Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Workers not rapists



Immigration: We need farmworkers, not felons

In a move that will probably irritate everybody, President Obama has decided to enter America's immigration debate. I'm delighted, because the shouting has almost no intelligent voices on any side. I was reminded of that again recently by this story about how the California Democratic Party doesn't want arrestees' immigration status checked.

Let me state up front that I am extremely pro-legal immigration; I think we should grant maybe 10 times as many visas as we do. It's important to the wine industry because we wouldn't have California wine as we know it without Mexican farmworkers.

What I'd like to see the California Democratic Party arguing for is a farmworker visa. It could be temporary and seasonal, allowing experienced agricultural workers to cross the border to work harvests, and then go home to spend the winter. If there were no national borders, that's how farmworkers would operate; it's a natural cycle.

Instead, here is my party arguing that suspected burglars and rapists, etc., shouldn't have their immigration status checked. Why? Because we want to keep these people? Seriously? We produce so many burglars and rapists of our own. Shouldn't we protect their jobs by sending home the competition?

I have to make jokes like that because our immigration debate drives me nuts. On one side you have the Republican party, in thrall to its most conservative members, essentially arguing against immigration in all its forms. I believe the last major Republican figure to speak out in favor of immigration in any way was George W. Bush, who believed in temporary visas. This was Bush's most nuanced position of his whole Presidency, but he had to back off to placate his base.

And on the Democratic side, you have leftists like those cited in the AP story, who make arguments like Tom Ammiano's spokesman, who said, "It clearly is not the worst of the worst (being caught)."  I guess that means we shouldn't deport any burglars or rapists while there are still murderers on the loose.

It's aggravating on several levels. The California Democratic Party is wayyyy out of line with national opinion on this, so much so that they're giving great talking points to the other side. The right-wing bar-the-door philosophy sounds less loony than "let's keep the felons."

Because they're so far out of line, California Democrats have no chance of affecting national policy. Hurray, as a state we can opt out of this national program, so we can keep OUR illegal alien felons, while other states deport theirs. Whoopee! But we can't expect a single Republican to reach across the aisle to cooperate on legislation when Democrats have staked out a position like this.

And because of that, we can't expect to get any cooperation on legal visas for migrant farmworkers. THAT should be the California Democratic Party's main focus on immigration policy. Not just wine grapes -- many fresh fruits and vegetables wouldn't get to us without immigrant farmworkers to harvest them.

We could also argue for more specialist visas for high-tech industry; Silicon Valley companies could use the skilled workers. This issue is more complex than the farmworker visa, because H-1B visas might be putting some Americans out of work, whereas there just aren't American citizens willing to pick fruit anymore. But that said, H-1B visa recipients are educated, have important skills and are the type of new Americans we need. I'd like to see at least 10 times as many of these granted, along with a clear path to citizenship for those who want it.

I'd also like to see sushi chefs, winemakers and other culinary artisans recognized as skilled workers for visa purposes. You can't lump all cooks together in one pot (that would spoil the broth.)

Why we need more felons, I don't understand. I guess I'm just not a good California Democrat.

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