A few days ago, I had an opportunity to travel to El Paso from Colorado for a family event. Right before crossing into Texas on I-25, a white patrol car trimmed in green and black decided to follow the Chevy Suburban carrying our family for about 10 miles.
The patrol car turned out to be the U.S Border Patrol doing its normal work inside that border zone that has been the subject of so much political turmoil and anti-immigrant feeling. It appears that a car loaded with brown faces represented a special catch to the agents except for the fact that we were going the wrong way toward Mexico rather than away from the border.
At some point in the “chase” I was hoping to be stopped to learn a little more about the inner workings and motivations of the law enforcement people doing their job along the border. I did not have the luck of being stopped, but nevertheless learned a valuable lesson about the dynamic tension our family experienced that was created by showing up on the border.
Showing up on American soil has been part of the history and tradition of the immigrant experience. It has been pilgrims coming to America without papers who were welcomed and in some cases cared for by American Indians; Irish without papers that came on shore who were immediately drafted to fight in the Civil War; Italians without papers coming to Ellis Island who had their names changed and processed for residency in a single action or Cubans without papers who only have to step on a piece of sand bar that is part of our country to be legally here forever.
The other Latino immigrants of today are not so lucky but they still show up. The essence of the American way is to come for a better life and in the process provided the enthusiasm and energy to move the country the next step forward.
That is why it seemed initially perplexing to me in a visit to a tomato farm and a migrant farm labor camp outside of Charleston, S.C. to find that 25 percent of the tomato crop had rotted in the field for lack of migrant farm labor to pick the crop. Furthermore, what little migrant labor that could be available to South Carolina opted to get out of their usual migrant stream up and down the east coast to go to Ohio to do their work.
The conversation with the tomato farmer revealed the hard truth that he basically lost his profit margin from his tomato fields because of the draconian laws passed by the legislatures and signed by governors in Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina that outdid the original model represented by Arizona anti-immigrant laws. Latino migrant farm workers did not want to risk their family welfare and be subject to the whims, attitudes and discrimination on the part of local law enforcement in addition to the back breaking labor and relatively low pay.
So migrant workers are just skipping or going around these states to find places where they can work in peace. I understand that one of the states in question attempted to solve some of the farm labor shortage problem by bringing back the chain gangs this time to do farm work.
But as we should understand, farm labor is hard, tedious work that’s not suited for those who have lived a life of crime and easy ways to make a buck.