28 July 2010
At the end of the 26 July entry, I was contemplating the identity of the villains in Julie Preston's New York Times piece. The "bizarre situation" I referred to was this.
As a temporary result of the government audits of Gebbers Farms employee records, that company was required to fire a large percentage of its workers. At this point Gebbers Farms found itself without sufficient pickers and other workers. Nearby in that Mexican community, there were numbers of families whose bread-winners were out of a job with little prospects of finding another job now that their immigration status was exposed by this firing. There they are, workers willing and able to pick fruit sitting idle a few miles from Gebbers Farms, which desperately needed workers to pick fruit.
The issue is always whether undocumented workers are taking jobs that citizens of the United States might fill. In this case, apparently not. In other cases that does happen in spite of the arguments of people whom I respect that it never does. No question about that in my mind. This is one of the great variables that is so difficult to figure out.
At bottom, it is apparent to me that it is in the public interest to have labor available to pick fruits and harvest vegetables. If that labor is not available from citizens, it ought to come from somewhere. The obvious somewhere is Mexican workers willing to do the work. Actually, I do not think anyone except the stubbornly blockheaded argue with that proposition. It is simply very difficult to figure out a policy that fairly and efficiently implements this simple proposition.
You will note that the legal way out of this dilemma for Gebbers Farms would be to file paperwork with the government demonstrating that it cannot hire citizens of the United States. They will not take the jobs. Then it can obtain dispensation to hire legally registered foreign workers. Can you imagine the bureaucratic nightmare that must be? And meanwhile the fruit rots in the trees.
This particular scenario is a clean, classic one, and a nice context within which to start discussion of all this.
One of the big complications sets in when we shift our focus from seasonal work to non-seasonal work. The best example to consider next is the packing plant industry, an industry wherein the necessary labor is non-seasonal. The packing plant industry has traditionally had difficulty filling its labor needs with citizens of the United States. It has traditionally turned to immigrant labor.
The primary difference, it seems to me, is that in seasonal work it is practical for a bread-winner to come north, work for a time, and then return home to his or her family. In the non-seasonal area, the worker is naturally inclined to bring the family with him.
In any event the distinction between these two types of industries is one of the reasons that we split the so-called H-2 temporary worker program in two in 1986 and began administering an H-2A program involving agricultural workers and an H-2B program involving non-agricultural workers.
Next time I want to talk about the big issue, what in justice should be done regarding the millions of undocumented Mexican workers and their families who are here now and have been here for years. We must recognize on the one hand that, yes, they broke the law of this country in their crossing. However, they bear less than half the responsibility for this mess. Fucking this all up has truly been a group effort by all involved.
More about that next time.
By the way, there are no villains in that Julie Preston story that I can see.