AgJOBS, DREAM Act, E-Verify, Immigration, Law Enforcement, Legislation, Opinion/Editorial/Commentary, Undocumented Workers

As We See It: Immigration Reform: Out of Sight, Out of Mind

From SantaCruzSentinel.com, 4 Aug 2011.

Editorial: Santa Cruz Sentinel

This is what happens when the federal government doesn’t govern.

In this case, the problem isn’t our nation’s debt, budget deficit and spending priorities, but the long ignored issue of illegal immigration.

In the absence of federal immigration reform — dead in the water since a bipartisan compromise fell apart back in 2007 — and any push by the president or Congress, many border states are taking up the task.

Arizona’s draconian law that requires individuals to show proof they’re in this country legally has gotten most of the attention, but other states, including California, have put together piecemeal legislation. In Georgia, for instance, a new law has given local police specific authority to enforce existing immigration law — and also targets anyone giving illegal immigrants help, including employment.

The law has been decried by the state’s agricultural and restaurant industries, which, face it, rely on workers with questionable legal status.

The same holds in many states in this country.

That’s why it was hardly startling to read a new report from the respected Public Policy Institute of California detailing the size and scope of the illegal immigrant population in the state.

The PPIC study reports that more than 8 percent of the population in Santa Cruz County is here illegally, or more than 21,000 people. Since the Pajaro Valley is primarily agricultural, this figure is not surprising — it’s obvious a certain percentage of fieldworkers are here without proper documentation. In addition, the population of Watsonville has nearly doubled in the past three decades — and may have grown even more if, as seems likely, people here illegally aren’t counted.

While the figures are high for our county, they’re even more so for Monterey County, where the Salinas Valley provides some of the most productive farmland in the country. In Monterey County and neighboring San Benito County, the PPIC study reports, 13.5 percent of the overall population is in the United States illegally — 62,000 men, women and children. In Los Angeles County, nearly a million people are without legal papers.

These numbers remain high even though fewer people are crossing the border illegally from Mexico. With the recession in the U.S., fewer jobs are available and the numbers have dropped to levels not seen in decades.

The supply of ag jobs remains constant, and immigration experts have estimated about 70 percent of the workforce on farms in California is here illegally. That’s why most farmers and ranchers want federal legislation that would provide worker visas for laborers. But legislation giving legal status to farmworkers with a path to citizenship has gone nowhere in Congress, amid fierce opposition to any form of amnesty for people who came without proper documentation. Even the federal DREAM Act — which would give undocumented students a chance to become legal citizens if they came to the U.S. as children, are long-term U.S. residents, demonstrate good moral character, and complete two years of college or military service in good standing — has repeatedly stalled.

The ag industry instead is having to deal with a bill sponsored by a Texas Republican congressman that would set up an electronic verification system for farm employees. Industry leaders have said the E-Verify system would be devastating to farmers and consumers.

Deporting millions of people who came to California to do jobs most Americans simply don’t want to do is economically absurd. With illegal border crossings down and security improved, the biggest issue is what happens to these people?

This is the responsibility of Congress and the president — and the fact that no one wants to touch it is disgraceful.

Source: SantaCruzSentinel.com, “As We See It: Immigration reform: Out of sight, out of mind” 4 Aug 2011.

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