POLL ‘Take our Jobs’ effort to replace illegals with legal workers starts slowly here

Stephen Colbert

Stephen Colbert

The national unemployment rate for August was 9.6 percent. In Florida, the state’s unemployment rate was 11.5 percent in July. Meanwhile, illegal immigration in the United States has dropped nearly 8 percent nationally, which means a change from 12 million in 2007 to 11.1 million this year. In Florida, the change was far more dramatic: A nearly 27 percent drop from 1.05 million undocumented immigrants to 675,000.

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— It was the nationwide challenge accepted by the creator of “Truthiness” himself, Stephen Colbert.

But is the United Farm Workers of America’s “Take Our Jobs” campaign, which is aimed at training U.S. citizens and legal residents who wish to replace farm workers in the field, coming to Southwest Florida, too?

Not quite yet.

Giev Kashkooli, United Farm Workers national vice president, said the idea for the initiative arose during an immigration reform meeting held by the organization’s board.

After giving an update on the stagnation of immigration reform on Capitol Hill, Kashkooli said in jest that two United Farm Workers members suggested that if it’s just a small group of people opposing reform: “Why don’t we ask them to come do our jobs?”

“It got some laughter and then everyone realized this was a possibility,” Kashkooli said.

The idea took off after the United Farm Workers sent letters to several members of Congress and caught the eye of the Colbert Report.

United Farm Workers President Arturo S. Rodriguez even got some on-screen time with Colbert and an on-air promise from the Emmy-winning Comedy Central host to take on the challenge.

“It’s had a great effect,” Kashkooli said, adding that unemployment is one of the biggest issues facing the country. “Sometimes it takes humor to get people talking.”

The cable spot resulted in more than 2 million hits to the takeourjobs.org website and numerous news media interviews.

On Friday, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics announced that the national unemployment rate for August was 9.6 percent. In Florida, the Florida Agency for Workforce Innovation’s Labor Market Statistics Center listed the state’s unemployment rate as 11.5 percent in July.

Meanwhile, according to a report released Wednesday by the Washington D.C.-based Pew Hispanic Center, illegal immigration in the United States has dropped nearly 8 percent nationally, which means a change from 12 million in 2007 to 11.1 million this year. In Florida, the change was far more dramatic: A nearly 27 percent drop from 1.05 million undocumented immigrants to 675,000.

So nearly two months after the show, Kashkooli said beyond the page hits the campaign has gotten 8,601 formal inquiries — including 18 from Collier and Lee counties.

Tierso Moreno

Tierso Moreno

“In Florida the campaign has been slow,” Farmworkers of Florida general coordinator Tierso Moreno said. “It’s a response to the crisis. They (the jobs) aren’t well-paid and are very dangerous, but they are necessary.”

Giev Kashkooli

Giev Kashkooli

“It’s had a great effect,” said Giev Kashkooli, United Farm Workers national vice president, adding that unemployment is one of the biggest issues facing the country. “Sometimes it takes humor to get people talking.”

Yet only 16 of the 8,601 people have actually moved into farm jobs. None of those 16 were in Southwest Florida.

“In Florida the campaign has been slow,” Farmworkers of Florida general coordinator Tierso Moreno said.

Nevertheless, Moreno said the program is a creative way of hitting back against attacks on immigrants.

“It’s a response to the crisis,” Moreno said. “They (the jobs) aren’t well-paid and are very dangerous, but they are necessary.”

However, that’s an argument that Center for Immigration Studies Executive Director Mark Krikorian just doesn’t buy.

Krikorian said the premise of the campaign relies on the belief that the United States farm industry cannot live without the influx of labor from abroad.

“And that’s economic gibberish,” Krikorian said. “The fact is, with better immigration enforcement or any significant immigration enforcement, what you would have is not the disappearance of the illegal alien farm workers _ who make up something like half of the farm labor force _ but rather a reduction of their numbers. It would shrink over time.”

He said more enforcement would mean fewer new illegal farm workers would come in, while some who are here would be identified and removed.

Others, Krikorian said, would find better jobs and leave the fields, which would shrink the pool of farm workers available.

“The only way you are going to improve the lot for farm workers is by having fewer of them,” he said. “So that each one of them is in the driver’s seat and they get to pick among employers, instead of the way it is now where there is a whole crowd of them and employers get to pick among them and treat them like dirt.”

That would in turn force farmers to respond in two ways, Krikorian said.

First, farmers would have to offer better wages and working conditions, he said, because there are a number of people who are legal workers who can be drawn into those jobs.

But at the same time, he said farmers would look for ways to reduce the need for labor through mechanization.

“The only way you are going to improve the lot for farm workers is by having fewer of them,” Center for Immigration Studies Executive Director Mark Krikorian said. “So that each one of them is in the driver’s seat and they get to pick among employers, instead of the way it is now where there is a whole crowd of them and employers get to pick among them and treat them like dirt.”

Krikorian said that’s what happened after the U.S. in 1964 ended the Bracero Program, which the U.S. and the Mexican government instituted in 1942 to bring cheap labor to work the fields.

When that program ended, Krikorian said California tomato farmers had to adapt to their new situation and modernize.

So until Washington’s policymakers make some hard decisions on immigration and enforcement, he said the agricultural industry would continue to stagnate.

“The easier it is to get cheap labor, the less incentive there is to modernize agriculture,” Krikorian said.

For his part, Kashkooli said the United Farm Workers hopes that the campaign makes the small remaining numbers of militant anti-immigrant members of Congress and the country reconsider their stance, or at least start a dialogue on the issue.

“We are a nation in denial about our food supply,” Kashkooli said. “The only way to deal with it is to get talking about it.”

© 2010 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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