Dr. David Conde is the President for North America of the Chamber of the Americas. He currently serves as the President of the ECMHSP Board of Directors and is a contributing writer for La Voz Bilingüe. This is his latest article.
You may have been watching a replay of Roots, the Alex Haley classic that traces American Black origins in West Africa. Roots chronicles their capture and ordeal characterized by centuries of slavery and the loss of identity tied to race, color and place. The novel and the television series is an expression of an epic attempt to recover what was lost by reconnecting the heritage line to its origins.
Even then, the more recent Black immigrants would fret about their American-born contemporaries’ inability to remember or care about where they came from. Perhaps this is because their struggle for survival was such that history telling them who they are became a luxury.
Curiously, the over 41 million immigrants in America today could very well repeat the words of Kunta Kinte in a different time, in a different setting and to a different people. The answer now compared to the answer then from a people facing slavery could sound more like an excuse for not guarding our freedom.
The immigrant community is now facing their own set of issues being played out in the national social, legal and political arena. Yet, their true place is in the heart of America’s economic well-being.
On Thursday, February 16, a national day without immigrant labor took place in an effort to insert an economic argument that counters the political climate created by a campaign to discredit the value of immigrant work. Extensive coverage was given to restaurants where 1 out of every 4 workers and almost half of the chefs are immigrants.
The 2015 records indicate that 26.3 million or 16.7 percent of the workforce are foreign-born and half of them are Latinos. The three principle areas one can find immigrant workers is in the service industry, construction and farming.
One of the developing outcomes associated with the present administration’s deportation policy is that wages for the farm industry are going up. The law of supply and demand is making farmers the victims of a political process that they themselves largely supported.
Wages for farm work is up 36 percent in the last decade compared to 27 percent in non-farm work and farm profits have been going down for the fourth consecutive year. The U.S. Department of Agriculture projects farm wages to increase another 40 percent in the next 15 years.
This will force farmers to reduce their production by over half of what they are producing today. Fruit production for example, will drop by 61 percent.
That means that since the consumer will require 100 percent on the dining table, the country will have to import that fruit most likely from Mexico and Central America and pay the extra costs of tariffs since there will be no NAFTA. By the way, this contradicts the very policy that is the basis for an America first theory that questions agreements like NAFTA.
Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, is on record as saying, “The farm labor discussion is around whether or not our country wants to import our labor or whether they want to import their food. I think the American people want to eat food that’s grown in America.”
Given the current political climate, food production may be an unpredictable affair depending on whether the immigrant farm worker feels safe from police raids and is wanted and appreciated. Americans stand to get a significant hit on their pocketbooks before coming to understand the real value of the worker in the fields that puts food on the table at very economic prices.
[Published in La Voz Bilingüe on March 1, 2017.]