Arnoldo Torres: Latino Leaders Must Do Better!

Op-Ed To California Ag Today

Latinos Need a Bigger Voice

By Arnold Torres

In this last round of elections, Democrats ignored the ugly and nationalistic demagoguery of immigrants from Central America that the 45th President pursued relentlessly before Election Day. They allowed the President to continue building a false narrative around immigration. In spite of many Republicans supporting some of the most offensive and verbal racial profiling by a sitting President, our Democratic response was, “vote for me, I am not Republican.”

This President was not only focused on mid-term elections but laying the foundation for his 2020 re-election. He spared no lie to whip up his base.

We heard no substance from Democrats except outrage and sharp criticism of Republicans. Liberal groups like the Center for American Progress and the Third Way noted that running on immigration would not be helpful in securing votes in states and Congressional districts won by the President in 2016. Democrats seemed paralyzed with political fear that they could not capitalize on the anger and growing rejection of Trumpism if they addressed the immigration issue.latinos

Democrats aggressively postured when Republicans followed their script of scapegoating and demagoguing immigrants. They hid behind their words of outrage, old proposals about legalizing Dreamers and no border wall and “abolishing” ICE. They offered no new vision for re-calibrating the policies and discussions that were needed to effectively and honestly deal with the pressures of desperate mass movements of people.

Democrats allowed this President to continue reinforcing a false, ignorant, and racist nationalism about Latino immigrants. The so-called “caravan of invaders” is being “pushed” from sending countries for the same reasons that pushed the ships that sailed with many European refugees/migrants that arrived on U.S. shores in the 1800s and early 1900s.

Latino “leaders” in the national immigration struggle and Latino elected officials in Congress have contributed mightily to the behavior of both parties. It really makes more sense if these Latino “leaders” would stop demanding specific action that has not come about even under President Obama. We must offer viable and balanced policies. The mass movement of people is originating in this hemisphere, and so it MUST fall to us to develop solutions, not ideology.

Due to the inaction of both parties, our community must develop the political agenda for immigration reform that will benefit our nation. Our vision must be specific and comprehensive. The narrative must be honest, factual, balanced and practical and we must begin working with various members of the California Congressional delegation from agricultural producing districts, such as ours. The Trump narrative does nothing more than to pollute the disposition of the U.S. public to push for effective and balanced immigration reform.

There is public support for reasonable reform; the Trump narrative has created a caustic image of immigrants that has become the default position of his base, which is infecting others. The time to act is now. We must realistically address the labor shortages in the agricultural and service industries in California and their dependency on unauthorized labor. We have to frame the issue in economic terms since humanitarian concerns clearly have not been enough.

Our policy outline must offer a constructive and practical new vision. It must include smart enforcement at ports of entry, increased resources for the Coast Guard, increased resources for detection of opioid trafficking from China and India via the internet, and increased resources for local law enforcement in cities located along drug corridors in the U.S. only for enforcement activities related to drug interdiction. Our immigration reform package must include enforcement of existing immigration laws. The GOP narrative is that Democrats are for open borders. Our new agenda must address the issue that drugs from Mexico significantly enter through ports of entry and via the internet from countries outside the hemisphere.

Our agenda must utilize evaluation analyses and propose no private sector detention centers—a vigorous oversight—and accountability mechanism outside of the Department of Homeland Security of these centers and ICE, Border Patrol agents, and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service.

Enforcement must be balanced with permanent legal status for all “Dreamers” who meet the original criteria, temporary legal status for the parents of “Dreamers” who have a history of employment, especially in states that had labor shortages in agriculture, construction, and service sectors. We have to include a pilot temporary worker program with Mexico in U.S. states that have documented labor shortages in the above industries to begin to test new ideas. All federal and state labor laws would apply to these workers along with an increase in funding to monitor their treatment, working and living conditions, and employer compliance.

A critical component that we must explore is the creation of working groups between the U.S. and essential sending countries such as Mexico and those in Central America to discuss how to create a stable economic and security environment in their countries and specific regions that are the source of population movements to the U.S. We must not repeat the mistakes our economic and political policies have committed in these countries that are the foundation of the “push” factors, while not losing sight of the “pull” factors that exist within the U.S. serving as magnets for undocumented workers.

Lastly, we must evaluate and provide for a phased-in mechanism of these policy initiatives and include a legalization process, for the undocumented persons currently in the U.S., in the last phase of this process.

We know that Congressman Panetta and his colleagues from the Central Valley have acknowledged the ugly narrative but have taken no decisive action to date. It is important to note that two of his colleagues lost re-election. Was their loss due in part to the failure to move concretely on immigration, especially in the agricultural sector? It is essential that there be transparency around what Mr. Panetta and the Democrat majority in the House of Representatives will do to begin resolving the growing complexities around immigration. Let’s begin our discussion with a town hall meeting to take place in Salinas that allows an open dialogue concerning our proposal and what our new Congress intends to do.

Arnoldo S. Torres is a journalist, consultant, partner in the Sacramento, California based public policy consulting firm Torres & Torres, and the executive director for the California Hispanic Health Care Association.

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A Different Perspective on the Immigration Controversy

Mexico Has a Responsibility Regarding Immigration, Expert Says

By Mikenzi Meyers, Associate Editor

With immigration becoming a hot-button issue within the political arena, those in agriculture have a deeper insight into this controversial topic. Arnoldo Torres, of the National Institute for Latino Policies out of Sacramento and partner with the public policy consulting firm Torres & Torres, has long been a leading voice for immigration within the ag sector—while realizing both countries (America and Mexico) need to do their part.

immigration reform
Arnoldo Torres

“Mexico has a responsibility to its people. The Central American countries have a responsibility. We’ve got to make sure that those countries are doing what they have to do to keep people from having to go elsewhere to make a living and to live,” Torres explained.

He knows this from personal experience, when his grandfather made a move to America from Mexico, with no opportunity to go back.

“They realized that if they had gone back, there was never going to be a life for them back home,” he said.

Torres further added that the desire for immigrant workers purely correlates with their unique work ethic.

“There’s that saying that necessity is the mother of invention. Well, necessity is the mother of work. I mean, we work to address a necessity.”

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Radanovich: President Trump Needs to Enact Immigration Reform

Congress Will Not and Cannot Do it Alone, Radanovich Says

By Hannah Young, Associate Editor

The future does not seem bright for California farmers who are desperately searching for labors to harvest crops. California Ag Today spoke with George Radanovich, president of the California Fresh Fruit Association and former U.S Congressman, about the need for immigration reform.

George Radanovich

Radanovich spent 16 years in Washington, D.C, and from his experience is not convinced that Congress alone will make immigration reform right for California farmers.

“I think that we need to get to President Trump and suggest that he intervene by direct talks with Mexico and create a system that will not leave our farmers high and dry,” Radanovich said.

In order to assure that farmers have enough labor for harvest, immigrants should be allowed to stay in the country as long as they are working during the time the government is implementing a new system, affirming border control, and e-verifying immigrants, Radanovich explained.

However, getting a system of this type will be tough to get past Congress due to a large portion feeling that every farmer worker is probably illegal and needs to go back to Mexico or any other foreign country.

“They don’t get it because they don’t live here, most of them, so they don’t understand how the system works,” Radanovich concluded.

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Immigration Policy: Focus, Initiate and Stop Reacting

Opinion/Editorial

By Arnoldo S. Torres with the National Institute for Latino Policy

I want to focus on the imperative of altering the narrative set by this president and his supporters and proposing policies that are comprehensive, inclusive, and responsive to the needs of the nation.  Regardless of any success or failure this year to pass any elements of immigration reform, I cannot underscore enough the urgency and importance for altering the false narrative.

Simultaneously it is imperative that Latinos prepare an immigration reform alternative that allows the public and policymakers to recognize a policy path that can be more effective and humane while protecting our border and internal security. We must not be ethnocentric but rather defy xenophobic nationalism, avoid isolation—not advocate an “open border” but be realistic, balanced, practical, and fair.

Politics have long reigned over policy on the reform of U.S. immigration law. This president’s actions and words over the last month cannot be better examples of this ugly and dangerous reality. In the past three weeks, the President ratcheted up his rhetoric on immigration at his Michigan rally.  We also saw and heard in Michigan and before military audiences that despite there being more than 100 million Americans who can trace their history to Ellis Island, there are far too many who today stand in support of the very sentiments and “know-nothing” values that would have denied their ancestors entry to this nation. The words of fear, anger, and demagoguery sound so similar to what was said in the early 19th century when we experienced the most significant movement of immigrants to this nation from Europe.

Up to now, immigration advocates and Latino elected have responded in kind, defensively and with emotion. The liberal groups funding immigrant rights groups seem more interested in media coverage than creating a strategy that can overcome the political extremism that has evolved in the nation.

False Narratives

The false narrative around the causes and consequences of immigration has a clear intent: repeat it enough times that the public comes to believe that undocumented immigrants are criminals involved in trafficking drugs, who threaten the national security of this nation, advocate for open borders, do not reflect the “best” of their countries of origin, and live in sanctuary cities that are “breeding grounds” for criminals. This must change. It dictates and corrupts the substance and policy path for solutions.

Those advancing this image select anecdotal examples to bolster their mean, racist and xenophobic values. This president does this virtually every time he speaks to his base. Despite his demagoguery comments in Michigan and his threat to close down the federal government if he does not get funding for his border wall, even substantial numbers of evangelicals continue to support an agnostic, at best, in the name of the Lord!

Latinos, immigrant advocates, and liberal foundations spend most of their time responding and reacting, not initiating. This has always placed us in a defensive position while allowing false narratives to be circulated and take hold in the public’s mind and with policymakers.

Many who support these claims fail to come to terms with the facts that immigrants—legal, undocumented and refugees—at the turn of the century were engaged in organized crime in Jewish, Italian, Irish, and English immigrant communities.  Many immigrants that came to the Island of Hope came from countries that fought against the U.S. in World War I and II.

In response to the constant hateful words, bully tactics and persecuting policies on immigration, we have allowed this behavior to infect our judgment.  We have failed to recognize that all immigrants are not Jesus-like—we are human! We have imperfections, and many will do bad things that cause intended and unintended consequences to others.  When these things have happened, we have not condemned such actions, we have, at best, ignored them for fear that we are giving into this narrative.  In failing to denounce such acts we have contributed and strengthened this narrative.

Similarities of Yesterday and Today’s Immigrants

We must remind this nation that today’s immigrants and refugees have much in common with those at the turn of the century. Some efforts have been made to emphasize these points, but they are primarily secondary arguments in the national media.

Latino voices on this issue spend most of their time defending their concerns and aspirations for legalization by engaging in campaigns of embarrassing Republican and some Democrat elected officials. While many deserve it, this is a losing tactic which in most situations has merely served to satisfy the expectations and stereotypes applied to Latinos.

Immigrants yesterday and today have experienced many of the same “push factors” that caused them to make this most difficult journey. They arrive today for the same reasons some 12 million entered between 1892 and 1954. As an Italian immigrant is credited with saying, “If America did not exist, we would have had to invent it for the sake of our survival.” We share the same experiences of living in countries of origin that serve as a police state, suppress economic opportunities, deny education, and ignore the concepts of a democratic society. Contrary to the statements of immigration nationalists, people do not decide to journey to this nation because they want to be Democrats or Republicans. Freedom is what all seek!

Yesterday’s immigrants primarily came via boats in steerage class that government reports described as, “The unattended vomit of the seasick, the odors of the not-too-clean bodies, the reek of food, the awful stench of the nearby toilet rooms make the atmosphere in steerage such that it is a marvel that human flesh can endure it.”

Today’s immigrants must walk through deserts, hostile countries, risk life and limb on trains, pay thousands of dollars up-front and after they enter—if they enter—the U.S. They are profit centers for organized smuggling rings and transportation for illegal drugs. Many perish on this path because they are easily exploited and manipulated.

The descendants of past immigrants sit in harsh judgment of those fleeing the same situations their forefathers were fortunate to leave. They argue that their ancestors are different from today’s immigrants which is an ignorance ripe for the type of exploitation that has been growing since the 1980s and only getting worse with time. There is no better example of this ignorance and hovering xenophobic nationalism than the comment made by White House Chief of Staff and former General John Kelly, who stated that the majority of immigrants are “… not people that would easily assimilate into the U.S. … They don’t speak English … They don’t integrate well, they don’t have skills.”  This is almost precisely the very words used to describe the immigrants that came from Ireland, and all of Europe.

There are NO immigrant groups in this nation that have a perfect profile and behavior regardless of when they entered!

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Latinos’ Responsibility on Immigration Reform

Commentary on Latinos and Immigration Reform – 2 of 4 Parts

Latinos Have a Unique Challenge 

By Arnoldo S. Torres with the National Institute for Latino Policy

 We have a unique challenge as Latinos. We must provide a path to solving this public policy puzzle of immigration reform while avoiding the ugly attitudes and behavior that are rampant today. We must undertake a critical assessment of our tactics, strategies, activities, and words we use because words are essential not only on one side but all.

This self-critique is hard to undertake; it’s always easier to point the finger. Latinos have played a key role in not achieving what we say we seek: a practical, humane, efficient and fair immigration reform.  There are aspects of this long and ugly road traveled that we must understand (from more than one point of view and experiences), discuss, dissect and correct if we are to bring about what we say we seek.

How I Learned About Immigration

My perspectives, ideas, and vision for humane, practical, fair and just immigration policy for this nation began to be developed 39 years ago in 1979.  I had the honor of serving as the legislative director for the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) in Washington, D.C. I had the privilege of working with a group of people from other nationally known organizations on the recommendations of the Select Commission on Immigration and Refugee Policy (SCIRP) for comprehensively reforming U.S. immigration policy. Law created the Commission in 1978, making it bi-partisan, and included four public members representing labor unions, local and state government, and the judicial branch.

It could not have been created nor efficiently functioning today because there is a dangerous lack of courage and leadership in Congress on both sides of the aisle. It appears, by their statements and actions, that the majority of Congressional members are incredibly ignorant of the dynamics surrounding U.S. immigration policy, the “push” and “pull” factors that cause people to take phenomenal risks. They have intentionally failed to read and comprehend the history of these factors that virtually color all immigrants to the U.S. with the same desperation, survival instincts, desires, and dreams.

These members have not elevated the tone of the emotionally-charged rhetoric or imagery, but intentionally over-simplified the complexities and motives of immigration movements. There are too many “aggrieved parties” who lack the desire to solve problems facing the nation unless they can satisfy the growing ideology and political silos on the right AND left! They follow a very narrow and faulty narrative on immigration.

immigration reform
Arnoldo Torres

I learned first-hand the many facets, difficult choices, and responsibilities associated with the realities surrounding immigration policy many years before my experience in D.C.  I began working in the tomato fields of California agriculture at the age of ten. It was not a summer outing but a necessity. I had the responsibility of having to pay for my school clothes for the year, which was referred to as “la cosa Christiana” as my grandfather put it.  My mother and uncles began work at an earlier age in Texas, younger than ten years old, while going to school.

Beginning at five years old, and every other year after until I was 28, I would visit relatives in Ciudad Delicias, Chihuahua, Mexico. I came to recognize early the sacrifices my grandfather made to cross the border at the age of 12 to work as a water boy on the railroads of Texas. At 17, he was able to bring his mother, brother, and sister to the U.S. Two generations of my family experienced a great deal of discrimination before I began to see and feel it when I was very young.

Political Parties and Media

Elected officials, from both political colors, express their concerns about the immigration polemic, defending or attacking one another, insisting that their positions are true and pure. Posturing for their ideological fan base is primary while facts and knowledge play a secondary role.  There is a prevalent attitude of “don’t confuse me with the facts” because my base only wants “red meat” regardless of its quality. Both parties have made this issue so toxic by having it be more about politics than about policy, fairness and economic reality.

At such a crucial time for Latinos and the nation, we have two ill-prepared political parties who cannot rise to the challenge of what the world sees is the demise of the shining country on the hill. Liberals believe Democrats are better for us, but that is because Republicans care so little about us.

Making a significant contribution to this dynamic has been a President that began his campaign by revving up the deepest-seeded xenophobic characteristics of American nationalism. He has made it so much easier for this ugly side of nationalism to be manifested in the style of a Tucker Carlson show or commentary by the mean and hypocritical Ann Coulter or Laura Ingraham—all in the name of Making America Great Again.

Fox News churns out the type of stereotypes Hollywood used decades ago and even to this day about Latinos; they ignore facts and make sure that the Latino immigrant profile never deviates from the criminal, drug dealer, and threat to U.S. security and motherhood. The very people whose history in this nation includes organized crime, criminals in their countries of origin, and enemies against the U.S. in TWO world wars now sit in harsh judgment of us.

On the other side of the spectrum, we have Jorge Ramos of Univision forgetting that he is the journalist but behaves like a one-dimensional advocate. He is well intended and has become the darling of the political left in journalism.

You want a Latino to talk about immigration; the English media selects Jorge, who provides no real insight but ticks off the usual talking points.  Then we have CNN, whose hosts and panels/guests discussing immigration are primarily non-immigrants and non-Latinos. The guests representing the left and the right say all the typical things but in a very chaotic format. They exhibit such intolerance for one another that it turns off the viewer and furthers the divide and ignorance.

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Latinos and Immigration Reform – Part 1 of 4 Parts

The Need for A Critical Analysis For Immigration Reform

By Arnoldo S. Torres with National Institute of Latino Policy

This is an analysis of the immigration debate and the responsibility Latinos must examine on the strategy and tactics applied and the corresponding consequences of these actions.

Now that DACA and the President’s immigration enforcement package have been placed on hold by Congress and the courts, all parties have some time to try and work out a short-term or long-term compromise. Latino and DACA “leaders” must step back and consider the strategy they have been following, its pros and what I believe are many cons. It is an arduous task they have taken on, and I respect and admire the determination, emotion, and commitment they have demonstrated to date.

However, the strategy they have been following has had little success on the bottom line, while having severe consequences. It’s great to be mentioned by Hollywood actors at the 90th Oscar Awards, but that does not provide the relief and fairness being sought and earned by hardworking people whose motivations are no different than those who migrated to the U.S. at the turn of the 19th century.

Over the last 17 years, Latinos have seen how fear and anger has manifested itself towards our U.S.-born and immigrant communities. Despite all who suffered (including many immigrants from many parts of the world) from the horrific and permanent scars caused by the attacks on September 11, 2001, we began to experience the unprecedented damage to our national psyche and identification.  The door of anti-immigrant sentiment had been nudged open.

With the beginning of the presidential campaign in 2015, the door came off the hinges. We have been experiencing a level of intolerance, scapegoating, ignorance, nationalist xenophobia and racism most had not seen or felt before. Those of us who remember that these attitudes and behavior have long been a part of our history in this nation also remember the ugly experiences of our parents and grandparents. I cannot help but believe that fixing that damn door may not be possible after what we have been through the last seven years.

Arnoldo Torres

Latinos need to accept the reality that we have a fair share of responsibility for what has happened to us in this immigration dynamic. The perspective and analysis I offer do not come at an easy time nor will it be well received by many. However, I ask that you look beyond the political correctness lens that will surely be applied.

Some will say how dare I question what Latino advocates on immigration have been doing. I would respond how dare there is no dialogue or transparency of what has been going on for years with no tangible results!  It is essential and imperative that all so-called “movements del pueblo, of conscious” have a critical analysis of their strategy, tactics, plans, and results.

It was Latino “Dreamers” who accepted the political argument and strategy that said, “These kids are not to blame for the actions of their parents who brought them to the U.S. illegally.” This political argument should never have been made, and the political strategy never followed. But liberal left and “progressive” foundations began to fund immigrant rights groups during the Obama years, and this was the argument and strategy followed to a tee. Democratic leaders went right along.

“Dreamers” were portrayed as being “Americans” who have and would contribute significantly to the nation because they were educated, had or were willing to serve in the military and their faces and pictures made for excellent optics. It was clear that the strategist behind this approach believed that these pictures and young faces would be hard to condemn.  Another clear element in this self-defeating strategy was the confident feeling that Hilary would take care of all remaining undocumented family members.

This line of argument and thinking was dishonorable and unfair to the parent generation in the U.S. Parents who entered the US without papers did not do so to hurt their children. Their parents were seeking what parents all over the world want, economic survival and opportunity for their family. The parent generation of the “Dreamers,” like their parents before them, were recruited and encouraged to come to the U.S. by specific industries. Over time these industries became dependent on and preferred these immigrant workers over U.S.-born workers. In other words, Mexicans were not the cause of any displacement, the economic market and U.S.-born workers work ethic changed. This process formally and informally began during the first World War because of labor shortages.

These generations of undocumented immigrants have made exceptional contributions to this nation up until this very time in our history.  They have labored hard in whatever jobs they secured, they have paid taxes, made sure their children did well in school so one day they would meet the criteria for the DACA program, they purchased homes, started small and medium businesses, took jobs that paid little and offered little protection or benefits but were indispensable to our economy, and seldom complained!

Shame on the Republicans who have portrayed these generations of hard-working people as welfare dependents, criminals, drug smugglers, or “not the best.” Shame on Democrats for speaking out of both sides of their mouths while playing politics with the desperation of vulnerable people, and hubris and inexperience of youth that found a voice. Shame on the liberal foundations and the Frank Sharrys (America’s Voice) in this network who were fighting other battles besides the one that was facing good people.

This unprecedented investment in the immigrant community has undoubtedly raised the profile of DACA recipients, helped fund the building of capacity and infrastructure of immigrant community advocacy groups. They indeed developed and gave voice to the individuals who became DACA leaders. However, these liberal/progressive institutions and their public faces contributed significantly to the strategy, talking points, and tactics that put exclusive focus and political capital on DACA recipients. DACA has pushed aside all the other immigration policy, domestic and international issues confronting the large Latino family that exists in the U.S.

I do not doubt that there is good faith and that there are many individuals on the left that are well motivated and committed. However, there should be no doubt that “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” This side of the political spectrum has a clear pattern of telling us what is in minorities’ best interest and how to get there. They may not see it as clearly as many of us have over decades, but do not doubt its existence, prevalence, and negative consequences.

The challenge Latinos and Dreamers must overcome is the inclination to place critical issues before us in only a political context. We seriously ignore the role policy has in deciding the future and moving the needle. I am not naïve enough to maintain that perfection should be the enemy of good, but I certainly hope I will not hear perfection should not be our motivation. Politics is not the engine that drives all things and cannot replace sound policy proposals that are opposed because they do not satisfy our bias or ignorance.  Bad public policy makes for bad politics and presents intended and unintended consequences for the future. It is a dangerous habit to break, as evidenced by what Congress has been doing for far too long.

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Mexico trade mission and Ag labor issues – Looking Forward

Source: Karen Ross, California Agriculture Secretary

While in Mexico City last week, Governor Brown met with Secretary Navarrete Prida of the Mexican Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare and signed a letter of intent to address labor rights issues for temporary Mexican workers in California – a matter of high importance, of course, for California’s farmers and ranchers.

Moving forward from that promising development, we are working to create a pilot program than connects at least one California agricultural employer with Mexican officials to establish a set of protocols. Our objective is to help curb migrant worker abuse on a national and international basis, and provide stronger assurances to California agricultural employers that migrant labor employed within a H-2A program are not subject to illegal fees, misrepresentation of employment terms, fraud and other issues.

California, the U.S. Department of Labor, and a network of cross border nongovernmental organizations would work with Mexico to establish a bi-nationally available register of certified labor recruitment agencies. In addition, Mexico would develop a system for monitoring, verifying and supervising the activities carried out by recruitment agencies.

In California, the state would identify agricultural employers that voluntarily commit to using certified recruiters.

In the absence of a national immigration solution, this pilot program can be a great benefit to California’s agricultural community and strengthen our bilateral ties with Mexico.

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Commentary: American Dream flourishes in state’s strawberry fields

Source: Lorena Chavez; Ag Alert

For thousands of immigrants to California, the path to the American Dream literally winds its way through the state’s strawberry fields. Perhaps more than any other crop, strawberries are defined by decades of immigrants from Europe, Asia and Mexico.

A report issued earlier this month by the California Strawberry Commission, titled “Growing the American Dream: California Strawberry Farming’s Rich History of Immigrants & Opportunity,” illustrates how many new Americans find that strawberries are a viable ladder to success.

According to the report—which can be found on the Strawberry Commission website at www.californiastrawberries.com—a diverse community of 400 family farmers dominates the state’s strawberry production, which accounts for nearly 90 percent of all the strawberries grown in the United States.

Sixty-five percent of these farmers are Latinos, a quarter of whom worked their way up from field workers to supervisors and eventually owners of their own farms. Another 20 percent are Asian Americans, primarily Japanese and, most recently, Laotians. The remaining 15 percent are comprised of European Americans, with some tracing their ancestry to Gold Rush pioneers.

The story of my father, Luis Chavez, illustrates this immigrant experience. He came to the United States from a small, rural town in Jalisco, Mexico. Born in 1934, he was raised in a home with no electricity or running water. He hasn’t attended a single day of school in his entire life. His family grew corn and beans to survive.

With no money in his pockets, he arrived in California in search of a better life in 1955, as part of the Bracero program. Like generations of immigrants, my father realized that the key to success was hard work. He first worked in a dairy, covering double shifts for 16 years until the family could scrape up enough money to lease an acre to plant strawberries.

While still working their regular jobs, my parents would get up at 4 a.m. every day to tend their plot, slowly building their business. Gradually, they expanded to become L&G Farms. My siblings and I now work side by side with my father to farm 300 acres in Santa Maria, where we employ several hundred people.

This story is not uncommon. But why are so many immigrants drawn to strawberry farming?

Due to their high yield, year-round harvesting and strong consumer demand, strawberries are able to sustain a family on a relatively small parcel of land. The barriers to entry are also favorable to immigrant farmers, because they can afford to lease and not buy their farmland.

With our deep and longstanding immigrant tradition, California strawberry farmers have been highly vocal in advocating for immigration reform. Certainly, we are concerned about the need for a pool of workers to harvest our crops. But more importantly, we share a desire to make sure that future generations of immigrants have the opportunity for the upward mobility that strawberries have provided for our family.

Along with other California strawberry farmers, and even Silicon Valley executives, I have made several trips to Capitol Hill to tell Congress about the critical need for meaningful immigration reform.

While recent election results have stalled efforts, immigration reform should not be postponed indefinitely. And it definitely should not be a partisan matter.

On one of our trips to Capitol Hill, one of my colleagues, a first-generation Mexican-American farmer from Salinas, eagerly sought out a statue of President Ronald Reagan, his hero, who granted amnesty to millions of immigrants. This simple act paved the way for my colleague to become an American citizen, gradually working his way to become a strawberry farmer employing nearly 100 workers. Another American Dream realized.

The commission’s report provides a strong reminder about the sacrifice, pride and contributions made by this nation’s immigrants throughout our history.

It also underscores the fact that immigration reform is as American as, well, strawberries.

$9 Per Hour Minimum Wage Starts Next Week

By Christine Souza; Ag Alert

Starting July 1, the California state minimum wage increases to $9 per hour, a hike that growers say will result in more challenges on the farm and higher costs overall.

Monterey County strawberry grower Ed Ortega said, “In agriculture, nobody can pay just minimum wage.

“People will find a job doing something else that is much easier work than working in agriculture for minimum wage. They’d rather go and flip burgers for nine bucks,” Ortega said. “Our work demands more than a minimum wage employee, so every time the minimum wage goes up, the whole ladder in our entire pay structure goes up. There’s no such thing as paying the bottom guy more and not the top guy. The whole ladder rises.”

California’s minimum wage increase to $9 per hour is a result of the passage of Assembly Bill 10 by Assemblyman Luis Alejo, D-Salinas, in 2013. AB 10 also provided for a second hike in the California minimum wage to $10 per hour on Jan. 1, 2016.

Bryan Little, California Farm Bureau Federation director of labor affairs and chief operating officer of the Farm Employers Labor Service, said raising California’s minimum wage might have happened through a ballot initiative had AB 10 not become law last year.

Proponents of increasing the minimum wage argue it is needed to reduce poverty, while business groups and those opposed believe raising the hourly minimum wage would increase business costs and jeopardize California’s economic recovery.

“The majority of farmers already pay their employees much higher than minimum wage, so when these changes occur, employees making more than minimum wage expect to stay that much ahead of the increased rate,” Little said. “In the short term, it will increase costs to employers, but the labor supply is tight right now, so workers are already able to demand fairly high wages, but the increase still impacts operating costs and business profitability.”

Phil Martin, professor of Agriculture Economics at the University of California, Davis, confirmed that higher minimum wages affect some employers and workers more than others.

“Most farm employers have a wage structure, with some employees earning the minimum wage and others more. If the minimum wage rises by $1 an hour, workers earning more than the minimum wage normally expect a similar increase in order to keep their status in the wage hierarchy,” Martin said. “Employers often respond to higher wages with productivity increasing steps, from providing tools that enable workers to work faster to harvesting fields and orchards less often.”

Martin added that fewer new immigrants have already put upward pressure on farm wages and encouraged more use of labor-saving and productivity-increasing machines.

The new minimum wage has triggered other wage concerns for agriculture employers, Little said.

“A number of other costs associated with employing people are tied to employee earnings, like Workers’ Compensation and Unemployment Insurance; the increase in the minimum wage will directly and immediately impact employers’ costs for that. Also, if farm employers augment their workforces by bringing in farm labor contractors, the farm labor contractor is likely to increase the price of the workers they provide to cover that minimum wage increase and related costs.”

Farm labor contractors can be more efficient, and employ people year-round and spread their employment costs across more jobs than a farmer who employs a small number of people can, Little added.

“Farmers face several challenges in 2014, including implementing the Affordable Care Act and dealing with the effects of the drought,” Martin said.

This season, when it comes to the availability of employees, Ortega said, he is again experiencing a shortage of workers.

“We are experiencing the normal shortage that we experienced last year, which is a pretty extreme shortage of labor. Those who have less of a crop to harvest have a more severe labor shortage than those who have a crop to harvest,” Ortega said.

Whether a farm will attract the workers that are needed, Ortega said, depends on the size of the ranch and whether there is enough work to keep employees working. Smaller farms will have more limited opportunities.

“Any farmer who is experiencing a decrease in the water supply will also be experiencing extreme pest pressures, and if you have increased pest pressure, it means higher cost to the farmer,” Ortega said. “It’s an exponential factor. It’s not just raise the minimum wage a dollar; the associated costs go a lot higher than that.”

California is one of 18 states and the District of Columbia that have minimum wages above the federal minimum of $7.25 an hour and California’s $10 minimum is likely to be among the highest in the nation in 2016. Washington currently has the nation’s highest state minimum wage at $9.19 an hour.

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