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Northwest Voices

Seattle Times letters to the editor

October 19, 2008 at 4:36 PM

Farmworkers and immigration

Should we revert to slavery?

If you buy Richard Delgado’s argument that illegal immigrants means cheaper food for us [“Crackdown on illegal immigration boosts food prices,” guest commentary, Oct. 15], then why not go back to the time when slavery meant even cheaper goods and services? Unfortunately, Delgado ignores the fundamental point that bothers many of us: Illegal aliens are here illegally and that has to be addressed.

If there was the will within the business community and organizations like the Chamber of Commerce to develop a legal, controlled system to meet shortages of labor in targeted fields, it would happen at light speed. Unfortunately, these groups wanted the current unregulated system to flood the entire labor market with low-wage earners with no rights and no recourse. They aggressively fight any programs like eVerify, which would at least help ensure that jobs go only to people legally here.

Now that the public is sufficiently riled up and pushing back, and the government is finally enforcing the laws on the books, business is crying foul.

I’m sorry if I don’t feel sorry for them. They trashed their tent, now they should live with the consequences until we can fix it the right way.

Delgado’s point that Latin American immigrants are good, hardworking and honest people is one thing I agree with wholeheartedly. But it doesn’t eliminate the fact that they are here illegally as the victims of callous exploitation. I’m hoping that when everyone gets down to resolving this mess, some reasonable accommodation can be reached for those families that have been here for many years while making sure we don’t face this again in a few years.

If we could clean up the labor-shortage issue in a rational manner with legal and controlled worker programs, we would have several other beneficial results, including: reducing the size of the hidden (nontax paying) economy; reducing the exploitation of workers my unscrupulous employers; reducing the number of crime victims; and reducing the flow of illegal substances into our communities.

One thing I learned living in Eastern Washington is that when you have a veritable river of illegal immigrants flowing through the community, it provides perfect cover for those importing drugs and contraband.

This is a solvable problem, but it needs to be dealt with honestly by all parties involved.

Just as there is a cultural shift when a community changes, values shift when a large percentage of the population is by definition illegal.

— Bob Larson, Renton

Hire our children instead

In extolling the economic benefits of illegal-alien agricultural labor, Seattle University law professor Richard Delgado, in effect, serves up the tiresomely familiar “lettuce argument”: If illegal aliens aren’t working the fields, lettuce will cost consumers $5 per head.

But UC Davis agricultural economist Philip Martin has shown that the field-labor cost included in a $1 head of lettuce is about $.06

Thus, we could triple wages for picking the crops — at which point Americans would do the jobs — and the cost of a head of lettuce would rise by 12 percent.

The numbers are similar for other crops.

So a family that spends $15 per week on produce would shell out about $100 more per year, a negligible tab for ending what’s virtually modern-day slave labor.

Citizens taking such jobs needn’t regard them as careers. Instead, these jobs are worthy introductions to the world of work for youngsters — and obviously preferable alternatives to our teenagers’ current regime of aimlessly cruising malls and getting fat.

I did similarly menial, but worthwhile, tasks when I was a kid.

— Paul Nachman, Bozeman, Montana

It’s not about immigration

If his piece “Crackdown on illegal immigration boosts food prices,” is any indication, professor Richard Delgado needs to stick to teaching critical-race theory, and leave agricultural economics to the professionals.

Produce is more expensive now due to dramatic increases in fuel prices, coupled with the fact that we often eat produce grown thousands of miles away, not because the government is finally beginning to enforce our immigration laws.

It is well-established that farm-labor costs constitute a small percentage of retail produce costs.

It is further well-established that when cheap labor is not available, farmers modernize their operations and use equipment instead.

Look at the aftermath of the elimination of the bracero program in California; at the time, consumers were told that they would no longer have tomatoes.

Needless to say, that did not happen.

— Margaret Manning, Eastsound

Comments | More in Economy, Politics, Washington Legislature

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