The politics of the Hispanic farm employees in California is interesting. Many think there is a gulf between farmers and their Hispanic employees. Not so, said Arnold Torres, a journalist, consultant, and partner in the Sacramento-based public policy consulting firm Torres and Torres.
“I do not think there is a gulf between the farm employee in the valley and the owners of the farms. But I do think there is a big gulf between the Hispanic worker employees and the state legislature,” Torres said.
“You would think in the mind of the Latino Legislator, they believe that they are everything that these foreign workers need. That’s the fallacy because the Latino urban member of the legislature deals with the farm worker as a stereotype,” Torres explained. “They don’t sit there and have a conversation with them, and when they do, if any farm worker does not satisfy the image of a Cesar Chavez farm worker profile, then that worker is a sellout. That worker is on the grower side.”
This is all part of the fallacy of Latino solidarity.
“That’s where I have to agree with the attitude and the disposition of certain Latinos in the valley. However, the problem is what other Latinos in the Central Valley are doing to consistently challenge that disconnect,” Torres said.
“Every Latino is not monolithic. We don’t all think alike. So how does the grower and the farm worker community properly, effectively portray themselves to a population of elected representatives who happen to be Latino or happen to be white liberal or African American liberal or Asian liberal and say: ‘Ladies and gentlemen, we are not supporters of the union argument just because we’re farm workers?’ ” Torres said.
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.
“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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
H2-A employees are the heart of one major farm labor company. Steve Scaroni owns Fresh Harvest, a premier labor provider and staffing and harvesting company to the agricultural industry and the western United States. But the company’s main emphasis has always harvested crops related to salads; they have also expanded into permanent crops.
“Last year, we started citrus and pears, and we will continue to expand in vegetables with anything that goes into a salad, lots of head lettuce, romaine, and broccoli, which is what we have been doing for a long time,” Scaroni said.
And then we touch a lot of salads every day. The H2-A temporary agricultural program allows agricultural employers when anticipating a shortage in domestic workers to bring non-migrant foreign workers to the US to perform agricultural services for a temporary or seasonal nature.
“If it wasn’t for H2-A, I wouldn’t be in business. I mean that’s the only way to get a legal worker into California to serve my customers demands for the services we offer, which is mostly labor and harvesting,” Scaroni said.
“And we’re even starting to do a lot of farm services. We’re bringing up 100 irrigators this year to put throughout the Salinas Valley because our Salinas customers can’t get enough irrigators,” he said.
Being a labor contractor has its difficulties. It takes a lot of work. It’s a very bureaucratic process-driven application process.
“Laborers that show great work ethic will be able to work for a longer period of time. A worker could technically stay if I can move it from contract to contract, and I can keep the temporary employee for three years,” Scaroni said. “But then he has to go back for 90 days, but it’s very hard to time the contracts for that to work.”
“So most guys, they’ll do five, six, seven months. They’ll go home before they can come back. And then the guys that are really good workers with and a great attitude and really get it done for us. We’ll move to another contract. Will even retrain them in a different crop if they have the right attitude and work ethic,” he said.
Campaign Targeting Latino Community for Dairy Workers
By Patrick Cavanaugh, Farm News Director
Western United Dairymen, based in Modesto, is launching a Spanish language campaign to educate the Latino community about working for California dairies, according to Anja Raudabaugh, chief executive officer of the organization.
“We’re basically going to be offering a lot of benefits for Latino employees and their families to stay working for dairies or to come to work for dairies,” she said. “We’re going to be doing quite a bit of immigration services, free of charge for those families. We want to elevate the status of women on the dairy farm because they tend to do really well with the cows and the calves.”
The campaign is known as Lecheros Unidos de California.
“We are really targeted and branding, with the dairy community and not just Western United Dairy,” Raudabaugh said.
The campaign will be heard throughout the San Joaquin Valley on Spanish radio and television. The California dairy industry compensates Latino workers well beyond minimum wage to get the work done.
“This is a effort to strengthen the connection that the Latino community has with the dairy industry,” Raudabaugh. “We want them to know that we care for the community and count on them to work in our industry.”