Despite help from Mel Martinez and Larry Craig on the GOP side, Dianne Feinstein dropped her plans to ressurrect the AgJobs bill—at least for now—that would have granted amnesty for an estimated million or so illegal farm workers. The argument for farm worker amnesty goes "if we paid a legal wage, produce would be too expensive" and "nobody wants to do these jobs, anyway."
Does that mean that food has, until the past decade, sat rotting in the fields because we didn't have enough illegals to do the work? Let's look at what history tells us. I'm old enough to remember how under Pres. Bush Sr., Secretary of Labor, Elizabeth Dole worked with the INS and with a vengeance went after employers that were hiring illegals rounding up thousands of illegals and fining employers. She struck fear in the hearts of non-complying businesses. Going back a few years was Pres. Eisenhower's non-PC parlanced initiative Operation Wetback which is said to have cleared out nearly a million illegals in a year through forced and voluntary deportation. In a third example, Cesar Chavez led the United Farm Workers in a huge strike that was constantly sabotaged by illegal immigrant scabs who crossed the picket line. In response, Chavez led a march to the border with Walter Mondale and Ralph Abernathy (remember them?) demanding a stop to the illegals' crossings. It got so bad that Chavez' brother led strikers in patrolling the border beating up illegals they caught crossing into the U.S. In none of these cases is there any evidence that produce prices shot up significantly as a result of fewer illegal immigrant laborers.
Nine years ago, Senator Edward Kennedy, openly argued against illegal and temporary legal workers because of the high rate of unemployed U.S. agricultural workers. If you look at farming counties across the country this hasn't changed with unemployment rates in some California agricultural counties reaching over 16%. In other words, their aren't even enough picking jobs for U.S. citizen pickers to fill. With pickers in California averaging over $10 per hour, the 24% of farm laborers who are illegal must be saving some farmers at least a buck or two. Based on the number of workers and the labor cost per apple at 7 cents, however, we would be lucky to add a penny to the price of an apple if we sent illegals home and gave the jobs to U.S. citizens.
According to University of California professors in agricultural economics, it's silly to use higher prices as an argument to support an alleged "need" for illegal labor. The profs also make a strong case for not incenting farmers to grow labor-intensive crops and avoid investing in machinery by making it artificially easy to access cheap labor (as in the days of slavery in the South). Doing so, they argue, keeps the industry supporting low wages and harms the economy.
So on whose side is Feinstein? Consumers? Nope. Laborers? Not hardly. The union? Forget it. It looks like Dianne is only concerned about a handful of farm businesses that exploit labor for a little extra profit. And all this time I thought she was a liberal.