Saturday, July 10, 2010

Backlash: Appeal By Utah Migrant and Seasonal Farm Worker Coalition For Donations For Migrant Workers Receives Hostile Public Reception

At a time during which sentiment against illegal immigrants is reaching a fever pitch, the Utah Migrant and Seasonal Farm Worker Coalition has stoked the political temperature even higher by issuing an appeal for donations from the public for migrant workers about to enter the state for seasonal agricultural employment. And because of the charged political environment, the appeal has triggered a hostile reaction from much of the public. News stories from the Deseret News, KTVX Channel 4, and KSL Channel 5.

Video Courtesy of

The Utah Migrant and Seasonal Farm Worker Coalition has been operating for years. It involves various agencies, businesses and volunteers who provide services for low-income farm laborers who travel to Utah each year. Workers are now entering the state for the annual cherry-picking season. So to help these people out, the Coalition is requesting donations of long-sleeved shirts, long pants, work boots, socks, new underwear, blankets, sunglasses, insect repellent, and non-perishable foods, such as rice, beans and canned foods.

Why? Because according to Corrie Jensen-Hout, the Coalition's program manager, a lot of these migrant workers end up sleeping in the orchards without a blanket, and the long-sleeved shirts and long pants are necessary to better protect against pesticide residue. Non-perishable foods are solicited because the majority of migrant farm workers in Utah average less than $7,500 a year. They get paid by the number of boxes of fruit picked. The KTVX story profiles several of them. An estimated 19,000 people travel to Utah each year to help harvest everything from cherries, peaches and apricots; when done, they move on to other states.

But what has set people off against this cause was the following statement by Jensen-Hout: "Our people are scared. They've been scared for a couple of years because so many of them do have someone in the family who's undocumented, and so they're afraid that if they walk into a food bank to get food for the family for the day, they could get into trouble." Yep, once the word "undocumented" was mentioned, that lit the match. The 384 comments posted to the KSL story as of this post are overwhelmingly hostile; many people believe donating to the Coalition will aid and abet illegal immigration, although not all the migrant workers come from outside the U.S. Others wonder why Americans can't do these jobs, and still others are appalled at what they consider the abusive work conditions. Some are also concerned that illegals leaving Arizona are coming to Utah. The problem: You use a bill like SB1070 to close the front door to illegals, and then you turn around and use the migrant labor program to open the back door to them.

KTVX is running a poll on their main page. In response to the question "Would you donate to needy migrant worker families, regardless of their legal status?", 63.2 percent answered "No".

Apologists for migrant workers contend that employing them under these conditions with minimal compensation helps keep food prices low. One research study published by Arizona State University entitled “Economic Impact of Restrictions on Foreign Labor and the Produce Industry” estimated that wages would have to rise by 41.7 percent to replace an estimated 60 percent of agricultural workers who are illegal aliens and that this could cost an additional $8.84 billion annually to be absorbed by the consumer or the producer.

However, the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) disputes this contention. In this report, they write:

An average household currently spends about $370 per year on fruits and vegetables. If curtailing illegal alien agricultural labor caused tighter labor conditions and a 40 percent increase in wages, the increased cost to the American family would be $9 a year, or about 2.4 cents per day. Yet for the farm laborer, the change would mean an increase in earnings from $8,800 to $12,350 for each 1,000 hours of work (25 weeks if the worker worked 40-hour weeks). That increase would move the worker from beneath the federal poverty line to above it.

In February 1996, the Center for Immigration Studies produced their own report which suggested similar conclusions.

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