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GUEST COLUMN: Analysis: We could soon be paying $40 for a head of lettuce

By: Joe Barrera
March 12, 2017 Updated: March 17, 2017 at 12:01 pm
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We know that the vast majority of so-called Latinos in the U.S. are not immigrants. But here we go again with another analysis of the "Latino" immigration issue. Latinos carry this burden with them. Just like discussions of women's health almost always devolve into an argument about abortion, any discussion about Latinos quickly descends to the immigration thing.

But we know that most Latinos do not consider immigration to be a salient issue. Look at the Latino vote for Donald Trump. Democrats are still trying to understand why Trump won Latino-heavy Pueblo County. Do the Democrats understand that the majority of Latino voters, especially the Mexican Americans, don't really care about immigration? They do not.

So, let's understand that U.S.-born Latinos are now acculturated into American society and want the same things that working-class Anglo Americans want. And then move on to a different approach on immigration.

We can quickly dismiss the fallacies underlying the case against illegal immigration:

1) Illegal immigrants do not bring crime or drugs. Studies show that they commit fewer crimes than legal residents.

2) Illegal immigrants do not want to become legal residents so that they can collect welfare. They want to work and that is why they risk their lives crossing the deserts.

3) Illegal immigrants do not want to become U.S. citizens. They want to work, earn money, and then go back to their home countries. But the wall, the armed guards, the waterless deserts, the murderous "coyotes" who smuggle people across the border, keep them here. They have braved those dangers once (estimates are that 3,000 people a year perish in the deserts). Who in his right mind wants to run that gauntlet again?

There must be awareness for a different approach: The main reason that we have illegal immigration is because U.S. employers need the workers. This has been said before. But this fact is not truly understood. Newspaper pundits wax indignant, excoriating employers who will not use E-Verify, the electronic system designed to scour for fake Social Security numbers.

Why not E-Verify? Because employers want the illegal workers. The workers work hard, they show up, they are good workers, and the bosses pay them less. In short they are vital to the U.S. economy because American-born workers will not do the kind of hard, dirty, low-status, low-paid, even dangerous work that immigrants do.

This keeps prices much lower than if we paid American workers what American workers demand. This is the single biggest reason that illegal immigration exists. To perpetuate prosperity in this country, the U.S. economy must consume, must absolutely consume, huge quantities of cheap labor. But no one is honest enough to admit it.

Let me ask you this: Do you want to pay three or four times as much for a meal at your favorite restaurant? At the store, $40 for a head of lettuce? $75 or $80 for that steak?

Recent newspaper articles claim that in Colorado illegal immigrants pay more in taxes than they use in local government services. This is disputed, of course, but what is beyond dispute is the immense economic benefit that the U.S. economy derives from their labor. While no one has a clear idea of the dollar value of this very real benefit, it exists nonetheless. And yet fearmongers want to end it.

If Trump builds his wall - actually there are already 700 miles of wall - where will the workers come from? If a paramilitary force of 20,000 more Border Patrol agents, bringing the total to 40,000, stems the flow, where will the workers come from? If all the measures to stop "the invasion" actually work, where will the workers come from?

They will not come from the U.S. labor force. Americans, whether white, black or brown, will not work picking crops, will not work in slaughterhouses, will not wash dishes in restaurants seven days a week, 12 hours a day, will not show up at construction sites rain or shine, will not work as hotel maids, as nannies - all for minimum wage or less. The immigrants do not threaten jobs for Americans because Americans do not want those jobs. What kinds of jobs do Americans want? We want the information technology jobs for which corporations recruit people from India and China. We do not want illegal immigrant jobs.

This is the reality and it is well-documented. Since we now live in a "post-fact" society apparently no one believes it. But understanding this is necessary for a different approach to the immigration issue.

One last word: Please don't get all holier-than-thou and start screaming about people who break the law, who don't wait for their visas, who don't play by the rules. There are no visas for Indian peasants from dirt-poor southern Mexico and Guatemala, for mothers and children from the narco-state of Honduras, or the gangster state of El Salvador. They are forced to cross in violation of man-made laws but in obedience to a higher law - the law of survival.

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Joe Barrera is the former director of the American Ethnic Studies Program at UCCS and a combat veteran of the Vietnam War.

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