Three hundred illegals at the gates

A second-degree in-law of mine works as an accountant for a middling apple grower near Yakima. I’ve never met the guy, but we have mutual relatives whose accounts of stories like the one I’m about to tell I fully believe. Not long ago he told one of our mutual relatives about his company’s recruitment strategy for apple pickers:

“Last year three hundred illegals showed up at our gate, and we hired all of them.”

He said that they checked these applicants’ I9 documents but assumed that most of them were forgeries. If I’m not mistaken, in so doing his employer and its hiring managers deliberately committed hundreds of acts of federal perjury. Should perjury of I9 paperwork for seasonal fruit pickers be a felony? I’m on the fence. Should it be a serious administrative offense punishable upon conviction by heavy fines and adverse action against business licenses? Absolutely. Without a doubt. This is not a who-gives-a-shit situation. Hiring agents of a fruit grower large enough to hire a seasonal workforce of over 300 deliberately and materially falsified declarations about the work authorization of hundreds of new hires for the purpose of ignoring federal immigration and labor laws. They suspected that many of the citizenship and work authorization documents they had been presented were bogus but made no effort to confirm their authenticity with the issuing authorities.

This is really crooked. If the Republican Party sincerely believed in the rule of law, it would immediately kick out of its coalition every Farm Bureau apologist with a sob story about how inconvenient it is for large growers to abide by duly enacted federal laws mandating that they make a good-faith effort to determine the work authorization of new employees. The arguments made against regulations like these always boil down to “that’s burdensome” or “I don’t like that.” Of course, it’s consistently Republicans who make big scenes about the importance of abiding by laws with which one disagrees and there being no room for the individual to violate unjust or pointless laws as a matter of conscience, and it’s also the Republican Party that enjoys supermajority support from Farm Bureau officials and active members. To put some action behind their loud talk about the rule of law, Republican officials would have to expel a keystone constituency from probably over a third of their county party organizations. This doesn’t count all the nonfarm constituencies that are pulling the same crooked stunts to keep illegal immigrants employed at their slaughterhouses, construction sites, and restaurants. It’s largely Republican politicians who have made it illegal in many states to buy a box of Sudafed without showing a government-issued ID to a pharmacy clerk, and who now use these tyrannical laws to justify voter ID proposals whose clear purpose is the disenfranchisement of Democratic-leaning voters. But, as Leona Helmsley said about taxes, laws are for the little people.

These Republican “leaders” have all the ethics of Dennis Lynn Rader in an S&M dungeon. Actually, as a matter of financial probity, that’s too generous an assessment: Rader would not have been so easily bribed. These are rank sadists who will gladly throw away the key on a woman who crosses a state line into Alabama to buy cold medicine in bulk, but they can’t be stirred to denounce an entire business lobby that blatantly violates labor and immigration laws as a matter of routine business.

“But we have a lot of apples to pick!” Gee, did you think about that when you planted five hundred acres thirty miles outside Wenatchee? Many of these growers calculatingly set up plantations that they knew would be unworkable without Mexican peasant labor, and now they’re trying to guilt the rest of us into allowing an uninterrupted stream of Mexican peasants to pass through the country so that their crops don’t go to waste. They made business decisions that would result in reduced profits and might result in bankruptcy in the event that US labor laws were vigorously enforced, and now they’re running an epic guilt trip on Congress to grant them a dispensation to violate existing labor laws and waive immigration laws for their unauthorized foreign workforce. Meanwhile, their Republican errand boys are frothing at the mouth about how food stamps constitute moral hazard.

“But Americans don’t want to do this work!” Tell me, Sherlock, could this have anything to do with piecerates as low as $14/bin? The Farm Bureau crybabies are quick to mention when one of their members raises bin rates, but they’re silent as meditating Greek monks when a member lowballs bin rates to less than a cent and a half per pound. A piecerate that low does not communicate “high-value” or “time-critical;” it communicates either “low-value” and “not really time-critical” or  “my goodness, Mrs. O’Hara, it really is hard to hire a good field negro these days.”

Meanwhile, most of the job listings that I’ve found for apple pickers this season insist on prior apple harvest experience. Ultimately, this is because Americans are too stupid and decadent a people to tell growers to stop whining and do some fucking workforce development. My boss in the Willamette Valley this summer has something like 25 acres total, less than ten of them planted to grapes, and he was willing to bring two gringos, me and another guy with no prior vineyard experience, on board as field hands. Meanwhile, growers of various labor-intensive crops with orders of magnitude more acreage, and hence orders of magnitude more work to be done, won’t give us the time of day.

From what I’ve gathered about Canadian labor law enforcement, if three hundred Mexican day laborers showed up in front of a Canuck ranch for an open call without work authorization in order, the next parties to show up at the ranch gates would be HRSDC and the Mounties. It’s a nice idea, in any event; any Canadians or Canada aficionados who know better should feel free to chime in with examples correcting my happily rosy view.

And if any Mounties feel like rolling south of the 49th Parallel and enforcing my country’s labor laws on big growers, that’s an international incident that I’d tolerate. Just please leave the red dress uniforms at home; they’re a bit ridiculous for our parts, and besides, blue just works better south of Avenue 0.

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