Congressional Republicans last Friday, in between legalizing torture and shielding a child molester, sent a bill to President Bush that would build 700 miles of fence along the 2000-mile Mexican border at a cost of $6 billion, roughly what it would cost in today's dollars to build the Panama Canal. The cost of the fence, which leaves open two times as much border as it covers, comes to a little under $9 million for every mile of fencing. That's almost a half million bucks per city block, for 14,000 city blocks or about 150x the length of Manhattan. At that price the fence had better be covered in diamonds. That's some serious border bling.
Meanwhile, as Congressional Republicans whipped out America's credit card to buy this high-priced gadget, uncounted tons of pears and other fruits fell from the trees of California's orchards and began rotting on the ground because there were no workers there to pick it.
California farms employ at least 450,000 people at the peak of the harvest, with farm workers progressing from one crop to the next, stringing together as much as seven months of work. Growers estimate the state fell short this harvest season by 70,000 workers. Joe Bautista, a labor contractor from Stockton who brings crews to Lake County, said about one-third of his regular workers stayed home in Mexico this year, while others were caught by the Border Patrol trying to enter the United States...
Tons more pears that were harvested were rejected by Mrs. Scully's packing plant because they were picked too late. The rejects were dumped in a farm lot, mounds of pungent fruit swarming with bees, left to be eaten by deer. Lake County growers said that pickers' pay was not low -- up to $150 a day -- and that they had been ready to pay even more to save their crops. "I would have raised my wages," said Steve Winant, a pear grower whose 14-acre orchard is still laden with overripe fruit. "But there weren't any people to pay."
The fruit was one of the best harvests California growers have seen in their lifetimes, and it hung heavy on the branches and fell to the ground dripping juice. The orchards filled with that rank rotting stink. A steady flow of immigrants, now too frightened to continue to attempt border crossings and terrified of being "detained" with no recourse to the law, has for decades been the lifeblood of the California farming economy.
"I worked in your orchards of peaches and prunes
I slept on the ground in the light of the moon
On the edge of the city you'll see us and then
We come with the dust and we go with the wind
California, Arizona, I harvest your crops
Then its North up to Oregon to gather your hops
Dig the beets from your ground, cut the grapes from your vine
To set on your table your light sparkling wine."
Despite Congressional Republicans' pounding the idea that immigrants take jobs away from Americans, tons of rotting fruit and at least $10 million in losses for the California pear growers alone speak differently. In fact, a Pew Hispanic Center report found that the states with the most immigrant influx also had the top INCREASES in employment for Americans living there. The people living in those states know it, too -- a 50-state survey by SurveyUSA found that, when asked if immigrants take jobs away from Americans or do jobs that Americans don't want, it was the states like Wyoming, North Dakota, Montana, and West Virginia with the least immigrants who were split 50-50 on the question with one of the worst opinions held in West Virginia, which despite its 0% immigrant population had 60% of respondents saying immigrants take jobs away from Americans. Meanwhile in states like California, New York, New Jersey, and Florida -- where they actually have experience with immigrants, with a fifth to a quarter of each state's population being foreign-born -- respondents said resoundingly 2-to-1 that immigrants do the jobs Americans don't want to do. Even President Bush, of all people, says he knows that you can't just shut borders without a mechanism to help keep those farm workers coming in to move our economy. In August, Bush said:
But in order to make sure these Border Patrol agents can do their job, we must have a temporary worker program. You got to understand here, and I know you do, there are people doing jobs Americans aren't doing. There are people who have come across this border to do work Americans are not doing.
Of course, what Congressional Republicans are sending to Bush, and what he will surely sign into law, is another incompetent boondoggle, a high-priced half-assed fence without a gate to let in workers. Woody Guthrie again:
Is this the best way we can grow our big orchards?
Is this the best way we can grow our good fruit?
To fall like dry leaves to rot on my topsoil
And be called by no name except "deportees"?
What Congressional Republicans did last week was an inexcusable exercise in waste and incompetence, a measure to build barricades across America's borders while leaving the fruits of America's harvest -- and her future -- lying rotting in the fields.