This I Believe

Philip - Gainesville, Florida
Entered on November 14, 2006

Recently, the City Council of Avon Park, Florida, narrowly defeated an ordinance which would have fined landlords who rent to undocumented persons and punished local businesses who employ those without legal documentation. While Congress wallows in partisan bickering over immigration, states and cities are considering and some such Hazelton, Pennsylvania are instituting punitive initiatives similar to the one debated in Avon Park.

For 17 years I have been an advocate for migrant farmworkers and I have responded to thousands of calls for aid to my non-profit foundation, Harvest of Hope. I have found that for the most part, our migrant and immigrant workers are humble, hard-working and family oriented. Yes, many of them are not here legally but since 1996, there have been very few and often no legal mechanisms to change one’s status – especially if you are poor and from Mexico or a Central American country. Agriculture, housing construction, hotels, housekeeping, landscaping, meat processing, and restaurants are heavily dependent on the labor of immigrants.

We are all beginning to feel the impact of the crackdown on those without papers. Florida has had difficulty harvesting all its’ citrus due to a lack of workers. Georgia has an outrageous new state policy which denies medical providers reimbursement for providing follow-up health services to undocumented patients with chronic illnesses such as cancer or kidney failure. I know of a ten year boy of an undocumented migrant mother in Georgia. He has leukemia but no Georgia health facility would provide follow-up treatment due to this new policy. Non-profits like Harvest of Hope, private organizations and churches are being stretched beyond our limits in trying to pick up the gaps in service.

Contrary to popular belief, migrant and immigrant workers contribute a lot of money to our economic well being. People would be surprised to know that the IRS allows undocumented workers to pay taxes, and many of them do. Companies that turn a blind eye to false social security cards put a percentage of the wages of undocumented workers into our pension system, but these workers will never see any of the billions of dollars that they have contributed. Furthermore, undocumented workers spend money locally and many businesses benefit from their hard-earned dollars.

So, doesn’t it make sense to have an immigration policy that allows undocumented persons who are working and staying out of trouble the opportunity to adjust their status, come out of the shadows and become citizens? We can’t have it both ways by depending on their labor but doing everything we can to make their lives miserable and then trying to deport them.

When I get a call at night from a Texas migrant family whose car has broken down while traveling to Michigan or Minnesota to work the fields, I don’t ask them their legal status. To deny them assistance because they might be undocumented would be inhumane. In my experience with migrant farmworkers and their families, no human being is illegal.