Farm Jobs Bill A Bust

Published on June 22nd, 2009

It’s time for ‘DiFi’ to get honest about fraud in the fields

By Mark Cromer

Perhaps the ghost of old Tom Joad is up there drifting on some whimsical cloud, looking down at us and shaking his head with sadness at the Company Town that the United States is becoming today.

It has been nearly a century since the destruction unleashed by the Dust Bowl sent hundreds of thousands of Midwestern ‘Okies’ in search of the agrarian salvation they were told awaited them in the orchards and fields of California. Most only found the bitter vintage of calculated exploitation that John Steinbeck captured in his epic Grapes of Wrath.

Today, even though technology has radically streamlined many other industries that once relied on huge workforces of manpower, the hard labor in the fields remains much as it was a century ago. It’s still cheaper for agribusiness to use under-paid and over-worked humans that are easily replaced than it is to develop and employ technology to automate much of its toughest jobs.

Demanding innovation and investment that will bring technology to our fields—while raising the wages and improving the conditions of the workers that remain—is as vital now as it has been throughout our nation’s industrial evolution; lessening the need for unskilled labor while creating demand for skilled engineering, manufacturing and maintenance jobs.

Reducing the demand for ever-increasing waves of unskilled labor would also help ameliorate the impacts on our water supplies from population growth that’s colliding with perpetual drought.

But why change when you don’t have to? Or, put another way: Why break a fixed system?

Thus Senator Dianne Feinstein and 17 of her cohorts (not a single Republican among them) have again introduced the ‘AgJOBS’ bill, effectively an amnesty package for the millions of illegal immigrants working in the nation’s fields and their families.

Just like its legislative uncle—the massive ‘Comprehensive Immigration Reform’ bill that has been rising and dying like a vampire on Capital Hill for the past several years—Feinstein’s AgJOBS push is being carried out at the behest of an industry that has grown fat on the fruit of poor immigrant labor that in turn is subsidized by the American taxpayer.

And like any junkie, Agribusiness wants more. Its dealers are more than happy to oblige.

Feinstein declared “there is a farm emergency in the country,” describing the existential threat American farmers now face as a lack of immigrants (legal and otherwise) available to work their fields, orchards, processing sheds and packing houses.

“Today across the United States there are not enough agricultural workers to do the pruning, picking, packing and harvesting of our country’s crops,” Feinstein said. “Farmers from Maine to California, from Washington state to Georgia, have watched their produce rot in the fields, and have been forced to fallow close to a half million acres of land, and billions of dollars are being drained out of our economy as a result.”

As a result, Feinstein said, farming operations are moving to Mexico.

What ‘DiFi’ is really telling American citizens is that if the agribusiness industry and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce can’t import more cheap labor to work under incredibly exploitive conditions in their fields and plants—then they’ll just move to Mexico and do it there. The industry seeks even a scaled-down amnesty like AgJOBS because virtually any legalization program results in new waves of illegal immigrants pouring into the country, swelling the labor pool and further driving down wages.

In fact, the AgJOBS bill would freeze the ‘Adverse Effect Wage Rate’—the minimum wage that farmers are allegedly required to offer American citizens competing with foreign workers—and then replace it with a “prevailing wage,” which will simply be dirt cheap.

Incredibly, citizens in a state that is teetering on the edge of the fiscal abyss are again treated to the very dynamic that brought the Golden State (and much of America) to where it is today: elected officials shilling for big business at the expense of Americans’ interests.

With her state’s real unemployment figure deep into double digits, California’s elder stateswoman doesn’t bat an eye as she brazenly hustles for an industry that is hungry for another subsidized fix of cheap labor—an addiction that has proven to be a devastating cost for taxpayers.

For every farm worker in the field, there is a corresponding cost directly related to their healthcare (usually delivered through emergency rooms and county clinics), public education for their families (including subsidized breakfasts and lunches), incarceration (more than 20,000 illegal immigrants are now behind bars in California) and a myriad of other social services that the farming industry bears no cost exposure to whatsoever.

If they are successful with their AgJOBS bill, then perhaps Feinstein & Co. will next declare there is “a construction emergency” in America today; with hillsides and fields left ominously undeveloped and general contractors from Manhattan to Morro Bay in desperate need of even more illegal immigrants to fill the jobs of framers, roofers, dry-wallers and finishers.

But then again, I guess that’s what the ‘Comprehensive Immigration Reform’ bill is for.

Mark Cromer is a senior writing fellow at Californians for Population Stabilization.

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