Anyone who thinks that farming is not a political act just needs to drop the words “migrant farm worker” into a conversation sometime and watch as, like dropping oil on water, the little circles of opinion start to form. Everything from “send ‘em all back home” to”make them and all their children and relatives legal citizens”. Back when I was helping to write nursing practice legislation the rule of thumb was always “legislation follows practice”. What this means is that the facts on the ground should be reflected by the laws on the books.
We have lots of immigrant workers here, many of them undocumented. What those who want to send them all home are unwilling to admit is that we are VERY dependent on them. When Stephen Colbert testified before congress on this very subject he said he wanted his “tomatoes picked by Americans”. Well lots of people may want that but it’s not going to happen. A few years back when the welfare-to-work concept was getting started someone (I think it was in California) did a little experiment. They posted 300 farm laborer jobs at the local welfare office to see if these unemployed folks would take them. One person applied.
So the facts on the ground are: they are here, we need them and we also need to stop spending all the money we spend on trying to round them up and send them home. So now what?
President Barack Obama ended his three-nation Latin American tour with a visit to El Salvador, meeting with President Mauricio Funes, the first President elected from the FMLN party. They both agreed that “the best strategy” for curbing illegal immigration was to create economic growth in the region. Hurrah, finally a solution that actually addresses the problem! Actually, as a side note, Obama and Funes should have a lot to talk about. They are both Presidents elected by a people who expected them to be much more radical than they are being.
When I was in El Salvador I had a slightly different experience. Traveling around the farming country outside of San Salvador you get to meet the families of these “statistics”. El Salvador is, after all, one of our biggest sources for immigrant workers. And I can tell you that having their family members in the US is not their idea of a great life plan. It is, however, their only hope of generating enough money to eat, send their kids to school and continue to farm their small parcelas.
Another experience that I am sure Mr. Obama did not have is the fun of participating in an evening’s entertainment under the stars in the village square of a small farming town. The town’s people dance and sing and speechify and in turn you are expected to offer some small entertainment for them. The delegation that I was on chose to sing an old Woody Guthrie song “Pastures of Plenty”. This song really speaks to the life of a migrant farm worker. It is truly a mighty hard row that these folks hoe.
So now what? Obama’s plan to strengthen border security really doesn’t answer the question. The second prong: cracking down on employers who hire and exploit undocumented workers is a good idea. But I am not sure that it is being implemented in the best way. So the “problem” of illegal immigrants will continue. They will continue trying to reach a country they see as offering them a better life. Kind of like all the white folk that came here a couple of centuries ago.
Pastures of Plenty
Words and Music by Woody Guthrie
It’s a mighty hard row that my poor hands have hoed
My poor feet have traveled a hot dusty road
Out of your Dust Bowl and Westward we rolled
And your deserts were hot and your mountains were cold
I worked in your orchards of peaches and prunes
I slept on the ground in the light of the moon
On the edge of the city you’ll see us and then
We come with the dust and we go with the wind
California, Arizona, I harvest your crops
Well its North up to Oregon to gather your hops
Dig the beets from your ground, cut the grapes from your vine
To set on your table your light sparkling wine
Green pastures of plenty from dry desert ground
From the Grand Coulee Dam where the waters run down
Every state in the Union us migrants have been
We’ll work in this fight and we’ll fight till we win
It’s always we rambled, that river and I
All along your green valley, I will work till I die
My land I’ll defend with my life if it be
Cause my pastures of plenty must always be free