Friday, May 5, 2017

When Ruben & Juan are deported...

...economic & human misery follow

By Shirley Skufca Hickman

Lured by the offer of a good job and a better life, Ruben entered California from Mexico illegally to work as a farm laborer. He lived here for many years, married an American citizen, and they had a son. Eager to get a green card, he collected documentation showing he was a reliable and steady employee, had paid taxes, and had no police record. His son’s pediatrician even provided a letter describing what a good father he was.
    He planned to leave work at noon and meet his family at the Immigration Office. When his wife and son arrived, they waited for Ruben. After several hours, one of the clerks asked Ruben’s wife why she was there and she explained.
    “Oh, he’s gone,” the clerk said. “He’s been deported, but in ten years he can apply for entry to the U.S.”
    There was no opportunity to say goodbye.
    His son cried for him every night and wanted to know when his Daddy was coming home. Even with frequent phone calls, the separation was agony for them all. In ten years would his son even recognize him?
    This is not an isolated case. Sometimes both parents are deported and their children must fend for themselves. The lucky ones might find a friend or relative to care for them.

I live in California, in Tulare County, the top agricultural producer in the nation, earning over $8 billion in 2014 and $6.9 billion in 2015. This wealth depends, to a large extent, on immigrants from Mexico. Without them, labor-intensive crops such as oranges, grapes, and almonds would not be harvested, nor would they be shipped throughout the United States and to 75 other countries in Latin America, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. Mexico is the third largest importer of Tulare’s agriculture products.
    The National Agriculture Farmworkers Survey (NAWS) concludes that from 48 to 52% of the 2.5 million farm workers are here illegally.
    I know many of these immigrant families. They are my students, friends, and neighbors. A family of five lived in their car for over a year, and endured the chilly Tule fog in winter and the unbearable heat in summer. They ate canned food or cooked on an open fire and washed in public restrooms. Finally, the parents earned enough money picking oranges to afford to rent a home in a farm labor camp.
    Children who entered the U.S illegally with their parents had no choice. Many of them have lived here most of their lives and are, to all intents and purposes, Americans. The Dream Act in California protects these young people from deportation, but there is still no road to citizenship.
    Obtaining a green card may take years and cost a great deal of money. This is what happened to Juan. He arrived in California in 1997. His first job was in a pizzeria with an hourly wage of $4.75, always one to three dollars less per hour than other workers received. Of course, he couldn’t complain that his employer didn’t follow fair employment practices. Cheap labor is a vicious cycle that no one wants to break.
    He lived in the shadows for 19 years, with all the obligations, but no benefits. He couldn’t get a California I.D., but the I.R.S. gave him a number to file his taxes. He couldn’t get a driver’s license, but he had to have car insurance. Since he didn’t have a Social Security number, he wouldn’t be eligible for benefits, yet money was deducted from each of his paychecks.
    Luckily, he was able to marry a citizen and begin the process to obtain a green card. The fear of deportation was always present. After paying all fines, he returned to Mexico for a specified time, retained a lawyer, and was able to receive a green card. Throughout the process, the fear of deportation was always present. The cost was $17,000, and he now has a green card, but most people can’t afford such high costs.
    The argument that deporting immigrants would benefit American workers would only apply if the jobs were comparable. Would a Kentucky coal miner want to come to California to pick oranges? Many jobs have been lost to mechanization, not immigrants.
    Because there is no process by which many of these undocumented workers can become citizens, and because of job loss during the recession and Mexico’s improved economy, more Mexicans are currently leaving the United States than are entering. Coupled with the call for deportation, it isn’t surprising that many want to leave. As one man puts it: “They want our labor, but they don’t want us.”
    Now our community faces a labor shortage. Antonio Rodriguez, Supervisor of Fresh Harvest, contracts workers from Colima, Mexico, who were given green cards and special permits to work. A hundred and twenty workers will stay in a hotel for five months and then return home. In the meantime, workers who have been here for years have no green cards.
    Kevin McCarthy, House Majority Leader, and Devin Nunes represent Tulare County. They know how essential immigrant workers are to agriculture and the wealth it brings. They need to provide the leadership to create a program that would allow legal entry. Deporting immigrants would have a devastating effect on the economies of California, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and many other states across the country.
    Forget the political and economic damages for a moment. The human misery would be incalculable.
[Author’s note: All names have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.]

Copyright © 2017 by Shirley Skufca Hickman
Shirley Skufca Hickman is a teacher and the author of Fall in Love with an Orange Tree or a Book [reviewed on July 27, 2014], a novel about a teenager from Mexico who is forced to live in the shadows because she is in the United States illegally.

1 comment:

  1. Novelist and memoirist Shirley Skufca Hickman knows to bait her hook: "Lured by the offer of a good job and a better life, Ruben entered California from Mexico illegally to work as a farm laborer. He lived here for many years, married an American citizen, and they had a son."