Naturally, some readers took offense. You can't write about anything remotely political in this country without people taking offense. Commenters also made assumptions about my personal beliefs on immigration that aren't true, but some people aren't good readers.
I have always been very pro-immigration. I am not, however, a supporter of illegal immigration. I have been a legal immigrant myself in other countries. My wife is a legal immigrant here. For years it has bothered me that large news organizations in this country don't pay attention to the concerns of legal immigrants while writing sob stories about illegal immigrants who "made one mistake." I have pestered newspaper immigration reporters to pay more attention to legal immigration, and been ignored. There's a huge backup right now on processing green-card applications, and legal immigrants are worried, but nobody's writing about it.
The way the messed-up immigration system in this country works right now, it's impossible for farmers to keep feeding the nation without labor from illegal immigrants.
It's simple. We don't have enough citizens who want to do farm labor, which is physically difficult, doesn't pay much and most importantly, holds few chances for advancement.
We don't have enough American-born citizens to harvest fruits and vegetables despite the crisis of opportunity for people in rural areas. That's because most citizens don't want to live on the move. To work as a harvester, you have to keep going where the fruit is ripe. American citizens haven't been willing to do that since the 1930s, the days of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl. While it is possible that our new EPA director will help bring back those circumstances, it's going to take a while.
Legal immigrants will do the work. Of course they will. We could, and should, staff this nation's farms entirely with legal workers. We could, and should, replace all our nation's illegal immigrant workers with legal workers. But ...
The key word is "replace." Right now ICE is running an illegal immigrant roundup, which in a vacuum would not be a problem. What is a problem is that there is absolutely no movement toward a solution to replace the labor illegal immigrants provide.
What we need to have 100% legal farm labor in this country is a farmworker visa that's easy to apply for, easy to receive, and cheap. When you look for seasonal farm labor, you're not looking for people who are highly educated or well versed in the law, or who have the money and time to go through difficult application processes. You're looking for people desperate enough to live apart from their families and perform backbreaking work for low pay with only the slightest chance of advancement. They must be able to move quickly and generally they live paycheck-to-paycheck. Our work visa program is not designed for these workers.
It could be. But the only major U.S. politician this century to understand that was George W. Bush, who was ignored by his own party on the issue.
As a very general rule, Democrats want to welcome everyone, visa or not. I might get more flak from Democrats for this post than Republicans. Most Republicans want to keep most people out; the exceptions are highly trained workers or wealthy investors. These are good classes of immigrants to welcome. But they're not going to harvest fruit.
I would like to not be soft on illegal immigration. So many newspaper stories are about illegal immigrants who committed a robbery 20 years ago but are now a pillar of their community. I have no sympathy and wonder why they weren't deported 20 years ago. Liberal newspaper editors are not helping the public perception of immigration with these stories.
To be fair, most illegal immigrants keeping their heads down and working on farms didn't want to talk to reporters before, and are even less likely to do so now. We talk to the families of the ones who get caught. The men who helped put the salad on your table are ghosts in our machine. But we need them, because we don't have enough citizens willing to do the work.
We are a free-market country, and they are the free market at work.
There is a farm-labor shortage in this country. Government could provide a solution with something like the bracero program of the 1940s and '50s. In fact, we don't have to rely on Mexican farm labor. With an organized system of farmworker visas, we could bring in workers from any country where $12.50 an hour (the national average for farm labor) looks like a lot of money for backbreaking work. There are plenty of such countries and we could pick and choose. But our government is not even talking about such a program and shows no inclination to do so.
So the free market takes over. The economic rewards for picking vegetables in the U.S. aren't enticing enough to get former factory workers from North Carolina or Michigan to do it, but they are enough to get men from central Mexico to leave their families behind and take a risky journey north of the border.
The ones who have children and raise families here, what is their goal? For their children to have better lives and NOT be entry-level farm laborers. Maybe the second generation is content to be a tractor driver or foreman, but the dream is for the second and third generation to be business owners. The American Dream. That's why they bring their families.
And that's why we need a constant replenishment of low-level labor. We have mechanized many farm processes and will mechanize more, but we will not see an end to the need for farmworker labor in your lifetime. Unless we create another Dust Bowl and Great Depression, that means fresh immigrant labor.
By the way, a side note here: President Trump is not really behind the current round of deportations, which started under Obama. But Trump has unleashed a national anti-immigrant attitude that has emboldened Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Now you read about things like Italian musicians being arrested and deported; Trump was undoubtedly not consulted. This is ICE unbound, and it's scary.
The climate of fear and distrust of all immigrants is going to give even poor central Mexican residents pause about coming here. Moreover, ICE could easily stage roundups in farm country at harvest time; I'm sure they're talking about it. If you think that would be a good thing, wait until this autumn when you shop for domestically grown fruit.
This is not really about wine. Wineries pay a little better than most farms and for the bottom of their totem pole they can get laborers who are less economically desperate: first-generation legal immigrants, second-generation legal immigrants who didn't go to college.
This is about broccoli and carrots and oranges and nectarines. If you like eating those, under our current system, you need illegal immigrants to work the fields. This is not a compassionate position, because legal immigrants would have greater legal protections and would therefore receive greater job benefits. Turning a blind eye to illegal immigrants working on farms is not at all compassionate. But it is, in the United States in 2017, pragmatic.
If you are from a Red State and are not anti-immigrant, this would be a good time to contact your Congressional representatives and let them know.