Considering the description that Trump made of Mexican immigrants on the opening day of his campaign, it should not be surprising that his words have been interpreted as racist:
“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They're not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people”.
Yet despite being aware of this racism, there were people in the US who decided that voting for Trump was still a good idea. Yesterday’s New York Times brought an article that examines the motivations of some of those voters. Headlined “California Farmers Backed Trump, but Now Fear Losing Field Workers,” the article describes the place where voters’ personal needs overrode feelings about racism. In the case of the farmers, tax cuts and incentives promised by Republicans were attractive while they saw the racism as more rhetoric than substance.
However, in the wake of the travel ban on seven Muslim-majority countries, the same farmers who voted for Trump motivated by economic gain, now see their investments threatened and fear the expulsion of the cheap labor that works their fields. The article quotes these farmers unabashedly admitting that they were aware that they employed people who were not authorized to work in the US: “But in conversations with nearly a dozen farmers, most of whom voted for Mr. Trump, each acknowledged that they relied on workers who provided false documents”. Yes, these farmers both voted for Trump and knowingly employ people who are not allowed to work in the US.
In general, it is possible to argue that the New York Times article is not a human story, but an economic one. It cites statistics about the field workers’ wages ($11 an hour), percentage who are illegal (70%), and dollar amount of the food produced ($35 billion). Strangely, the article barely quoted migrant laborers. Nevertheless, reading between the lines reveals a very human aspect of this story. It is not about the field workers, but about these farmers and, by extrapolation, about all of us in the US who eat the food produced on these farms. The farmers are clear about something: the labor the undocumented workers provide is essential. Without their work, the farms would fail. The key to this is that the labor is cheap. The labor is cheap, of course, because the workers are illegal. One farmer was direct in his assessment of the situation: “If you only have legal labor, certain parts of his industry and this region will not exist”. The economic model of these farms depends on cheap labor that is only available thanks to the US’s contradictory relationship with immigration.
The simple fact is that not only these farmers, but the country in general, depend on these workers. We also depend on them being illegal because illegal makes them cheap. In other words, while indeed the immigrants want to be here, the real reason we have illegal workers is because we both need them as workers and we need them to be illegal. This presents us with a moral question: Do we support this system? Is it okay to exploit people? Are we comfortable having a situation where workers who we need live under constant threat of their families being separated?
It is us and our need for cheap labor that transform workers into what some disparagingly refer to as “illegals”. It is not the immigrants who have created this situation. Instead of pointing at them, we need to spend time examining what we see in the mirror. What is your deal breaker?
Dickerson, Caitlin, and Jennifer Medina. "California Farmers Backed Trump, but Now Fear Losing Field Workers." The New York Times. The New York Times, 09 Feb. 2017. Web. 10 Feb. 2017.
Edelman, Adam. "A Look at Trump's Most Outrageous Comments about Mexicans." NY Daily News. 31 Aug. 2016. Web. 10 Feb. 2017.