One of the most widely repeated claims against enacting immigration reform is the argument that immigrants take jobs from American workers. Today, in response, the United Farm Workers (UFW) launched a new “Take Our Jobs” campaign. The UFW is inviting American citizens and legal residents to fill the farm jobs that are mostly occupied by undocumented labor:
In a letter to U.S. lawmakers, UFW offers farm workers who are “ready to train citizens and legal residents who wish to replace immigrants in the fields,” and encourages Members of Congress to refer their constituents to vacant farm worker positions. UFW has locations across the country where Members of Congress can direct their constituents willing to do work on large-scale farms. Employers will be on hand at each site to answer questions, meet prospective employees and assist in the application process. All who are interested or unemployed and are legal residents or U.S. citizens are encouraged to apply.
In reality, the UFW knows that response to the program will likely be low. Agriculture is ranked amongst the three most hazardous occupations in the nation. For every 100,000 agricultural workers in the U.S. in 2007, there were 25.7 occupational deaths. That’s because farm workers are exposed to toxic pesticides, work under the hot sun for 10-12 hours a day, handle hazardous tools and machinery, and live in crowded condition with poor sanitation. In return, most farm workers earn approximately $28,040 a year.
Contrary to what the anti-immigrant right might suggest, despite a major recession, most farmers and ranchers are still struggling to find the workers they need. “Comprehensive immigration reform is needed, so that America’s farmers and ranchers can continue to produce an abundant supply of safe, healthy food, as well as renewable fuels and fiber for our nation,” writes Ron Gaskill, director of congressional relations for the American Farm Bureau Federation. The truth is if the U.S. doesn’t find a way to legalize immigrant agricultural workers, businesses will move their operations to other countries where they can find laborers. U.S. direct investment in Mexican agriculture has already increased sevenfold between 2000 and 2008.
Ultimately, the solution is two fold: fixing the immigration system and improving wages and working conditions in the agricultural sector. However, until farm workers feel that they can report abuses and fight for their rights without fear of deportation or retaliation, agricultural work will continue to be a dangerous, thankless job that most Americans don’t want to do.