CVIndependent

Sun11182018

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

It is 11:30 at night on our farm in the West, in a part of Colorado I’d rather not identify, and we are trying to get our grain corn harvested before a storm hits us hard.

I am running the combine, and Paco is in the tractor next to me, with his 3-year-old son sleeping on his lap. He has the boy this evening, because his wife, Lupe, is working the night shift, cleaning office buildings in town.

It is slow-going because part of the corn was laid over by a strong wind. Paco looks up at the corn streaming into the cart and smiles as if to say, “Don’t worry; things are going pretty good.”

Paco and Lupe are like many of the immigrants that people who work in agriculture have come to know over the years. Ask anyone who works the farms in the eastern Coachella Valley, and they’ll tell you the immigrants are almost all hard-working and positive, quick learners, willing to do what it takes to get the job done, and glad to have the job.

There are millions of workers like them, keeping not only agriculture but also food processing, construction, landscaping, hotels, restaurants and nursing homes functioning. It is hard to drive through the rural landscape and not see them at work. Just look around.

Like the majority of “undocumented workers,” they do the work most of us don’t want to do and don’t want our kids to do, either. They are not the terrifying, violent gang members President Donald Trump talks about and would have us believe are everywhere. But this administration now classifies all undocumented immigrants as criminals, even if all they have done is purchase an illegal permanent resident or Social Security card. Workers who obtain these readily available documents do so in order to get work and keep their employers off the hook.

These workers cross the border into the United States without legal documents because the immigration system—which has not been updated in 28 years—is broken. It has become almost impossible to get an H-2A visa (granted for temporary work, usually agricultural) or a green card (proof the process of becoming a permanent resident is under way) due to the cost, waiting time and limited number issued. The legal immigration system satisfies only about 4 percent of the needs of agriculture, for example.

Far from being a burden, the immigrants we know pay their way—and more. A 2016 study by the New American Economy, an immigration reform group, showed that undocumented immigrants in Colorado earned $3 billion, of which $114 million went to state and local taxes, while $199 million went to federal taxes. Immigrants also contribute to entitlement programs like Medicare and Social Security, though they seldom receive any benefits from them. Also, because they tend to be of working age, immigrants are 25 percent more likely to be employed than the general population. Many have been members of their communities for years and have children who are U.S. citizens.

The immigration discussion is currently focused on the fate of the young people called Dreamers, and the families who have been separated at the border—so the larger issue of a broken immigration system receives far less attention.

But this is what we need: A guest-worker program and a pathway to citizenship for longstanding members of our communities. And we need to stop deporting the heads of households who are already in the workforce. We also need to think about what would happen to our national economy if we suddenly deported 7 million to 9 million immigrants—all of them a crucial part of our workforce.

In the farm and ranch country where I live, politically diverse groups like the Farm Bureau, Farmers Union and Colorado Livestock Association, as well as my own County Ag Advisory Board, have all taken policy positions that call for comprehensive immigration reform. Yet public discussion about needed reform seems surprisingly timid and lacking in advocacy.

If you live in rural America, shouldn’t you be willing to stand up and fight for the help you need to work the land? Let’s tell the world that we need immigrants working on our places or at our processing facilities if we’re going to survive. It’s past time to cowboy up and do what’s right, even if it means accepting the stigma involved in visibly and vocally standing up for good people like Paco and Lupe.

We know these folks will be there for us and all the other farms and businesses that depend on them. So we’ve got to talk about the kind of immigration reform that allows them to work for us legally and with dignity.

George Wallace is a contributor to Writers on the Range, the opinion service of High Country News. He has ranched and farmed in the West all his life.

Published in Community Voices

Growing tension between California and the federal government over immigration has business owners in the crosshairs—worried about the potential effect on their enterprises, and unsure which laws they should follow.

Those in immigrant-dependent industries, such as hospitality and agriculture, say conflicting messages from the state, with its new laws to protect undocumented residents, and the federal government, which is cracking down on people in the U.S. illegally, put them in an especially tough spot.

“It’s a bit scary to be caught in the middle of a stand-off between the feds and local law enforcement,” said Sharokina Shams, spokeswoman for the California Restaurant Association.

On Jan. 2, the interim director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement said California should “hold on tight,” because he planned to send in a flood of agents and conduct more actions to counter the state’s new “sanctuary” law. That law, which took effect Jan. 1, limits local and state law enforcement agencies’ cooperation with federal authorities.

ICE also recently raided nearly 100 7-Eleven franchises across the country and arrested 21 people. If such raids happened in California, the store owners would be required under a separate law to request warrants and subpoenas.

That law, called the Immigrant Worker Protection Act, also went into effect Jan. 1. It requires that employers admit immigration officials to a worksite only if the agents have a warrant; keep workers’ confidential information private in the absence of a subpoena; and notify their workers before a federal audit of employee records takes place.

State Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced on Jan. 18 that his office would go after employers who share information about workers in contradiction of the new law. Employers could face prosecution, including fines of up to $10,000.

“We want to protect people’s rights to privacy and protect their ability to go about their business, going to work and feeding their kids,” said Becerra, an appointee (who replaced Kamala Harris when she was elected to the U.S. Senate) running for election to the office this year.

He said his announcement was prompted by rumors in Northern California that immigration agents intend to conduct workplace raids.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement says employers in California are expected to comply with federal regulations, as they have in the past, when asked to open their records for review.

The Immigrant Worker Protection Act “reflects yet another effort by the State of California to interfere with federal immigration enforcement authorities,” said Lori Haley, spokeswoman for ICE, via email. “Federal law established by the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) of 1986 requires employers to verify the identity and work eligibility of all individuals they hire.”

Such audits protect jobs for citizens and others who are in the country legally and help battle worker exploitation, child labor and other illegal practices, Haley said.

California business owners shouldn’t be put at odds with the federal government, said GOP Assemblyman Travis Allen, who represents Huntington Beach.

“Business owners should always feel safe to cooperate with federal authorities without fear of persecution by California’s rogue attorney general,” said Allen, who is running for governor. “Business owners should never be used as pawns in the California Democrats’ ongoing war with the White House.”

He called the new law unconstitutional and likened Becerra’s threat to the Mafia silencing witnesses. The Constitution has “laid out clearly that immigration is federal, not state jurisdiction,” Allen said. “Federal law trumps state law, and Xavier Becerra knows this.”

The California Farm Bureau Federation, which represents farmers, has been reaching out to its 27,000 members to educate them about the new employer law. But officials there say they may not be able to reach everyone and worry that some may get caught unaware.

“It was a little disconcerting that the attorney general felt compelled to make a public statement to the effect that ‘we are going to fine anybody that we think might have violated the law at the max penalty’ when people make mistakes,” said Bryan Little, director of employment policy for the federation. “It would have been more helpful for the attorney general to be more informative.”

Typically, Little said, when immigration authorities decide to do an employment inspection, an employer receives a letter stating that the agency wants to audit its records, how those records should be provided and whether agents plan to show up at the worksite. That’s different from an enforcement action, when agents show up without warning to look for someone specific or to question all employees about their legal status—the kind of operation that does not happen very often.

Regardless, said Little, California law adds a layer of complications.

“Our business owners, operators and employers are caught in the middle” between ICE’s right to enforce federal law and the state’s limited-cooperation directive, he said. “It’s unfortunate.”

Restaurateur Patricia Perez, co-owner of Pho Show restaurants in Culver City and Redondo Beach, feels the pressure.

“Being in the hospitality industry, the whole social and political climate is worrisome,” she said. “Even before this, there is a lot to comply with. I don’t know what we would do.”

“The small business owner is the loser in this,” said Perez, who is also on the board of the Los Angeles Chapter of the California Restaurant Association.

Keeping up with new laws and regulations is hard enough, said Perez. Anytime a government agency shows up at a business for audits or information, employers and workers are nervous or even intimidated, and the new employment law doesn’t help, she said.

“It’s not an issue of transparency. Once a government agency asks for anything, it’s a feeling of not having a choice,” she said. “Business owners don’t always know their rights or what to do except to comply.”

California could be contradicting itself with the new employer law, according to Jonathan Turley, professor of public-interest law at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. The state weighed in on a 2012 case involving an Arizona law that required police to cooperate with immigration agents, Turley noted in a review of California’s new employer law. Kamala Harris, who was then California’s attorney general, signed a brief arguing that Arizona’s law improperly interfered with federal jurisdiction. Today, California is putting business owners in the direct path of the federal government, Turley argues, and its law could be challenged based on its own position that states should not impede federal authority.

CALmatters.org is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California policies and politics.

Published in Local Issues

Dear Mexican: I’m an Asian female, and for some time now, I’ve been fascinated by the Mexican culture. I find Mexican males to be very attractive. Their food, language and music are just amazing! How much of a chance do I have dating a Mexican hombre if I’m Asian?

Muchacha China Curiosa

Dear Chinita: Dios mío, are you in luck! Mexican society loves their Asian women—it’s the job-stealing, vice-promoting men we can’t stand.

The beautiful, colorful flowing dress Mexican women wear when dancing baile folklorico is generally called the china poblana, in remembrance of an apocryphal Indian slave from the 17th century. To dress as a china in Mexican popular parlance of the late 1800s meant to dress like a lower-class mujer for the purposes of becoming alluring, like the characterization of the gypsy woman or mulatta in American culture. And even in the present day, we romanticize Asian mujeres, but without the dragon-lady bad vibes gabachos throw in their hot pot of racial desires.

In other words, not only do you have beaucoup chances of dating a Mexican; you’re going to have to beat them back with a bamboo stick. Only drawback? Whether you’re Vietnamese, Japanese, Korean, Burmese or from Macao, you will always, always remain a chinita bonita to your man’s aunts—just ask my ex.

Dear Mexican: I have a Mexican friend who is a roofer. He and his crew are very efficient and do excellent work. I pay them the fair-market price for their labor—the same money I would pay gabacho roofers if they weren’t all fucked up on crystal meth, Wild Turkey, shitty relationships with skanky-ass whores, etc.

My gabacho contractor friends mock me and call me a dumbass for this, but believe it or not, exploiting el cheapo immigrant labor just ain’t my bag. It’s very lonely being me.

So, my question is: Do you, as a Mexican, or taco bender, or pepper belly, think that I’m a dumbass?

Roofer Who Doesn’t Use Roofies To Nail Rucas

Dear Jefe: Dumb ass, you? Can you get me a job, and hire my 15 cousins también?

The problem of Mexican workers in los Estados Unidos getting paid less than their gabacho counterparts has existed since forever, so for you—a gabacho—to not only pay fair wage to Mexicans, but do it in the realm of construction (a 2005 study published by the National Association of Home Builders found that Mexicans not only occupied the lower rungs of the construction industry, but bore the brunt of lower-wage jobs as a result) qualifies usted for folk sainthood status in some rancho in Guanajuato.

Dear Mexican: Maybe your column can address the question of why Mexicans allow so many of their small children to become obese. As a mother of three, I find this to be a heart-rending circumstance. I know healthy food is more expensive (especially if you choose not to garden), but the long-term medical situation (which maybe is not known/appreciated within their community) for their children is obviously grave. You could do a public service in your column.

Grieving Over Ruined Dinner Angst

Dear GORDA: Mexicans allow their kids to get fat for the same reason gabacho and negrito parents do—a lack of exercise, education and healthy eating.

I don’t mean to sound flippant or apologetic for my raza, but black and white kids ain’t exactly Kate Mosses in the world of childhood obesity. According to a 2002 Centers for Disease Control survey done by its NationalCenter for Health Statistics, nearly 40 percent of Mexican-American kiddies ages 6 to 11 are overweight, and 23.7 percent are obese, compared with 35.9/19.5 of negritos and 26.2/11.8 of gabachos in their respective categories.

My public service? Parents: Instead of serving your niños eight Christmas tamales this season, make do with seis and hold back on the second helping of pozole.

Ask the Mexican at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.; be his fan on Facebook; follow him on Twitter @gustavoarellano; or follow him on Instagram @gustavo_arellano!

Published in Ask a Mexican