Oped: 'Culture of cruelty' against immigrants hurts all

Mary Barnes
Springfield Township

Stan Brown, our community’s beloved owner of Brown’s Orchards, writes in his most recent store newsletter about the Mexican crew leader and workforce they’ve depended on for 30 years. He describes them as “family oriented and very responsible, they are fast learners who work mostly ten hour days in all temperatures." He reassures us patrons that they are documented and that they are necessary to the store’s success as well as to “feeding America."

Mary Nuñez holds up a sign during a protest over recent Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids in the U.S., Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2017, in Las Cruces, N.M. The Homeland Security Department said Monday that 680 people were arrested in roundups last week targeting immigrants living illegally in the United States. The figure is far below the totals of similar raids conducted under the Obama administration. 
(Josh Bachman/The Las Cruces Sun-News via AP)

In this week’s Sunday News, there was an article titled "Immigrant reform (read crackdown) could put dairy farms out of business." Focusing on the situation in Wisconsin, it showed that the hard-line stance the present administration is taking on undocumented immigrants threatens large dairy farms that rely on immigrant labor. That, in turn, could result in the rise in prices of their milk-related products.

But worse, many farmers said they would be forced to quit milking cows because not enough other people (that is, U.S. citizens) are willing to accept such physically demanding jobs for $13 per hour. The article points out immigrants, including undocumented workers, play an important role in the U.S. economy because they fill the jobs that most Americans won’t do. The article says, “Dairy farmers say they get almost zero response from native-born job applicants even when pay is comparable to nearby factories."

In the U.S., 25 percent of the agricultural workforce is made up of unauthorized immigrants, where 20 percent more are authorized. And looking at the bigger picture, 15 percent of construction workers are undocumented, 12 percent documented; production workers and service workers both are 9 percent and 14 percent undocumented and documented respectively. In the transportation sector, 15 percent are undocumented, 10 percent documented.

I appreciated Stan Brown’s recognition of his workers being family oriented and hard working because that is the actual norm, not the exception. Despite this, we hear over and over the dehumanizing, demonizing and fear-mongering language being used by the present administration as well as some of our state and local representatives who, by the way, have delighted in “seeing a new sheriff in town." These workers are labelled “illegal aliens” and their presence an "illegal alien invasion” as if they were Martians and not fellow human beings.

I heard those phrases repeated at least 50 times earlier this month when Daryl Metcalf and four of his State House colleagues held an event to introduce a series of draconian anti-immigrant bills. One of the arguments put forth was that these bad aliens were coming and stealing jobs from Americans. Tell that to the Wisconsin farmers (or, I am guessing, to the home builders at Logan’s Reserve, for instance.)This technique is not new. Benjamin Franklin bemoaned the presence of those alien Germans whom he described as “swarthy." And we all know those immigrants from the Emerald Isle years ago were once referred to as the “black Irish," etc.

Several nationwide surveys report serious crime rate for unauthorized immigrants nationwide is 2.7 percent versus 6 percent overall. At the same time, when immigrants (authorized and unauthorized) are themselves victims of crimes they are 40 percent less likely to want to report them for fear of ICE getting involved. This makes our communities less safe!

If we read and hear this dehumanizing rhetoric over and over we are at risk of buying into the portrayal of immigrants as “other," as less than human and, therefore, “culture of cruelty” behavior can be justified. An example, for instance, is of Sara Beltran-Hernandez, an asylum seeker in a Texas hospital being worked up for a brain tumor. She was forcibly removed by ICE and taken to a detention center 40 miles outside of Dallas.

I will take Stan Brown at his word and believe all his hard working fruit-pickers are documented. But I can also guarantee they have family or friends — people they love — who are not and they are surely living in fear and terror for those who might suddenly be taken away and deported. I am sure they know some family who has already been traumatized by this heartlessness that negates our most fundamental welcoming American values. But if one wants to ignore all that, if one needs to dismiss these people as dangerous job-takers or welfare thieves, let’s just focus on being practical. What might it cost in the future to buy cheese from Wisconsin, vegetables from California or the equivalent of a delicious jug of Brown’s apple cider?

— Mary Barnes is a resident of Springfield Township.