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Deport a migrant, raise your grocery bill

Robert Downes - August 2nd, 2010
Deport a migrant, raise your grocery bill
Will deporting illegal immigrants send your food bill through the
roof? It depends on who you ask.
First, a little background:
It seems hard to believe now, but 10 years ago, then-new President
George W. Bush proposed granting amnesty for 8-10 million illegal
immigrants living in the
United States. Bush, who spoke Spanish and was familiar with the
illegal immigration problem in his role as the former governor of
Texas, had a plan to create an improved guest worker program for
migrants in the U.S., and to allow illegal immigrants to begin the
process of becoming citizens.
Seen through the volcano-tinted glasses of the current anti-immigrant
frenzy, Bush’s ideas on immigration would probably be greeted today as
the ravings of a far-left liberal. But back in 2000 there seemed to
be little national comment on the president’s plan; it seemed a minor
Then came the Twin Towers disaster of 9/11 and President Bush’s goal
of resolving America’s illegal immigrant problem went up in smoke
under the mushroom cloud of Homeland Security concerns. Bush (and
later Sen. John McCain) tried to get immigration reform back on track,
but amnesty got put on hold for the 2004 election as the
anti-immigrant movement grew stronger and eventually, the president
went in the exact opposite direction, going along with a plan to build
a 700-mile fence along the U.S.-Mexico border.
So here we are today with Arizona’s new law, which aims to require
police officers to check the I.D. of every person they stop for
speeding, a broken tail light or whatever, to determine if they’re an
illegal alien in need of deportation.
While Arizona and other states do battle in the federal courts over
the constitutionality of their new laws, we should pause to consider
what’s going to happen to food prices if and when we kick the last
illegal Mexican worker out of America.
Brace yourself.
In 1986, Congress passed the Immigration Reform and Control Act, which
makes it a crime for any employer to knowingly hire an illegal alien.
Apparently, the Act hasn’t worked all that well, since we routinely
hear of INS raids on businesses such as Tyson Foods or Walmart where
pockets of illegal immigrants are busted for slaving at low-wage jobs.
And of course, Arizonans are in an uproar over the estimated 460,000
illegals in their state, who are presumably working for someone.
It’s common knowledge that illegal migrant workers are employed in
American agriculture: picking our strawberries, tomatoes, watermelons,
apples, oranges and vegetables. They also work on our ranches and in
our stockyards and meat processing plants. In Florida’s cattle
country, you can find entire towns where almost everyone seems to be a
Guatemalan refugee.
During the 1990s, according to the American Prospect magazine,
Hispanic workers made up nearly 75% of the employees at one of Tyson’s
chicken processing plant. That company employed 67,000 workers at 55
poultry plants during the late ’90s, so do that math on what that
might mean on who’s preparing your Sunday dinner.
It’s difficult to pin down exactly how much illegal immigrants
contribute to keeping food costs down in America because competing
advocacy groups offer wildly differing statistics. At the top end,
there are claims that a gallon of orange juice will run you $20 if we
do away with illegal labor, and that prices for chicken, pork, fruits
and veggies will rise proportionally.
At the bottom end, it’s estimated that food prices will likely rise by
only 3-4% if America deports all of its illegals. Presumably, their
jobs will be taken over by “hard-working Americans,” who are desperate
for jobs in this recession, but will demand higher wages than an
illegal migrant worker can receive.
Gustavo Areliano who writes a column called “Ask a Mexican” that is
popular throughout the West, supports the idea that food prices won’t
rise as much as alarmists claim:
“The hard, boring stats: Out of the 2.2 million U.S. farms counted in
the 2007 Census of Agriculture, only a quarter reported hiring
workers,” writes Areliano. “And out of the 1.42 million farm workers
reported in the Census Bureau’s 2008 American Community Survey,
foreign-born Mexicans make up only 35 percent of the population, and
just 10 percent of the food preparation and service industry.”
He adds that nearly 39% of every dollar spent on food in the U.S. goes
to pay labor costs. Areliano concludes that if illegal migrant workers
got a raise for their work (or are replaced by Americans working at
higher wages), we’d see an increase in food prices, but not as much as
the alarmists claim.
But for all we know, farmers, meat packers and restaurateurs are
fudging the numbers of migrant workers they report to the Census
Bureau to stay clear of the law.
Consider the claim in the Orlando Sentinel newspaper that “between 70%
and 80% of the field hands (in Florida) are illegal,” and you can see
that no one really has a handle on how many illegal migrant workers
are contributing to America’s food supply, and how much prices will
rise if they are deported.
But even if your food bill only rises by 3%, will you be happy? How
about 20%? Would that be worth it to ship all of those illegal
migrants back to Mexico or Guatemala?
Interesting to note, gubernatorial candidate Mike Bouchard campaigned
this season on the need to deport illegal workers back to Mexico, even
though that doesn’t seem to be a burning issue here in Michigan, where
some of us actually -- you know -- might even like some of our
Hispanic helpers and neighbors.
Why didn’t Bouchard and his immigrant-hating politicos down in
Arizona, Florida, Utah and Texas campaign with a promise to raise your
grocery bill? Because bottom line, that’s what’s going to happen when
America slams the door on its migrant workers.

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