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Immigration crackdowns leave void in job market

The United States government’s current policy on undocumented immigrants is based on complete ignorance of the true state of this country’s labor force.

The following New York Times report demonstrates this fact:

Steve Scaroni, who has built a $50 million business growing lettuce and broccoli in California, has moved part of his business to Mexico. The reason? Because of continuing federal action to arrest illegal immigrants he can’t be sure of a dependable labor supply.

"I’m as American red-blood as it gets," Scaroni said, "but I’m tired of fighting the fight on the immigration issue."

According to the Times report, "A sense of crisis prevails among American farmers who rely on immigrant laborers, more so since immigrant legislation in the United States Senate failed in June and the authorities announced a crackdown on employers of illegal immigrants."

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Public officials have said that more and more U.S. farmers are raising crops across the border in Mexico because they can count on a dependable labor supply.

The Western Growers association did a telephone survey of its members in California and Arizona recently and found that 12 major producers now employ 11,000 workers in the fields near Celaya, Mexico.

According to Scaroni, labor costs also are cheaper in Mexico. He pays workers $11 a day, compared to $9 an hour in California.

Federal officials have assumed that, if illegal immigrant workers are fired, they will be replaced by American workers. However, that is not likely in most areas. Stephen Levy, an economist who works at the Center for Continuing Study of the California Economy in Palo Alto, said, "The bottom line is that most unemployed workers are not available to replace fired, unauthorized immigrant workers."

One reason is that most of the jobless American workers are not seeking farm work.

The federal campaign against undocumented workers has produced similar results elsewhere. In Marshalltown, Iowa, federal agents have cracked down twice on immigrant employees at the Swift & Co. meatpacking plant, one of the town’s largest industries. More than 100 people have been arrested and replacements have not been found readily.

Meat packing plants in other cities have been closed as a result of similar raids because no substitute workers could be found.

There are reported to be 12 million undocumented workers in the United States. Federal officials believe that, if those workers are fired or deported, their jobs will be filled by U.S. workers, but that has not proved to be true in most cases.

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As a result, some communities have suffered severe economic impacts. In California, fruit crops have rotted in the fields because no substitute workers could be found.

In July, Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California displayed a map in the U.S. Senate showing that 46,000 acres were being cultivated by American growers in two Mexican states, Guanajuato and Baja California.

Undocumented immigrants have been in the U.S. for many years. They have worked steadily and many have children who are U.S. citizens. Deporting all 12 million of them, breaking up thousands of families, would be inhuman and unworkable.

Anti-immigrant sentiments have a long history in America. Irish, Polish, Italian and other immigrants have had to battle widespread prejudice in their early years in this country. In time, they became accepted as other ethnic groups have been throughout our history.

After all, we are a nation of immigrants, starting with the English colonists in the 17th century. For that matter, the original American Indians were immigrants, having crossed the land bridge from Asia centuries ago.

The only reasonable course is to adopt a humane solution, setting conditions for undocumented immigrants to achieve citizenship over a period of time. Failure to do so will cause untold human suffering as well as terrible economic costs for the country as a whole.

Bill Boyne is a retired editor and publisher of the Post-Bulletin. His column appears weekly.

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