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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H2-A is Only Legal Solution For Labor Without Immigration Reform

H2-A is Heart of One Farm Labor Contractor

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Editor

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.

Steve Scaroni

“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.

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Henry Gonzales, Ventura County Ag Commissioner

Ventura County Ag Commissioner Henry Gonzales Started as Fieldworker

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Deputy Editor

California Ag Today interviewed Henry Gonzales, Ventura County Ag Commissioner, who has served in that post for 7 years. His unique story begins with his birth in Fresno and his work in the California fields at an early age.

Gonzales: My parents were migrant farmworkers, and back in the day, there was no day care for us, so they took us to the fields with them. I like to think I my career started in agriculture when I was old enough to pick up a plum and put it in their basket. We worked a lot in the Fresno area, but also in the San Jose area and Imperial County, following the crops as most migrant farmers do.

CalAgToday: You started working as a child, and what happened next? Did you and your family continue as a farmworkers?

Gonzales: We continued farm working for many years. We used to live in farm labor camps, whenever they were available. Sometimes we stayed with relatives or anywhere we could find. There were times when the only places we could find were the trees in the orchard, so sometimes we stayed there.

CalAgToday: So, when you were 13, you went off on your own?

Gonzales: Yes, when I was 13, I did what I thought I should do—work under my own social security card. I started working in the fields around Salinas. I was actually in the same lettuce harvesting crew with my grandfather who was 69 at the time.

CalAgToday: Well, Henry, walk me through it. How many years did you work with your grandfather?

Gonzales: I worked every summer and weekends since I was 13 through high school in the fields around Salinas.

This painting was done by Henry Gonzales's mother depicting his early work in the fields
This painting was done by Henry Gonzales’s mother depicting his early work in the fields.

 

 

CalAgToday: Tell me about high school.

Gonzales: I felt very strongly about completing high school because I know my parents did not. But you may find it interesting that when I was working in the fields around Salinas, I was a card-carrying member of the United Farm Workers (UFW).

CalAgToday: So the UFW recruited you early, or were you a supporter?

Gonzales: Well, it was a closed-shop situation; if you worked in that company, you were a member. So I believe I am the only ag commissioner who was once a card-carrying member of the UFW.

CalAgToday: And why is that significant to you, Henry?

Gonzales: As you know, in agriculture, farmworkers are, almost literally, the backbone of the industry. They are the ones doing all the heavy lifting. So, having that background really provides me with a broader perspective because I can understand farming from the ground level up. Coupled with my Bachelor of Science degree in agricultural science, my field work experience has given me a well-rounded background for agriculture.

I started working for the Monterey County Ag Commissioner’s office over 30 years ago. All Ag Commissioners start at the bottom of the organization, so I began as an agricultural inspector-biologist and worked my way up to deputy, chief deputy, and then seven years ago, I became Ag Commissioner here in Ventura County.

CalAgToday: So suddenly a job became available in Ventura County?

Gonzales: That was kind of interesting. I was in Monterey County with a great job, a great boss, and I could do pretty much what I wanted. But I got a call from Ventura County inviting me to apply for their ag commissioner position. I checked with my wife, and she said ‘Sure, why not? Try it!’ I did, and as they say, the rest is history.

I applied and got the position. I was reappointed here three years ago, and I am hoping to do at least one more term after my current term is over. I think all my years working for the Monterey County Ag Commissioner’s office, my degree in Ag Science, and my master’s in public administration, coupled with my childhood years working in the field really gives me a broad background in agriculture, especially as it exists in Ventura County and in the state of California.

CalAgToday: How did you have time to get a masters degree in public administration?

Gonzales: Well, while I was working for Monterey County, I spent a lot of sleepless nights and weekends in order to earn that degree from Golden Gate University’s satellite office in Monterey.

CalAgToday: When you look back, you have come so far from your beginnings as a farmworker, and you have seen so much. How do you put all of that together?

Gonzales: My experience has provided me with the broadest perspective, so when I deal with a challenging issue, I can see it from all vantage points, and that is very helpful to me in doing my job.

 

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Migrant Farmworker Housing: Part of the Solution for our Industry’s Workforce

By: Karen Ross; CDFA

Recently, I had the privilege of taking part in a tour of several migrant farmworker housing centers hosted by the California Department of Housing and Community Development.

I was eager to participate in this tour with Business, Consumer Services and Housing Secretary Anna Caballero because of our shared commitment to work “across Cabinet” to improve existing and develop new affordable and decent housing for farmworkers and their families.

Access to safe, affordable housing is just one of many issues critical to our rural agricultural communities.

Earlier this year we received a report from the California Agricultural Workforce Housing and Transportation Project with recommendations to address the challenges and barriers to providing adequate housing and transportation to the agricultural workforce (www.aginnovations.org/workforce).

Seeing housing centers firsthand was very informative. We toured three centers  – Harney Lane Migrant Center (Lodi), Empire Migrant Center (Ceres) and Westley Migrant Center.

Our one-day tour underscored the critical importance of the effort that is needed in our rural areas to provide decent housing for hundreds of workers who plant, pick and process our fruits, vegetables, nuts and other agricultural commodities. These centers are not just a space to sleep and eat, but a place for families to live and belong.

The primary message I took away from this experience was a simple recognition of the progress that has been made. But there is much more that needs to be done!

The long-term viability of California agriculture depends upon agricultural workers who need safe, reliable and affordable transportation to their places of employment and a home that reflects their dignity and importance.

This will require effective coordination at the regional, state and federal levels to improve existing housing stock and develop new affordable housing for farmworkers and their families.

I applaud the dedication of the county housing authority leaders and center managers I met on the tour, and I look forward to working with my colleagues and stakeholders to make real, concrete improvements in the form of walls and floors and playgrounds that can make a difference today, and that will stand as examples for continued progress.

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