Trump rhetoric creates concern for farmers and their foreign workers

Posted 13 March 2017 at 10:59 am


The year was 1998.  As I recall, the Reagan era Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 was largely responsible for governing our approach toward undocumented immigrants.

At the time, the entire grounds crew at Atlantic City Country Club was of Mexican descent.  The course superintendent had the highest regard for every one of them, just as he had for the Vietnamese immigrants who had earlier comprised much of the crew at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Maryland.

In 1998, the Social Security Administration discovered that the entire 23-person Atlantic City CC grounds crew was illegal. To prevent them from being deported, the course superintendent knew that each of his crew would have to come up with $2,000 initially, jump through a bunch of hoops, and pay another $2,000 in order to become legal, though not citizens. Some called this “amnesty”. Many still do. Tom Reynolds called it “amnesty” as I recall.

Congressman Chris Collins, one of President Trump’s earliest camp followers, insists that neither local farmers, nor their valuable employees, need worry about farm workers being rounded up by a deportation force.

Hopefully, Representative Collins is keeping track of the wind direction coming from Washington.  Our food supply and economy may hang in the balance.

A reporter from The Boston Globe was in Orleans County earlier this week having a difficult time finding farmers who would speak to him on the record. It isn’t hard to understand their reluctance.

President Trump puts on a good show. It may be he is smart enough to realize that it had better be nothing more.  From what I hear, farm workers are not so sure of his intentions. Even if he is mostly talk, he has many of them scared.

My brothers are two generations removed from what has ironically become a sort of stigma—immigration status—in a nation of immigrants!  I guess my Austrian grandparents were legal (not sure about the ‘refugee’ thing), though they thought it wise to change their last name nonetheless.

My brother, Keith, worked for Martin Farms for many years.  Cutting cabbage was his specialty, and he was the only “Anglo” Martin’s had who could cut cabbage with the migrant workers on a consistent basis—for years.

My brother, Kevin, was the only “Anglo” I ever saw who could match– hamper for hamper– the cucumber picking stamina of the Ramos family and the other Mexican-Americans from Mercedes, Texas who worked at Spalla Farms. (In case you missed that history lesson, Mexican people have been living in what is now the United States longer than Captain John Smith’s people.)

In the late 1960’s, I tried picking cucumbers for a grand total of three hours before surrender. Crying “Uncle” got me on the wagon dumping hampers.

Guess what?  If Mr. Trump gets too carried away playing to his base and trying to match campaign rhetoric with “Presidential” action, we are in a lot of trouble.

Farm workers reclaim abandoned houses, have their own local businesses, keep many local farms going, and are among the best students in Orleans County’s schools. None of the ones I have known was/is a “bad dude”, and I have known quite a few.

Sincerely yours,

Gary Kent