Recently, far too much attention has been paid to Donald Trump’s vile words regarding immigrants from Mexico. Neither his words nor his ignorant, self-serving perspectives on the issue deserve repeating here.
Our hope is the American public will pause to better understand the economics and human dimensions of immigration, rather than falling prey to Trump’s sweeping, inaccurate and denigrating characterizations.
Unquestionably, immigrants have been coming to the U.S. without legal papers for decades — their coming and staying made easy by our government, beginning with those who write the laws.
To wit, for nearly two decades the U.S. Congress has purposely refrained from approving E-Verify, a proposal that would require all employers to verify authenticity of worker-provided Social Security numbers.
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Trump and other employers who benefit from undocumented immigrant labor know the drill: meet the letter of the law by collecting and maintaining record of workers’ Social Security numbers.
But not to worry, Congress has your back. No verification required. The nation’s top lawmakers have been educated by employers to understand that losing hard-working immigrant laborers would have dire consequences on our economy, not just agriculture.
The outcome — in Washington, Oregon, Georgia, North Carolina and other states, Latino populations have skyrocketed, much of it undocumented. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Washington’s Latino population grew more than 250 percent during the past two census periods, increasing from 214,570 in 1990 to 755,790 in 2010.
Their presence in Washington is most visible in agriculture. According to state farm groups, roughly 66,000 of more than 92,000 workers (72 percent) needed for seasonal harvests are “document challenged” (The Olympian and News Tribune, Oct. 15, 2011).
The figures beg the question: Is there evidence that Latino population growth has helped or hurt Washington’s economy?
For starters, U.S. Department of Agriculture reports show that fresh-market value of Washington-grown apples increased from $488 million in 1986 to $2.5 billion 2012, while Washington’s sweet cherries soared in value from $59 million to $491 million. Washington ranks No.1 in production of these crops, producing 57 percent of apples and 51 percent of sweet cherries grown in the nation.
Now, connect the dots. Correlate the growth in value — 413 percent for apples, and 733 percent for sweet cherries — with 253 percent Latino population growth.
Little wonder that Wenatchee is known as the “Apple Capital of the World,” and farm groups justifiably proclaim Washington as the “Refrigerator to the World.”
Thus, we should appreciate and not vilify undocumented workers for the value they bring to state and national economies and the world’s food stream. In large part, because of undocumented workers, the U.S. agricultural system is lauded internationally for its productivity and quality, and we all benefit as consumers.
This should be the context from which immigration reform is debated and reformed, and Donald Trump should be dismissed as an attention-seeking, bellicose guy with bad hair and money who will never be president.
Ricardo Sánchez is founder of the Latino/a Educational Achievement Project, a program of Sea Mar Community Health Centers. Jesús Hernández is executive director of Community Choice, a health and education institute serving North Central Washington.