With the presidential election process beginning to take shape, the issue of Immigration reform is a hot button issue. While Donald Trump may want to build a wall (and have Mexico pay for it), this may not be the best thing for the economy. The Pew Research Hispanic Trends Project states that there are over 8.4 million unauthorized immigrants working in America. For Northampton County, these workers are critical. Without them, the current workforce would decline, and this would have a serious effect on elements of our core economy, such as agricultural production.
Even as undocumented workers are easy political targets, statistics from the U.S. Department of Agriculture shows that, “about half of the hired workers employed in U.S. crop agriculture were unauthorized, with the overwhelming majority of these workers coming from Mexico.” The USDA has also warned that, “Any potential immigration reform could have significant impacts on the U.S. fruit and vegetable industry.” For perspective, if our immigrant labor force was cleared out, U.S. retail milk prices would increase well over 50 percent.
Echoing the Department of Labor, the USDA, and the National Milk Producers Federation, agricultural labor economist James S. Holt made the following statement to Congress in 2007: “The reality, however, is that if we deported a substantial number of undocumented farm workers, there would be a tremendous labor shortage.”
So, what are the numbers really like? The Department of Labor reports that of the 2.5 million farm workers in the U.S., over half (53 percent) are illegal immigrants. Growers and labor unions estimate the actual figure at 70 percent.
There has been some concern that illegals are putting a strain on social services and welfare, yet the Congressional Budget Office in 2007 reported that, “Over the past two decades, most efforts to estimate the fiscal impact of immigration in the United States have concluded that, in aggregate and over the long term, tax revenues of all types generated by immigrants—both legal and unauthorized—exceed the cost of the services they use.” According to the New York Times, the chief actuary of the Social Security Administration claims that undocumented workers have contributed close to 10% ($300 billion) of the Social Security Trust Fund.
On the National stage, Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly has been a one woman gang, exposing the xenophobic political platforms of presidential hopefuls Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. In a recent interview, Ms. Kelly asked Cruz, “If you have a husband and a wife who are illegal immigrants, and they had two children here who are American citizens — would you deport all of them? Would you deport the American citizen children?”
Cruz attempted to sidestep the question by mouthing platitudes about stopping illegal immigration and to “improve and streamline” legal immigration.
“But that doesn’t sound like an answer. Is it an unfair question?” Kelly asked.
Kelly is correct; fundamental fairness is the real issue here. In Northampton County, we hope to see more growth in core industries like construction, agriculture, and hospitality, which will in turn put more pressure on the demand for these services as well as incentives for keeping production costs low and prices competitive. Without a hardworking, dependable and talented immigrant workforce, these goals may be hard to meet. As a county, we must acknowledge and respect the contributions of our immigrant population (and pay them accordingly). They not only provide economic benefits, but also contribute so much on a social and cultural level, and are an integral part of our county’s hope for the future.
As a county in the Commonwealth, we should do what we can to limit or even halt the wasteful endeavor of tracking down workers on construction sites, in restaurants or chicken-processing plants, and breaking up families in the process. At the state and local level, we must ensure that elected officials are not going to be playing political football with immigrant families, and will instead be going to Richmond and Washington, pressing for new laws that will not only allow us to meet the demands of our economic infrastructure, but will also work to create a fair, diverse and fertile environment in which all members of this county can thrive.
Cape Charles Mirror Report
by Wayne Creed