We are a nation that doesn’t understand how food reaches our tables.

American agriculture depends on a hardworking, dedicated immigrant workforce. About three-quarters of all crop workers were born outside the country. Since the 1990s, at least half are not authorized to legally work in the U.S., according to government statistics.

In an era of high unemployment, these undocumented workers have become scapegoats for our nation’s economic woes. Many people blame the high unemployment rate on foreigners, who they accuse of taking jobs away from citizens. Movements are afoot to remove them from the country.

Congress’s failure to enact much needed immigration reform has created this situation.

United Farm Workers (UFW) is addressing these issues with the “Take Our Jobs” campaign. We’re inviting citizens and legal residents to apply for jobs on farms across the country to help bring to homes, restaurants and workplace cafeterias (including those serving members of Congress) the food that fuels the people of this great nation.

If all undocumented farm workers are deported, as some have called for, the agricultural industry would need at least one million citizens or legal residents to replace the labor of these immigrants, according to government statistics. The fact is that large numbers of U.S. citizens have not worked on farms for decades. Despite the nation’s economic turmoil, only three people accepted our invitation to work on farms in our campaign’s first four weeks.

The “Take Our Jobs” campaign spotlights the immigrant labor issue and the need for Congress to enact much needed immigration reform. Without it, the domestic agricultural industry will be crippled.

United Farm Workers has proposed a bipartisan solution to this issue: The AgJOBS bill, which is also supported by employers.

The proposed law would give undocumented farm workers presently here the opportunity to earn legal status by continuing to work on farms. Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Richard Lugar (R-IN) are the principal co-authors in the Senate, along with Representatives Adam Putnam (R-FL) and Howard Berman (D-CA) in the House.

Farm laborers do the difficult work most Americans are unwilling to do, as the “Take Our Jobs” campaign has shown. These workers are professional laborers with essential skills needed to cultivate our crops.

Almost everyone in the United States depends on these farms and workers for food. Failure to act on the AgJOBS bill before Congress will encourage the exportation of our food production to other countries. Agriculture will go the way of the once-vibrant textile, steel, and auto industries.

Ignoring these issues will only lead to more ill-conceived laws like the one recently passed in Arizona (SB 1070), which supports racial profiling and is driving away much-needed farm laborers.

The UFW supports farm workers regardless of their legal status or nationality. Failure to act now on the AgJOBS bill will only exacerbate the nation’s current economic woes.

We encourage you to write to Congress to pass this crucial piece of legislation that will address a long-ignored problem and bolster the economic recovery.

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Arturo S. Rodriguez

Arturo S. Rodriguez is president of United Farm Workers. www.ufw.org

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