Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) is sponsoring an immigration bill that could devastate Eastern WA’s agricultural industry. The bill would increase border patrols and build a 700-mile fence along the US-Mexico border. It would also criminalize giving assistance to illegal immigrants, potentially handing out five-year prison sentences to doctors, priests and church volunteers who provide humanitarian aid. But as the Seattle Times editorial board points out, what the bill doesn’t do is actually deal with reality.
Missing from Sensenbrenner’s bill is a legal guest-worker program. With only enforcement and no accommodation of economic realities, industries such as agriculture and construction will get stuck with apples left on trees or buildings unfinished.
Washington Republican Reps. Doc Hastings and Cathy McMorris, who represent the state’s two most agrarian districts, voted for Sensenbrenner’s bill even though both support a guest-worker program in concept. They acknowledge this bill’s approach makes for a job only half done.
Once again McMorris and Hastings are voting with the GOP hardline over the sentiment and interests of their own constituents. I’ve watched Yakima Valley farmers plough under fields of ripe tomatoes for want of the farm workers to pick them. I’ve seen orchards littered with fallen fruit as growers failed to round up sufficient labor to meet the narrow window for harvest at optimal quality. The farm labor shortage isn’t hypothetical — it’s happening now — and it will only get worse should Sensenbrenner’s draconian and shortsighted immigration bill pass.
Illegal immigration is driven by economic reality: poverty abroad and the need for cheap labor at home. Nobody is suggesting we should ignore border security, but neither should McMorris and Hastings ignore the economic well being of their own constituents.