6) Tough Making It
Once illegal immigrants move into the work force here, many end up in the margins of poverty (the way Americans see poverty) barely scraping by, while trying to send as much as money as they can back to their relatives.
On a tour of California to look at migrant farm worker issues, I interviewed a man who formerly worked in the fields of Gilroy picking garlic, sun up to sun down. Eliseo Hinojosa has a wife and two young children. He told me the work in the fields was quite hard, the pay was low and by the time he met expenses here – there was little left (although he tried to send something whenever he could) for his relatives back in Mexico.
He said this situation was not uncommon.
Monterey (CA) Herald columnist Joe Livernois would agree.
In response to all the “crabbing” about undocumented immigrants taking jobs from Americans, Livernois wrote about one of these typical working scenarios. He described getting up at 3 a.m. and catching a bus to “some dewy field in the middle of nowhere.” Then mucking about in the thick mud, bent over, tending to vegetables all day long for wages that will force people to move in with several other families “in somebody’s garage.”
Livernois also wrote as a youth he had a farm worker job that lasted three weeks. He harvested onion seeds “under a scorching sun” during 12 hour days for an extremely low wage. “By the end of the day we were covered in onion husks, which, when mixed with sweat, prickles like fiberglass.
Shortly before I read Livernois’s column in California, in Ohio I learned about an illegal immigrant from Nicaragua who was here to earn money to rebuild a small rural home that had been destroyed in a forest fire. The woman, a single mother, had left her children with a relative, crossed several countries to the north, crossed the border, and through a network of people, ended up at a Catholic Worker House.
A nun who volunteers at the House told me the woman performs hard manual labor at a tire company in the area. The nun said the woman, who is quite slightly built, often has bruises on her arms because of all the heavy lifting. The woman’s hope is to be here several years, make enough money to rebuild, and then return to be with her children.
Our administration would not only pave the way for this woman from Nicaragua to be here, but we would make sure she had every advantage any American worker with a living wage, benefits and good working conditions had. (And we would work hard to try and make sure every worker in America had the same.)
*In addition, we would work to suspend fines and other punitive actions against employers who hire illegal immigrants.
7) Temporary Workers, etc.
We believe there needs to be safe and efficient conduits for people south of the border to be able to work in the U.S, whether they plan to become citizens, or not.
In Sheffield, Texas, I interviewed rancher Ron Stuard who said it’s virtually impossible to get American citizens to work the ranches in these parts. The “Catch 22,” he said, is if he hires illegal immigrants (who are indeed willing to work the ranches), he faces sanctions and up to a $10,000 fine.
Our administration would work to suspend fines, jail time, and asset forfeiture for businesses who hire illegal immigrants.
Stuard also told me that in the 1950s, under the U.S. “Bracerro Program,” Mexicans and others from south of the border, were allowed to work on these ranches, and the like. He said in Mexico there was a list of people available to work, and as jobs came up in the U.S. (farm working, ranching…), they were simply matched.
Stuard said standard protocol was the U.S. employer would drive to a border check point, sign for the workers he needed (including stating the duration he needed the workers) – then get the workers back to the check point at the stated date.
McClean, Texas’s Steve Calloway also likes the checkpoint idea for temporary workers here. At a campaign stop in this area, Calloway told me he grew up in South Georgia in the small town of Claxton.
All around were peanut and cotton farms. He said, virtually without exception, that the workers in these fields were Mexican, many illegal. Calloway continued that this hasn’t changed for the most part, and Americans have to face the fact that these Latino workers are an integral part of our economy.
He, too, believes there should be checkpoints at various places along the border. And there should be background checks for criminal records, etc.
Calloway added that if everything is OK with one of these checks, Latinos should be allowed to work here, either short or long term, including being eligible for citizenship after working for a prescribed time.
8) “Hispanic Council” Means Grassroots Help
In Eunice, New Mexico, Leon Navarette told me Hispanics are often capable of doing more than “putting foot to shovel,” but breaking out of the stereotype (even having equal opportunity to do so) is tremendously difficult.
Navarette, and other residents in Eunice started the grassroots “Hispanic Council,” an ad hoc citizens group focused on helping new arrivals here. They conduct seminars to show immigrants the ins and outs of the job market, including how to start their own businesses. They hold seminars on how to access local social service networks. Some Hispanic Council members help tutor immigrant children and others help raise college scholarship funds.
They also lobby the city council for better streets and city services in general for these new arrivals who, for the most part, live in the poorer south section of Eunice, many living two to three families in quite small homes and trailers there.
9) Deportation, Split Families, Slow Bureaucracy…
In Dade City, Florida, illegal immigrants live two or three families to small homes and trailers as well. What’s more, they (like all illegal immigrants) live under continual fear about being deported.
I interviewed Fr. Edwin Barker in Dade City, Florida. He told me a good percentage of his church was made up of illegal immigrants. Fr. Barker explained that several years prior some Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) agents came to Dade City asking questions.
It created such a scare that many of the illegal immigrants, for weeks, wouldn’t leave their homes to go to work, to the grocery, to church, anywhere…
In Fresno, California, I interviewed Thomas Gonzalas who is a Latino Rights activist. He believes it’s unconscionable that people have to live in fear like this, and he is pushing for total amnesty for all illegal immigrants – including family reunification.
He said, for instance, to have worked in America for a year and then be deported for 10 years (policy at the time of the interview) is not fair. What’s more, sometimes the illegal person who is deported has to leave his family here. Mr. Gonzalas said it is very “cruel” to split families like that.
Mr. Gonzalas has also worked with many Latinos to help get them citizenship, and he said the process is often “long and slow.” This, in turn, discourages people from undertaking it.
Our administration would also push for total amnesty and family reunification. We would also work to make the citizenship process much easier and quicker.
10) Illegal Drug Influx
An issue that comes up consistently around border security is the influx of illegal drugs into America from south of the border.
In Las Cruces, New Mexico, I interviewed Sheriff Department Sgt. Jimmy Beasley. He said it is not uncommon for his department to seize tractor-trailers that have come across the border with a half-ton of marijuana, cocaine…
He said besides the trucks, tunnels have been built below the fence and so on. And Sgt. Beasley said the Drug Cartels are so powerful south of the border, that no matter how much border security, they will figure out some way to get the drugs into the country.
Several months earlier, I met with a human rights activist from Columbia who was here to lobby against U.S. Government spraying of coca plants in her country. The activist, who requested anonymity, said the toxic chemicals used by crop dusters there, also (depending on where the wind is blowing) kills the crops of surrounding subsistence farmers and creates tremendous health hazards (cancer, respiratory problems…) for adults and children in these areas.
What’s more, this activist said if a coca farmer’s crop is destroyed, they, more often than not, simply move to another location and continue to grow.
All this begs the question:
“Are we fighting the war on drugs on the right front?”
That is, should we be spending billions muscling up our border security and DEA activities (such as the Columbia spraying) south of the border? Or should we be spending much more energy and resources on stemming the demand for illegal drugs on this side of the border?
Common sense, we believe, would vote for the latter.
As a former drug & alcohol counselor, I know that there are varying precipitating factors that lead to drug abuse. Probably the most systemic is problems in the nuclear family.
When there isn’t consistent, and quality, parenting time for youth – they grow up feeling empty inside. To fill these emotional voids, the youth then turn to alcohol, sex, drugs… (All we have to do is objectively look around society at this point to see how pervasive these addictive patterns have become, I told the BG News at Bowling Green State University.)
On the Monterey Peninsula in California, I did extensive research on the program: Take A Stand for Kids (TASK). This is a grassroots group of parents who conduct neighborhood meetings, school seminars and open public forums to raise awareness about better parenting techniques. And they have been tremendously successful.
Likewise, the DARE Program in America is starting to make measurable impact on drug abuse among youth. Sgt. Beasley is also the DARE Program coordinator in the Las Cruces, New Mexico public school system.
Sgt. Beasley told me DARE focuses on drug prevention education and sets up peer group support systems.
In addition, we believe there should be much more help in general focused on American inner city youth who are growing up in gang war zones amidst a tremendous amount of drugs. This can’t help but be a recipe for continued drug abuse in the next generation.
I researched a highly effective mentoring program in Wheeling, West Virginia, for inner city youth. There is a 14-week training program for adults who then adopt a youth for a year (although the relationships often last must longer.) Likewise, I interviewed a police officer from Detroit who is involved with a Community Oriented Policing Mentoring Project. Police officers there are assigned six youth who they spend time with every day after school.
Another cause for the high illegal drug demand on this side of the border is the tremendous recidivism (relapse) rate of those who have tried to undertake recovery, either on their own or forced through the court system.
In Needles, California, we researched the highly effective “Drug Court.” (These have been starting up around the country in recent years). First time non-violent offenders (where there was drugs or alcohol involved with the crime), are referred to a long-term, comprehensive treatment program that includes three outpatient groups a week, AA meetings, drug screens…
Common sense says the longer, and more comprehensive, the treatment program, the better the chances for long term recovery.
And common sense also says there needs to be a more wholesome societal climate in general. Youth are being raised in an “MTV Culture” saturated with media (television, movie, computer…) messages about the glorification of drugs, and so on.…
During Campaign 2004, I told the Hicksville, Ohio, newspaper that it’s time that “parents again be parents,” and take a more hands on approach to raising their children in a wholesome fashion, which includes limiting a youth’s exposure to all these corrosive influences.
See, we can strengthen the border to stem more of the flow of illegal drugs from the south, but in the long run it doesn’t take away the real problem.
The real problem is on this side of the border.
11) Living Wage, Benefits, Better Housing…
On a tour of the San Joaquin Valley in California to look at migrant farm worker issues, I interviewed Doug Blaylock, an administrator at the National (Cesar) Chavez Center. Mr. Blaylock told me despite some of the strides the United Farm Workers Union has made, farm workers (both legal and illegal) are still discriminated against when it comes to wages, benefits, housing… Just like Irish immigrants, for instance, were discriminated against at the turn of last century.
We stopped in Arvin, California, a dusty farm worker town just south of Bakersfield. There we learned about farm workers living sometimes two to three families in tiny houses, or trailers.
A recent Mother Jones Magazine article noted Arvin has become “the most crowded community in all of California.” The article gives the example of “Isabel,” a farm worker and single mother of three in Arvin. She lives in a small, 300-square foot home. Two of her sons share bunk beds and her oldest sleeps in the car. Four other relatives sleep on the floor. And she sleeps on a couch.
These situations exist, in large part, because the wages in the fields (garment districts, factories…) are so low.
Translated: The individual farmers and corporate farming entities (garment company owners, factory owners…) pay low wages because they want to maximize their profits. On the other end of the continuum, a majority of consumers simply want to buy the cheapest produce possible, often for just as selfish reasons.
So what we are doing, in essence, is building our lifestyles on the backs of many of these illegal immigrants and have set up what amounts to a slave populace.
I told the Kingman (AZ) Daily Miner newspaper that ironically when it comes to migrant farm workers, they do some of the most important work on earth. That is, they help provide us with food. In fact, I said I believed what farm workers (and farmers) do is as important, if not more important, than what lawyers, accountants, and CEOs do. “And they should be compensated accordingly.”
And I told the Lodi (CA) Sentinel News that our administration would push for much better wages for farm workers (garment district workers, factory workers…), better benefits, better housing…
In receiving better wages, for instance, housing would naturally improve for this populace. And our administration would lobby non-profits like Habitat for Humanity to start a home-building program for new arrivals.
On a stop in Americas, Georgia, I met with Millard Fuller who is the co-founder of Habitat for Humanity. He told me the non-profit organization has grown exponentially and revolves around identifying housing needs (both domestically and internationally) – and then meeting them. (Habitat is an ecumenical Christian outreach that is networked through churches and relies solely on volunteer help to build and repair homes for the disadvantaged.)
In tandem with laws to help farm workers with better pay, for instance, we would also call on the American consumer to help in a voluntary fashion. That is, we would propose having “Farm Worker Displays” in produce sections of grocery stores throughout the country. The displays, for instance, would include pictures of farm workers in the hot sun, their children barefoot, the shacks they live in… With each display would be a donation bin for a general fund to help farm workers (garment worker, factory worker…) and their families.
The Athens (OH) News noted that I had a populist faith in the American people to fix problems with “decency and common sense.” And I do.
12) Help Latin America Drive!
In Arvin, California, I interviewed Fr. Lucas Azpericueda, who said he is personal friends with Vincente Fox, the former president of Mexico.
Before being the leader of Mexico, Fox was the head of the State of Guanaguato. Fr. Azpericueda told me that Fox was extremely proactive in developing a model to help change the infra-structure of Guanaguato, which in turn, created many more jobs in the business and agriculture sectors, improved the quality and access to education and provided better housing and social services.
In kind, the percentage of Mexicans migrating from Guanaguato to the United States dropped considerably, said Fr. Azpericuada. It is our contention many people don’t want to leave their families, their towns, their culture, their country, to move to America. But the poverty often gives them little choice.
Given this, our administration would start a “Help Latin America Drive!” program to aid more transformations like the one in Guanaguato. This would include a fund to help with business start ups, more education, more quality housing… This drive would include tremendously increasing the Peace Corps presence in Mexico and throughout South America to help within the context of each country’s culture and sustainable methods for business, farming, etc.
In Blanchester, Ohio, I interviewed Ed Bailey. He and his wife Dorothy, in their retirement, did a stint with the Peace Corps in the Philippines. They helped arrange micro-loans to small farmers there. Our administration would work in concert with the Peace Corps to develop similar loan programs for farmers in Mexico and Latin America. And we would suggest more incentives for more seniors to get involved with the Peace Corps.
And this drive would also target inspiring more church groups and private citizens to help on as many levels as possible.
13) Initiatives to Help
There are a good number of models already in place for Americans to get behind in the effort to help south of the border.
One that is growing in popularity is the “Fair Trade” movement.
In Bluffton, Ohio, I interviewed Missy Schrock, who was the manager of Ten Thousand Villages. A Mennonite outreach project, Ten Thousand Villages sells craft and clothing items from Central and South America at fair trade prices to help improve the standard of living for artisans and their families.
Besides craft and clothing items, Ten Thousand Villages promotes fair trade coffee. (Coffee is a staple crop for some 25 million subsistence farmers in countries around the globe, including many in Central and South America.) And it is this growing support that is starting to help some of these farmers, not only stay on their land – but stave off destitution.
Many stores, churches and coffee shops across America have started to sell fair trade coffee. And Caribou Coffee has even gone a step further. While we were on a trip to Minnesota (Caribou headquarters), company representative Paul Turek told me they have established medical clinics in several of their growers’ towns in Latin America as the next step in trying to bring more equity and social justice help to those regions.
In Bluffton, Ohio, I also learned a “Global Concerns Group” connected with St. Mary’s Church there, did fundraising for Heifer International. The crux of the program is that Heifer International funds are used to purchase cows, chickens and other animals – which are shipped to communities around the world, including Central and South America. The livestock arrives in the impoverished villages bringing milk, wool, draft power, eggs – and offspring to pass on to other impoverished families.
And it is these impoverished families in Nicaragua that Ed and Gwen Bryce are concerned about. The Minnesota couple, along with 10 others from the St. Paul Diocese traveled into the back-country (no electricity, no cars, no sewage system, no school…) to help in San Pedro de la Norte. During an interview, Ed told me the families live in tiny 20 ft. by 20 ft. shacks and most of the children sleep on dirt floors in those shacks.
The Americans helped these villagers build a much needed, rice-drying shed.
In Bonita Springs, Florida, I interviewed Judy Black. After retirement in 1985, Judy and her husband Tom moved to modest trailer in Guazmas, Mexico, for several years. Working with the Franciscan Order there, Judy taught local women sewing and pottery to help them get cottage businesses going. Tom told me he hired local workers there to help with small construction projects, and the like, around the trailer – giving them what he’d pay an American worker, not the standard $3 a day.
Taking all this a step further, we have researched a series of ongoing “Sister Church” projects between America and Central America. With most of these projects, there is not only a regular flow of funds to help, but church members in America regularly travel to their Sister Church countries to help in a hands on fashion.
And it was the McCarthy family (of 10) who headed to a small rural peninsula in Costa Rica to help in 1964. They went as part of AID, a U.S. Government Rural Development outreach. In Holbrook, Arizona, Bob McCarthy said he was a 10-year-old youth at the time, and his father went there to train heavy equipment operators and mechanics for the purpose of improving old roads and building new ones.
Bob told me while people in Costa Rica got help, he also benefited tremendously by the trip. For one, seeing poverty first hand increased his empathy for the plight of the poor. And two, he said learning the culture and Spanish language was invaluable to him. He said as a result, he has a good number of Hispanic friends in this country.
Bob added that, reciprocally, he believed the friends he made in Costa Rica benefited from learning about his culture and language. And in all this, the countries grew closer.
And our administration would like to see all the countries grow a lot closer.
14) “North American Union”
At a campaign stop in Seaside, California, I interviewed Ruben De Anda during the height of the Immigration Rallies across the country in the spring of 2006.
Mr. De Anda came from the town of Lagus de Moreno in the state of Jalisco in Mexico. He is now a U.S. citizen. And he had a fascinating proposal.
Mr. De Anda pointed to the evolving European Union and said he believed a similar “North American Union” would work quite nicely.
That is, he said he’d like to see the borders start to come down and a formal union formed between Canada, the U.S., Mexico and the countries in Central America.
Our administration would lean heavily in that direction as well. We believe this type of union would open the door to more: joint environmental conservation projects, more mutually advantageous joint business ventures, more tourism (including more eco-tourism) to help boost economies, more cultural exchanges… And as we got to know each other better, more of a flow of humanitarian help all the way around – in the form of Sister City projects, Sister Church projects, individual to individual projects…
We are, after all, fellow human beings – borders or no borders. And the more we do to promote the common good for everyone, the closer we’ll come to a “globalization,” not based solely on material gain and political power, but rather a globalization based on spiritual principle.
15) “Tremendous Opportunity to Help.”
I said to the Hobbs (NM) Sun newspaper that America shouldn’t look at the impoverished immigrants who come here as burdens, but rather as a “tremendous opportunity to help.”
A Georgia supporter, Tom Farmer, recently wrote a poignant letter-to-the-editor for the Rome (GA) Tribune about foregoing some of our American protectionism and helping illegal immigrants in as many ways as possible. It ended with: “Let us not fence our compassion in.”