In the green fields and orchards of southern Arizona, chiles are shriveling on the vine and apples are falling from trees because there's no one to pick them.
It's the latest sign of a farmworker shortage that is becoming a costly national trend.
Farmers in Arizona attribute the shortage in large part to the crackdown along the U.S.-Mexico border. For towns with a heavy U.S. Border Patrol presence such as Willcox and Yuma, it has made keeping a stable work force impossible.
The crisis has highlighted the industry's dependence on the labor of illegal immigrants. In 2001, a U.S. Department of Labor survey found that about 53 percent of the 1.8 million farmworkers in the country were here illegally. Local farmers suggest the number is more like 80 percent to 90 percent.
"Our industry cannot exist without a foreign work force," said Thomas Nassif, president of Irvine, Calif.-based Western Growers, one of the largest farming associations in the country.Growers are seeking an emergency measure that would allow thousands of workers to legally harvest Yuma's $700 million winter lettuce crop. The Arizona Farm Bureau says 35,000 workers are needed each winter to pick lettuce in Yuma, which produces 90 percent of the nation's winter lettuce.
Without workers to pick the lettuce, consumers may have a hard time finding lettuce and likely will pay higher prices.
Last year's labor shortfall was put at about 25 percent and growers expect this year to be worse. (emphasis mine)
The immigration fight is coming. It is inevitable as long as the racist wing of the Republican Party keeps promoting their hateful agenda of closed borders and xenophobia. The sad thing is this: many progressives and Democratic lawmakers are fearful of becoming labeled as sympathetic to "criminal" illegal immigrants.
The left will continue to hemorrhage support of the Latino community as long as their position remains ambiguous. Whenever I get an earful of talking points regarding the dangers of open border-policies, I always respond with: "Why? What are you trying to prevent by closing the borders?"
The answer usually falls along the lines of "to keep the terrorists out" or "prevent the invasion of Mexicans that will drive down our wages."
- Show me proof that any of the terrorists taken into custody have come to this country via the southern border. No proof? I didn't think so.
- How is it the fault of Mexican workers that business owners in the U.S. choose to pay these hard-working people sub-human wages instead of adhering to a living wage? Don't blame the victims for the practices of predatory entrepreneurs.
I hope not. The time has come for them to stand up for the immigrants who keep this economy chugging along strongly. The Republicans will run from the label of "racist" faster than anyone can imagine due to their ugly past.
It will require resolve and the ideal of standing up for the right thing. Will they do it? We shall see.