For those who grouse that undocumented immigrants are taking jobs from U.S. citizens and legal residents, the United Farm Workers of America has a challenge: Apply to be a farm worker.
The union is launching a campaign called “Take Our Jobs,” promising to have experienced agriculture workers “ready to train citizens and legal residents who wish to replace immigrants in the fields.” On its website, it asks interested parties to supply their name and area code to streamline the hiring process. It cautions, however, that “duties may include tilling the soil, transplanting, weeding, thinning, picking, cutting, sorting & packing of harvested produce. May set up & operate irrigation equip. Work is performed outside in all weather conditions (Summertime 90+ degree weather) & is physically demanding requiring workers to bend, stoop, lift & carry up to 50 lbs on a regular basis.“ Texas is among the top five states in the country that employs agriculture workers.
UFW President Arturo Rodriguez says the group was asked by Comedy Central funny man Stephen Colbert to discuss the campaign next month on "The Colbert Report," which he said would not only convey the message to a large audience but hopefully ease some of the tensions surrounding the issue.
“So often, as we’ve learned within our own struggles and with issues that are of importance, sometimes it needs to go beyond always dealing with a crisis in a crisis way,” he said.
But the campaign underscores what Rodriguez said is the unjustifiable label thrust upon farm and livestock workers, many of whom earn about $12,000 annually. Agriculture workers have been unjustly targeted as scapegoats during the current immigration debate, he said, and the tongue-in-cheek approach is meant to address the hypocrisy.
“Somehow, undocumented workers are getting as much blame for our economic troubles as Wall Street, but missing from the immigration debate is an honest recognition that the food we all eat at home, in restaurants and work-place cafeterias, including those in the Capitol, comes to us from the labor of undocumented workers,” he said. "According to the federal government, more than 50 percent of the workers laboring are undocumented."
Rodriguez said the union will provide monthly updates to gauge participation in the program. He doesn’t expect many citizens or legal residents to take the offer seriously, specifically because the jobs pay about half of what non-agriculture jobs pay. Instead, the group is more focused on drawing attention away from a deportation-only approach to immigration, which he said would decimate the agriculture industry. The UFW is urging Congress to pass the Agriculture Jobs Bill. The bill would create a five-year pilot program to identify undocumented workers in the agriculture sector and legalize the status of those who have been working in the U.S. for more than two years.
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