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Guest opinion: Remember agriculture when discussing immigrations solutions

Oregon has 314 registered camps for migrant workers. And the need for workers to do low-paying, physical jobs not requiring a lot of education has spread, especially into the construction industry.
Oregon has 314 registered camps for migrant workers. And the need for workers to do low-paying, physical jobs not requiring a lot of education has spread, especially into the construction industry.
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President Trump’s decision to restrict immigration of all kinds has a lot of people upset with our immigration laws, or lack of laws. Most of the upset people are blaming President Trump for the problem, but actually he has only opened up the can of worms immigration policy has been for many years. Hopefully, his actions will force our legislators to officially pass an immigration policy that is fair and reasonable.

But one of the reasons our legislators, both Democrats and Republicans, haven’t been able or willing to come up with a good immigration program is because from the earliest years of our country, one of the challenges of businesses, especially agriculture, has been producing a product cheaply enough for the owners to get a profit. Before the Civil War, much of the agriculture labor was performed by slaves.

I remember growing up in Idaho in the 1950s and ’60s. Young people, 11 years old through high school, did a great deal of the work needed to grow and harvest crops as an after school job earning money for college. I also remember a lot of migrant workers, most of whom came up from border towns in Texas. During the growing season, they were often provided very basic housing in camps provided by the canneries and farmers as they moved from one crop to another, from one state to another. They earned more money than they would have earned back home and were able to send most of what they earned back to their families. And the farmers and canneries didn’t have to pay high wages for the harvesting work, so they earned higher profits.

But in today’s world, most of the young people are too busy with other activities, or simply will not do that kind of poorly paid, menial, physical work. And many of the poorly paid legal migrant farm workers and their children further their education and get jobs in higher-paid occupations. While modern machines have eliminated some menial physical labor type jobs, when one drives around the West, especially in Oregon and California, one realizes that many workers are still needed to help with growing and harvesting all of the fruits, nuts and vegetables that machines can’t harvest.

Oregon alone has 314 registered camps for migrant workers. And the need for workers to do low-paying, physical jobs not requiring a lot of education has spread, especially into the construction industry. So there is an ongoing need for more and more workers who are willing to do the hard, menial work for low wages. Just since President Trump began his crusade to reduce illegal immigrants, San Diego has reported problems with filling many jobs that immigrants or refugees usually fill. So when finalizing immigration law is discussed, one of the big questions must always be how the businesses relying on the cheap labor will find needed workers if the supply is reduced or if laws are more strictly enforced.

Unfortunately, too many of our legislators would solve the problem based solely on the saying “hunger is the best pickle.” They would create conditions in the public education system such that more socioeconomically disadvantaged students will leave schools unable to get higher-paid occupations, and they would reduce or eliminate what they call “entitlements” such that the only way to survive in our country would be to accept whatever job is available, regardless of one’s physical or mental health, or abilities.

Fortunately, others would prefer to implement immigration laws such that the menial, low-paying job needs could be handled by legal immigrants if they choose.

Hopefully, our legislators will be able to agree on ways to improve the system, to help refugees and immigrants improve their lives, while also making sure we have sufficient workers to help grow and harvest our crops. From what I have read, most of the immigrants come here to escape bad living conditions, to improve their lives and to find work. Most of them do find work and become good citizens. Because of the few bad ones, do we punish the many good people who want to come to America?

Hopefully, a reasonable and mostly fair system will be established.