MY WORD: Solutions about that ‘oozing, bothersome blemish’

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To address the issue of immigrants illegally entering the U.S., you have to understand how and why it became this way. The fixes aren’t simple.

By Sarah Fouts

When I think of “oozing, bothersome blemishes,” I get a bit nauseous. Is this “bothersome blemish” referring to the folks that hire undocumented workers? I doubt it. Rather, I believe that the reference is aimed at the workers themselves. The people who since the mid-1990s have come to Kentucky, harvested crops, worked with horses, helped keep prices down and worked for very low wages in dangerous conditions for long hours.

At first, while reading this editorial (“Montell’s bill deserves a look,” Oct. 26), I was fairly pleased at the effort of the paper to not entirelyscapegoat undocumented workers. Beyond the use of the “oozing, bothersome blemish” comment, I initially commended the article for its praise of Rep. Brad Montell for addressing the supply and demand issue – if there is work, they will come. However, I do not think it is quite as simple as just punishing those who hire workers or the workers themselves. I am quite certain Sen. Paul Hornback would agree with that statement considering his agricultural background.

But I hope here to shed light on what is actually going on with immigration in the U.S. and perhaps offer some tangible solutions. First, I would like to specifically break down the proposed actions of “those who are running for president in 2012 [who] are as divided on their approaches as we are.” Gov. Rick Perry suggested that we go to war with Mexico. Michelle Bachman recommends a double fence on the border. While campaigning in Tennessee, Herman Cain offered the idea of an electric fence to keep the border “secure.”

He did retreat later with his tail between his legs when he realized that Latino voters might be helpful in his campaign. The point is that these proposed solutions, both frightening and expensive, are realforeign policy suggestions by realcandidates that could potentially lead our nation.

I find that scary.

On the federal level, the Obama administration has implemented the Secure Communities program, which is aimed at arresting undocumented immigrants and sending those with serious criminal records back to their country of origin. Local, state and federal law enforcement are required to partner with immigration officials to target the most dangerous criminals.

Unfortunately discretion, especially with officers who receive little to no training in cultural sensitivity, does not work as well in practice as it does on paper. Instead of creating secure communities, the policy has instilled fear within the immigrant community (documented and undocumented), cases of racial profiling have escalated, families are separated, police are overloaded, and jails are unnecessarily full.

All these consequences are unnecessary burdens on taxpayers.

On the state level, Arizona’s anti-immigrant sentiment is rampant as Sheriff Arpaio is further militarizing the border with the expensive “Operation Desert Sky,” in which pilots fly around the border armed with machine guns and M-16s to intercept people attempting to make their transnational journey.

In Georgia and Alabama they have recently passed extreme anti-immigrant laws that have led to the max exodus of undocumented workers. That is good thing for the nativist, xenophobic politicians and constituents who feel their pallid status quo is threatened by a group of hard-working immigrants.

Meanwhile, farmers and business owners are losing out. Peaches, tomatoes, blueberries, corn and other crops along with mass poultry production industries have been left to rot because no one will work the low wages that these folks can afford to pay.

Further, the New York Timesrecently published a report about onion farmers in Colorado whose harvest rotted because they were only allowed to hire local, documented workers. These farmers offered to pay $10.50 an hour. Workers came for two hours and then quit because the work was too strenuous.

Their harvests rotted because they had no pool of immigrant laborers from which to hire. In the midst of a major jobs crisis, that fact that these agricultural jobs are not being filled demonstrates that there is a clear demand for these undocumented workers.

My proposed solution is as follows. I suggest looking at the roots of the problems; not attacking just the symptoms. Instead of complaining of immigrant workers taking jobs, please put your energy toward blaming neoliberal policies implemented by promoters of (semi) free markets who have shipped our jobs overseas.

Domestically, please blame these same deregulations, which have enabled owners of factories to convert jobs into bogus “cultural exchange programs” (see sweatshops in Hershey, Pa.). Further, I would like to encourage folks to research and understand the roots of our immigration quagmire, which stem from U.S. policies such as NAFTA, groups such as ALEC, who promote the prison industrial complex, and factories such as described in Hershey.

Lastly, the illegal vs. legal binary is exhausting and exhausted. We live in times of globalization. The flows of information, jobs, money are moving faster than ever. We need to keep up.

If we are to truly adhere to the free markets, we should allow the free flow of goods andthe free flow of people. If open border policy is too (neo) liberal, we must rework our policies no longer to subsidize corn exports that take away agricultural jobs in places like Mexico and Central America – jobs from the same workers that make their way to the United States.

Further, we must expand our guest worker programs to be more just and more easily available for farmers and other employers. Mostly, we must realize that these are more than just disposable workers.

They are not “oozing, bothersome blemishes.” They are people.

And,if you give them a chance, then perhaps you will realize they are not so different from you.


Sarah Fouts is a native of Shelbyville.