Immigration Issue

by Mahwish Khan on 10/24/2011 at 11:43am

farmworkersAs the Republican presidential candidates continue to bash immigrants at every opportunity, crops are rotting in the fields across the country. That’s especially true in states that have passed harsh anti-immigrant laws, like Alabama and Georgia.

Timothy Egan at The New York Times provides some perspective in a column titled “Migrants from Sanity.”

With 14 million Americans out of work, you would think somebody could answer the desperation call from farmers offering to pay $150 to anyone willing to pick fruit in the orchards of Washington State. But no, the apples hang at peak ripeness, a near-record crop, and the jobs go begging, despite radio ads and an appeal by Governor Christine Gregoire to the other Washington for help.

One thing the United States still does better than most countries is grow food. But one thing it now does worse than others is govern to solve problems. And so, the apples rot, businesses are crippled, and dreams of fresh life in a new country are dashed. This dystopian status quo exists because the simple-minded who control one of the major political parties have shut down all adult talk on the subject of immigration.

Roll the tape from Tuesday’s Republican presidential debate, and there you see a front-runner, Mitt Romney, who spoke the Michael Kinsley definition of a gaffe – telling the truth by accident. It came after he was needled about the Latino man without proper papers who used to labor on the 2.5 acre lawn of the Romney estate.

“I’m running for office, for Pete’s sake,” Romney recalled telling the lawn service, in words that will be replayed over and over. “I can’t have illegals.”

Romney was part of the shadow economy that keeps grass clipped, apples picked and chickens plucked in every part of this country. If he’d said, “Who else is going to cut my lawn?” at least he’d have started an honest debate.

Egan’s conclusion sums up the problem, identifies a partial solution, but acknowledges the political reality:

The problem, through good times and bad, is that there are millions of jobs that Americans will not do. The solution, some combination of path to citizenship with guest worker programs, should be within the grasp of the better political minds.

But tepid Democrats are afraid of doing anything. And some Republicans want a death fence, and will go after anyone who has an illegal on his lawn. It’s the great disconnect — yet another reason why so many Americans have a higher regard for a single-celled protozoan than a politician working the stump.

With today being national Food Day, the United Food Workers sent out an email about how farmworkers’ sacrifices are too often ignored. They make a very good point:

In California, farm workers have literally been paying with their lives when their employers fail to provide shade and drinking water during extreme temperatures. Nationally, farm workers die in workplace incidents five times more often than non-agricultural workers. Agriculture for most farm workers is hardly a sustainable profession.

Yet it should be, as we depend upon farm workers to put the wine, milk, fruits, vegetables and other products on our tables every day.

Amidst the Republican bashing and the immigrant hating, remember: it’s because of food-workers that you don’t have to pay $5 for a tomato. If you have a minute, thank them for their hard work.

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