Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Immigration: We need farmworkers, not felons

Americans won't do this for a living, which is why we need Mexican immigrants
In a move that will probably irritate everybody, President Obama has decided to enter America's immigration debate. I'm delighted, because the shouting has almost no intelligent voices on any side. I was reminded of that again recently by this story about how the California Democratic Party doesn't want arrestees' immigration status checked.

Let me state up front that I am extremely pro-legal immigration; I think we should grant maybe 10 times as many visas as we do. It's important to the wine industry because we wouldn't have California wine as we know it without Mexican farmworkers.

What I'd like to see the California Democratic Party arguing for is a farmworker visa. It could be temporary and seasonal, allowing experienced agricultural workers to cross the border to work harvests, and then go home to spend the winter. If there were no national borders, that's how farmworkers would operate; it's a natural cycle.

Instead, here is my party arguing that suspected burglars and rapists, etc., shouldn't have their immigration status checked. Why? Because we want to keep these people? Seriously? We produce so many burglars and rapists of our own. Shouldn't we protect their jobs by sending home the competition?

I have to make jokes like that because our immigration debate drives me nuts. On one side you have the Republican party, in thrall to its most conservative members, essentially arguing against immigration in all its forms. I believe the last major Republican figure to speak out in favor of immigration in any way was George W. Bush, who believed in temporary visas. This was Bush's most nuanced position of his whole Presidency, but he had to back off to placate his base.

And on the Democratic side, you have leftists like those cited in the AP story, who make arguments like Tom Ammiano's spokesman, who said, "It clearly is not the worst of the worst (being caught)."  I guess that means we shouldn't deport any burglars or rapists while there are still murderers on the loose.

It's aggravating on several levels. The California Democratic Party is wayyyy out of line with national opinion on this, so much so that they're giving great talking points to the other side. The right-wing bar-the-door philosophy sounds less loony than "let's keep the felons."

Because they're so far out of line, California Democrats have no chance of affecting national policy. Hurray, as a state we can opt out of this national program, so we can keep OUR illegal alien felons, while other states deport theirs. Whoopee! But we can't expect a single Republican to reach across the aisle to cooperate on legislation when Democrats have staked out a position like this.

And because of that, we can't expect to get any cooperation on legal visas for migrant farmworkers. THAT should be the California Democratic Party's main focus on immigration policy. Not just wine grapes -- many fresh fruits and vegetables wouldn't get to us without immigrant farmworkers to harvest them.

We could also argue for more specialist visas for high-tech industry; Silicon Valley companies could use the skilled workers. This issue is more complex than the farmworker visa, because H-1B visas might be putting some Americans out of work, whereas there just aren't American citizens willing to pick fruit anymore. But that said, H-1B visa recipients are educated, have important skills and are the type of new Americans we need. I'd like to see at least 10 times as many of these granted, along with a clear path to citizenship for those who want it.

I'd also like to see sushi chefs, winemakers and other culinary artisans recognized as skilled workers for visa purposes. You can't lump all cooks together in one pot (that would spoil the broth.)

Why we need more felons, I don't understand. I guess I'm just not a good California Democrat.

Addendum: For some reason, Google deleted a bunch of comments at the end of this post. I was abroad (with a legal visa) when it happened, and I'm not sure why it happened. Nonetheless, if your comment was deleted, I'm sorry.


Passport Application said...

If you get felons rather than workers then blame the manpower agency that hires these type of people.

Anonymous said...

Well, this is just about the most reasonable thing I've read on on the subject of immigration and politics in a long time!!

Tom Wark

Anonymous said...

You may get your most comments ever by wading into this one... for the record, while you rightly take a very sensible position on this issue, you totally mis-state the Republican party's position. As you stated, former President Bush basically took the same approach you advocate - no illegals, but an increase in temporary worker visas. He received pushback from his own party because his proposal included amnesty for workers currently in the country illegally.

It was also opposed by Democrats, who did not like the provisions to strengthen border security, at a time when the Democratic governors of AZ and NM had declared states of emergency because of mounting border violence.

Texas Grape Man said...

We, in Texas, believe in legal means of being here, but the illegal number of immigrants is killing us from the economic (schools, healthcare) and criminal justice standpoint. We are about to pass a voter I.D. act, and we should pass an act which allows citizen status check if a person is arrested for a crime.
I have known many Mexicans, and most of them are very hard-working and great models of character. In fact, they embody what made this country great in the beginning - work ethic, community, and faith.
Open the doors (through more temporary visas) for these, as they will benefit from being here, and the USA will benefit from them being here!
Application for citizenship should be a demanding, but doable, path for the non-criminals. Get off the politics, and do the reasonable things to keep the felons out.

Anonymous said...

@ Texas grape man: amen amen amen!! I agree.

Remember, until we get our own healthcare and educational systems figured out, the growing immigrant population will continue to strain them and cost legal citizens an inordinate amount in taxes and "borrows" from other systems such as emergency services. I'm 100% for documented workers - seasonal or perennial - but we Aa a country have some serious details to work out.

Anonymous said...

Regarding the H-1B visa.

What if we did not have anyone wanting to come to the US?

What if everyone wanted to go to Asia because that is where the opportunities are?

What if the next Google and Apple companies are founded overseas?

The times they a are a changin'.

Patrick said...

People who say that illegal immigrants are a drain on our health & education systems need to remember this: All illegal workers pay into unemployment insurance and social security, and they will never see this money. So the picture does have some balance.

Anonymous said...

@ Patrick: "All illegal workers pay into unemployment insurance and social security, and they will never see this money."

Most of us legal citizens will never see the social security money we pay in either, but in addition, we pay other taxes illegals don't pay (income, property, etc) for the services they use. So, there goes the "balance".

Anonymous said...

You ask why we need more felons? The answer is so that we need more prison guards. More prison guards means more members of the union, means more money for the union, means more money to give to politicians, means more felons coming over the border, means more prison guards, means more .... (it's turtles all the way down).

benjamin said...


Bill Stephenson said...

Mexico's biggest import from California is money. Cash sent home by workers - legal and illegal - to families back home. If the Mexican laborers are barred from working the fields here we will not only see a huge increase in the the price of all of our agricultural products (like wine), but also construction, manufacturing and service industries. There will also be an increase in the drug trade and consequent wars and deaths due to less cash being sent to Mexican families.
Mexico is a fantastic country, but a steadily employed California construction laborer makes more than a Mexican lawyer or doctor.
Sad but true.

On the campaign trail in 2008 Obama promised to make immigration reform his "Number one priority" in his first year as President. Just like his promise to close Guatanamo Bay, we're still waiting.

Mark Sinnott, Issaquah WA said...

Blake, I enjoy your blog, but some food for thought - you'd have a lot more credibility if you weren't so consistently pro-Democrat/anti-Republican throughout all your other blogs. Inserting your political bias in posts where politics has little to no relevance simply diminishes your POV when politics becomes the actual topic at hand.

And this from someone who can't stand either political party.

Stick to the juice brother. Just my 2 cents.

Anonymous said...

BS is right!!! ha,ha,ha

Illegals=cheap ag products.
Imagine how much your meat, bread, veggies, etc will cost you if you have to hired people with minimum wages and benefits!
On top of that, have you ever seen a white guy doing a good job in the vineyard??? just kidding...


W. Blake Gray said...

Mark: I'm not going to pretend to be neutral when I'm not. I do try to be open-minded. But this is my blog, not a newspaper's front page, and nobody is paying me anything for it. If you want to write me a check every week, I'll be happy to pretend to be objective.

W. Blake Gray said...

Folks, for some reason Google deleted a bunch of comments on this post while I was in Europe and had limited access. If you're wondering why I deleted your comment, the answer is that I didn't, and I'm as mystified about why it happened as you are. Sorry to truncate the debate.

TWG said...

it's the great Google outage of 2011

Kent Benson said...

Blake, I wrote probably the most eloquent comment I've ever written. It was truely inspired and irrefutable. It was a masterpiece of logic, which I could never reproduce. Trust me, it made your argument look silly!

W. Blake Gray said...

Kent: I believe you, but let's face it, making me look silly is kind of a layup, right?

Kent Benson said...

Blake: No fair being self-deprecating. I can't think of any smart-aleck comebacks for that.