Farmers need immigrant labor

Farmers such as Scott Frost need the country to listen to them when they describe the labor situation they face. As our Alex Paul reported Monday, Frost farms 27 acres of berries and vegetables north of Albany in the Dever-Conner area. His type of farming is not mechanized. It requires a lot of hard manual labor.

Frost says he has found that the people he can hire mostly come from Mexico. They work hard and do good work. They show him proper papers including Social Security cards when they sign on. Some months later, the IRS typically sends him a letter questioning eight of 10 of the Social Security numbers he passed on to the government. By that time the workers are long gone.

Now the government says it plans to get tough on employers of illegal immigrants. There was talk of criminal prosecutions, including hefty fines.

This would be a sharp blow against employers like Frost. He has tried and has been unable to attract workers legally able to work in this country and willing to do that kind of work for a time. He can't do all the work himself. So his only alternative is to hire the people who show up and are willing to do the work.

Either that, or get out of agriculture and try to sell his farm. Maybe some other kind of operation can get along without so much manual labor. Or maybe the place could be developed for housing, or yet another mall.

That last alterative would be bad for the country. We need the food that farmers and other growers sell. And we also benefit from having space between the cities, if for no other reason than to know where one city ends and the next one starts.

The answer is obvious, but our Congress refused to go along when President Bush proposed it. The answer is to legitimize the people living in this country willing to do the work we need done, to provide for a program of guest workers, and also to tighten the border so that illegal entry becomes far less common. Unless we want to go back to work in the fields like two or three generations ago, we have no reason to denounce as "illegal" those people who do.

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