The Blog of Brian Ballard Quass

In response to "California Farmers Backed Trump, but Now Fear Losing Field Workers" by Caitlin Dickerson, in the February 9, 2017 edition of The New York Times.

Hypocritical Farmers and the Immigration Debate




Dear Caitlin,

I just had a few comments to share regarding your article entitled "Farmers Back Trump." It points out (albeit only implicitly) a seldom recognized truth of the immigration debate: that is, that there is plenty of blame to go around, beyond the usual (admittedly sometimes justified) carping at the Oval Office and Congress.

These farm owners that you mention have knowingly profited from using illegal labor for all these years. If anyone should be punished, it is they, not their employees. Of course the owners' costs will skyrocket if they have to obey the law: that's pretty much how it is in any business. I myself am a freelancer. If I could flaunt the laws that are inconvenient to me, I could make much greater profits, on which I would eventually become dependent.

If these farm owners hadn't "caved" to convenience long ago by knowingly hiring illegal immigrants, and thereby setting a precedent for violating the law in this area, then the deficiencies of the U.S. immigration policy would have become clear to everyone decades ago (thanks to much higher prices for American produce) and perhaps a solution to the migrant worker immigration status would have been cobbled together in Washington out of necessity and self-interest.

Instead, we've all learned to wink at (or rather entirely ignore) illegal hiring practices of the self-serving farm owners (and other employers) while hypocritically blaming U.S. immigration policy for the plight of the undocumented shadow workforce that those hiring practices have created.

Personally, I'm in favor of "recognizing the facts on the ground" in this immigration debate and acting accordingly (recognizing that these people are now a crucial part of the economy and that they need to be declared legal through a one-time act of Congress). But if we're going to pardon these illegal immigrants for defying U.S. law, I believe it would be a good symbolic gesture to simultaneously pardon the many farm, shop and factory owners who have aided and abetted them in becoming the illegal shadow workforce that they have become today. For, had these owners originally taken the law into account during their hiring practices, we would not now have this warped marketplace that relies on a technically illegal workforce to maintain its low-priced equilibrium.

Yes, food prices would have been higher if unscrupulous employers hadn't started knowingly hiring undocumented workers in the first place, but that fact alone would have given Congress and the president incentive to grant the immigration status changes that were economically called for by that outcome. Instead, these same farm owners and producers who have been ignoring U.S. law for decades now disclaim all responsibility for the "shadow workforce" that they themselves have helped create, conveniently passing the blame on to Washington, D.C., as if it were the one and only villain of the piece.




caitlin dickerson, new york times, california farmers backed trump, immigration, migrant workers, farms













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