Campesinas work the fields tying grape vines near Fresno, California. (©Todd Bigelow)

The Los Angeles Times published a editorial today that effectively pointed out the hypocrisy of states taking a tough stance on immigration by enacting laws to deter undocumented migrants from living in the state. States that rely heavily on agriculture, like Georgia, Alabama, Florida and California, also rely heavily on the immigrant workforce to harvest the crops. That’s just the plain truth, spoken by farm owners themselves. With figures all over the place (the LA Times states 70%), it’s also undisputed that the vast majority of farmworkers are undocumented. That’s where the hypocrisy raises it’s ugly head.

Let’s face it. Farmers need their crops picked to make a living. No ifs, ands or buts about that. If the crops die on the vine or rot in the ground, there’s a tremendous loss of revenue for the farmer. That lost revenue then trickles down throughout the state economy since the farmer is likely to default on loans to equipment manufacturers, mortgage companies, credit cards etc. Equipment that should be replaced is put off which puts a further drag on the local and state economy. Local residents and other red blooded Americans generally steer clear from the grueling work. And not so much because it’s hard work (Americans have been known to work hard), but because it’s long days of hard work for very low wages. No benefits, no sick days, no paid time off, and in a lot of states, no overtime.

So what’s the point in Alabama and Georgia putting these measures in place? It’s been reported that migrants have picked-up and set their sights on states that don’t seek to deport them. Of course, that leaves the farmers fearing that their crops will not be picked in time for harvest. In fact, the Times did a story a couple months ago about migrant farmer workers in Georgia taking cabs to the fields because they were so afraid of being stopped and questioned as a driver (passengers, by law, can’t be questioned as to their legal status).

Reform needs to take place, but it has to be fair and sensible to everyone. The H-2A Visa is not the answer. Further, taking a hard, tough-guy approach doesn’t work. Just look at our overburdened prison system that’s overflowing with prisoners who are supposed to be deterred by tough laws like Three Strikes in California. Nope, not effective. Find a middle ground that helps our farmers utilize the work force they desire while treating field workers with the respect and dignity they deserve for helping to feed the country.

Want some information about how food gets on our plates? Check out this enlightening report by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Todd Bigelow Photography

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