My Great Auntie Griselda is a racist, homophobic, anti-labor union bigot. She grew up in the 1940s when segregation was the norm. She spent most of her life in Kansas. On the outside she seems like a nice old lady full of Midwestern hospitality. On the inside, her Fundagelical Southern Baptist upbringing left her angry and totally self-unaware to how bigoted she really is.
She was more than happy to FWD:FWD:FWD:FWD:FWD: an email that celebrated the arrest of 680 people at agricultural processing plants in Mississippi. The email gleefully announced how the government had finally rounded up the invaders who were stealing American jobs.
Luckily I can just delete the email. At Thanksgiving, I have to bite my tongue not to scream out the utter stupidity of such nonsense. Let me be very clear; migrant workers are not stealing American jobs. Migrant workers are being exploited by corporations to do jobs that Americans refuse to do. White Americans aren’t going to pick cantaloupe out in Blythe because the working conditions are terrible and the pay is too low. American Agro-business maintains its low prices and high profitability by exploiting migrant workers who are willing to suffer the terrible working conditions and low pat because they are desperate and hungry.
Here’s a little history lesson for you. In 1965, the U.S. Government created the “A-Team.” Nope I’m not talking about that terrible action show from 1980s television; I’m talking about a government project to replace migrant farmworkers with High School students. Secretary of Labor W. Willard Wirtz wanted to recruit 20,000 high schoolers to replace the hundreds of thousands of Mexican agricultural workers who had labored in the United States under the so-called Bracero Program. The program was ended in response to Cesar Chavez’ complaints that migrants suffered wage theft and terrible working and living conditions.
The idea was to recruit High School students, especially athletes (That’s the “A” in “A-team”) to replace the complaining migrants.
Randy Carter, one of those High School recruits, describes his experience as reported by National Public Radio, “Work started before dawn, the better to avoid the unforgiving desert sun to come. “The wind is in your hair, and you don’t think it’s bad,” Carter says. “Then you go out in the field, and the first ray of sun comes over the horizon. The first ray. Everyone looked at each other, and said, ‘What did we do?’ The thermometer went up like in a Bugs Bunny cartoon. By 9 a.m., it was 110 degrees.”
Garden gloves that the farmers gave the students to help them harvest lasted only four hours because the cantaloupe’s fine hairs made grabbing them feel like “picking up sandpaper.” They got paid minimum wage — $1.40 an hour back then — plus 5 cents for every crate filled with about 30 to 36 fruits. Breakfast was “out of the Navy,” Carter says — beans and eggs and bologna sandwiches that literally toasted in the heat, even in the shade.
The University High crew worked six days a week, with Sundays off, and they were not allowed to return home during their stint. The farmers sheltered them in “any kind of defunct housing,” according to Carter — old Army barracks, rooms made from discarded wood, and even buildings used to intern Japanese-Americans during World War II.
Problems arose immediately for the A-TEAM nationwide. In California’s Salinas Valley, 200 teenagers from New Mexico, Kansas and Wyoming quit after just two weeks on the job. “We worked three days, and all of us are broke,” the Associated Press quoted one teen as saying. Students elsewhere staged strikes. At the end, the A-TEAM was considered a giant failure and was never tried again.”
In 2011, Georgia passed a new immigration law, HB 87. HB 87 required businesses in Georgia with more than 10 employees to use E-Verify to verify that prospective employees are eligible to work in the United States legally. The effect, as reported by Forbes, was labor shortages that resulted in $140 million agricultural loss as crops rotted in the fields. The labor shortages also affected the hotel and restaurant industry. Forbes also reported, According to Dick Minor, president of the Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers’ Association. “Despite high unemployment in the state, most Georgians don’t want such back-breaking jobs, nor do they have the necessary skills.”
Interesting enough, the Koch Food plants that were raided by ICE, were also fending off lawsuits from factory workers of sexual harassment and poor working conditions. As Reuters reports, “Some workers at the Mississippi plant who lacked legal immigration status alleged in court documents that supervisors threatened to turn them in to authorities if they spoke out about their concerns.”
So let’s recap, migrant workers, illegals recruited to work in agro-business, are paid low wages, work in terrible conditions and if they complain, have ICE called on them.
Any Christian who doesn’t see a problem with this has to sit next to my Great Auntie Griselda at the next pot luck.
“Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.” (Ezekiel 16:49)
“Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker, but he who is generous to the needy honors him.” (Proverbs 14:31)
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