16/07/10 a 8:01am por Maribel Hastings
By Maribel Hastings —
What does Arizona law SB 1070 have to do with the lettuce crop in Yuma? At first glance, not a lot. But when the harvest season for lettuce and other vegetables comes around in November, that could change.
If SB 1070 is implemented, many farmworkers without legal immigration status—or with it—could decide not to go to Arizona out of fear, causing growers to face a shortage of field hands. This, in turn, would affect the amount of vegetables that can be harvested, and ultimately their prices to consumers.
“This could have a tremendous impact on all the fruits and vegetables that are normally harvested in Arizona from November through February. This is the area and season where more vegetables are grown than anywhere else in the United States. It’s important that we have enough workers to do the work,” United Farm Workers (UFW) president Arturo Rodríguez told America’s Voice.
Last week, Rodríguez appeared on the satirical news program The Colbert Report to promote the “Take Our Jobs” campaign, which challenges anyone who thinks undocumented immigrant farmworkers are taking jobs from Americans to sign up to work the fields themselves. The campaign promotes the AgJOBS bill to legalize farmworkers.
More than 60% of the 2.5 million agricultural workers in the United States are undocumented.
“Five thousand people have shown interest in getting information, but only three are currently working in the fields. The rest, once they found out about the working conditions, decided not to do it,” Rodriguez said.
“One man sent us an email saying: ‘I want a guarantee that I will be paid $1200 a week.’ That’s impossible. No one makes that much working in the fields,” he added.
Senator John McCain (R-AZ) sparked a controversy a few years ago when he said that he would pay $50 an hour to anyone who went to pick lettuce in Yuma, explaining, “I don’t need to tell you that these are jobs that Americans don’t want to do.”
What a change the years make. McCain, who once backed comprehensive immigration reform, now defends SB 1070 and joined his colleague Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ) in attacking the lawsuit the federal government has filed against Arizona.
McCain and Kyl claim that Arizona is taking up the issue because the federal government has not taken action—but they fail to mention that both of them are part of the aforementioned inactive federal government.
Their politicking and pandering doesn’t change the fact that growers need hands in the fields, and may not be able to find them.
Rodríguez says that a constant labor supply is needed to guarantee that the food supply remains constant, and that consumers aren’t stuck with high prices. Consider, too, that farmworkers—documented or otherwise—have one of the most difficult, worst-paying and least-protected jobs in the country.
Complicating the picture further, the New York Times reported recently that the Obama Administration is using Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) audits to conduct “silent raids.” Employees with discrepancies between their names and Social Security numbers are fired.
The Times cites the case of Gebber Farms in Washington State, which laid off more than 500 employees in December. “After the firings, Gebbers Farms advertised hundreds of jobs for orchard workers. But there were few takers in the state,” the Times wrote.
Gebbers solicited 1,200 seasonal farmworkers, some of them from Jamaica, through the H2A visa program—a program many employers have criticized as being slow, complicated and filled with bureaucratic red tape.
Without comprehensive immigration reform or AgJOBS, and with SB 1070, ‘silent raids,’ a dysfunctional H2A program and politics as usual, this vicious cycle will continue to entrap us, without solutions.
After his primary campaign and the November elections—if he is reelected—what will McCain say about the lettuce crop in Yuma?
Maribel Hastings is a Senior Adviser and Analyst at America’s Voice