, Salem, MA


November 2, 2013

Watson: Immigrant farm workers help the economy


The long growing season in California – and the types of crops grown – combine to permit farmworkers to stay year-round in the state. In Florida, where tomatoes and oranges are grown in a shorter season, the workers don’t as often create permanent homes, instead migrating northward with differing crop seasons.

Consequently, in California, I saw a lot of modest but satisfactory housing neighborhoods where farmworker residents have become an integral part of the life and commerce of the communities. They may be third- or fourth-generation Californians and their children are attending the local schools. Unlike Florida, where transient, single young men without cars are bused en masse to the fields, a larger percentage of California’s central valley farmworkers are married, have families and cars, and are committed economically to the nation.

California’s total population is 38 million, of which about 39 percent (14 million) are Latino. There are an estimated 2.8 million undocumented immigrants in the state, and a large number of those are farmworkers. A similar situation exists in Florida, where undocumented workers make up at least half of the migrant pickers.

Spend time in either Florida’s or California’s agricultural regions and what is driven home to you is the extent to which Latino immigrants – both citizens and undocumented – play a critical, constructive role in our nation’s economy. Like so many different immigrant groups before them, they are an asset to the nation.

For that reason, and many others, immigration reform is overdue. We are spending inordinate time, energy, money, and resources monitoring, chasing, prosecuting, or deporting people who for the most part demonstrate motivation, respect for the law, and a work ethic. Our current immigration enforcement policies divide the nation and create incredible pain in the lives of immigrant families. We currently deport 400,000 people a year.

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