Author’s Note: This is the first report in an occasional series, Moving Forward with President Obama.
Immigration reform needs to be permanent, fair and sustainable and include many facets of reform, including immigrants, their children and considerations for Americans who employ them. That includes the American farmer.
Areas of concern:
1. Secure the border and redesign the Secure Communities program so only unlawful undocumented immigrants are captured, while protecting the rights of Latino citizens.
2. Adopt policies that do not strain state and local budgets, and supply adequate federal funding to initiate mandates.
3. Develop a path to legalization for undocumented people already living here who are without felonies and have paid income taxes, and create a path to citizenship for those who have lived here more than 10 years concurrently. Give special consideration for those who have children who are American citizens, in the interest of preserving family unity.
4. Customize solutions to fit the states, particularly those states that rely on agricultural labor force. California has an estimated three million illegal immigrants, many who work in agriculture.
5. Set a date for unauthorized immigrants to begin the process for legalization in order to distinguish those who are already here at the time of legislation from those who enter illegally after reform is passed.
6. Pass the Dream Act: Introduced in 2001 by Sens. Dick Durbin and, it’s time to make this the law of the land. It would provide permanent residency to certain undocumented residents who came here as children and have graduated from high school and lived here continuously for at least five years prior to the bill’s enactment. If they complete two years in military or two years at a four-year college or institute of higher learning, they would obtain a temporary residency for a six-year period. Within that time they may qualify for permanent residency if they “acquired a degree from institute of higher learning in the US or have completed at least two years in good standing in a bachelor’s degree or have served in the armed forces with an honorable discharge.”
Secure Communities Program
The Secure Communities Program was initiated with good intentions but unfortunately has assigned too much power to local police’s discretion in enforcement. It is due to be expanded in 2013 to include universal compliance by all the states in the union. In the past the program has been voluntary for the states.
It began as a pilot program in 2007, and the initial concept was to hold criminal suspects in detention until their fingerprints could be verified against FBI and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) records. If there was a match, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) would put a detainer on the person until immigration status can be verified and a preliminary decision be made about deportation. The post-9/11 creation of ICE as a component of Homeland Security set the stage for Secure Communities. The United States now deports seven times as many people as it did in 1994.
Only half of the approximately 400,000 people deported every year have criminal records and many are only guilty of driving without a driver’s license, which is common among the undocumented. Deporting felons or those posing a threat is not unreasonable, but transforming entire communities into virtual police states is not. Racial profiling persists and community trust is compromised and prevents people from reporting crimes or even talking to the police, particularly victims of violent crimes or potential eyewitnesses out of fear.
Secure Communities encourages racial profiling. In October 2011, the Warren Institute of the University of California-Berkeley’s School of Law obtained data about the immigration enforcement program Secure Communities from the Department of Homeland Security.
Three months after a federal judge sided with the National Day Labor Organizing Network, the Center for Constitutional Rights and the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law and ruled that the DHS must share the information; the Warren Institute released what it found in the numbers. And it’s easy to understand why the federal government was reluctant to open up its books:
“In ‘Secure Communities by the Numbers: An Analysis of Demographics and Due Process,’ authors Aarti Kohli, Peter Markowitz and Lisa Chavez found that the program has expanded so fast that due process is being overlooked, legal access is non-existent for many, Latinos are being disproportionately detained and, perhaps most damning, thousands of U.S. citizens have been picked up, according to the Center for Investigative reporting in Florida.”
Immigrant workers and employers in agriculture
In order for the US to continue to be a leader and provider for worldwide consumers of fresh produce, we need comprehensive, permanent immigration reform so American farmers and ranchers can be secure in their future, and immigrants will be valued and respected for their work that has contributed to the wealth of our nation.
On less than 1 percent of the total farmland in the United States, the California Central Valley, produces 8 percent of the nation’s agricultural output by value—$17 billion in 2002. Its agricultural productivity relies on irrigation from both surface water diversions and groundwater pumping from wells. About one-sixth of the irrigated land in the US is in the Central Valley. And in the past few years the drought has strained water releases, forcing farmers reduce crop production, which for the last two years has been reduced due to water shortages forcing higher prices.
Still, there is a harvest to bring in. Who will be harvesting these crops? The National Agricultural Worker Survey (NAWS) has documented in past years that 78 percent of workers in the US farm production were immigrants, and 75 percent were from Mexico alone. The same survey reports that 80 percent of newly hired agricultural labor force is from Mexico, of which 96 percent are unauthorized. This is nationwide, and the numbers are even higher in California because it is a border state. Studies show that one new immigrant displaces only 0.0123 domestic workers. (allbusiness.com)
Without immigrant laborers, several critical farm tasks cannot be completed. As reported in the Wall Street Journal, in 2006 and 2007 labor scarcity accounted for agricultural products not being harvested, and the losses in 2007 were estimated to be even higher particularly in California. Rural Migration News reports a detailed and specific list of these shortages and cultivation operations were adversely affected with heavy financial losses.
What happens when acres of vegetables go unharvested and when orchards of fruit and nuts go unpicked because of labor shortages? The farmers suffer and lose money, and we have to pay more for our produce at the grocery. There are only losers when this happens. As a result farm groups are one of the strongest allies of comprehensive immigration reform because as the numbers of undocumented workers dwindles, the growers risk losing their farms.
If American agriculture is to continue being one of the world’s largest food producers, we need a solution to immigration that will protect immigrants, farmers and American workers. According to Gene Hall, public relations director of the Texas Farm Bureau, “without an immigrant labor force, farmers and ranchers will struggle to find the workers they need.”
Comprehensive immigration reform legislation is about recognizing the value and worth of immigrant populations for their contributions to American culture and society. Whether it is the mother and father who worked on American farms; in service industries; various other areas of employment; or in our homes helping raise our children; they deserve our gratitude. Valuing their children as we do our own who have become educated in one of the world’s greatest educational systems, we owe them not only gratitude for their work and dedication, but also respect for their children who view America as their home.
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