Later this month, Arizona will begin to enforce a strict new anti-illegal immigration law that once again highlights the glaring need for the federal government to address immigration reform. The law's impact on food retailers will be ancillary, but immigration reform has been a major concern of the U.S. produce industry for years.
Many fruit and vegetable crops must be harvested by hand during a limited time frame. So, large farms require workers willing to sign on for temporary, labor-intensive jobs at low average wages, often in areas far from cities.
Given these conditions, even during times of high unemployment, the industry has trouble hiring and keeping American citizens on staff. Meatpackers and slaughterhouses have similar problems for similar reasons.
S.B. 1070 is another poorly considered piece of legislation passed by Arizona in an effort to stem the flow of illegal immigrants into the state. The law tells the state's police officers that if they apprend someone for an infraction, and they have reasonable suspicion that the person may be in the U.S. illegally, they must attempt to determine that person's citizenship or immigration status.
The state's lawmakers continue to deny that the law will lead to racial profiling or harassment of the state's legal Hispanic citizens. But, let's be frank. Arizona is host to an estimated 500,000 illegal immigrants from Mexico, not Canada.
In Arizona's defense, half a million illegal immigrants are no small problem for a state with a total population of 6.6 million. The constant cycle of coming and going between countries, and the network of smugglers and drop houses that it has created, has eroded respect for the border, and respect for the process of obtaining legal permission to work in the U.S.
Technically, only the federal government is allowed to enforce immigration policy. The Obama administration reiterated this fact last week by filing a preliminary injunction against S.B. 1070, stating that Arizona was crossing a constitutional line with the new law.
But the federal government has done little to address Arizona's problems.
The last time SN covered these issues extensively was in 2007, when the produce and meat industries were watching several bi-partisan bills proposed by Congress that would have improved policing of the border while reforming the country's Byzantine immigration process. Since then, Bush and Obama have both given immigration speeches and built a fiasco of a fence between the U.S. and Mexico. Real reform has proven difficult, because the issue has become so politically toxic.
Reform would give thousands of immigrants a legal route toward work in the U.S. It would help many U.S. produce and meatpacking operations, and it would help prevent worker exploitation.
S.B. 1070 is a bad law. But, until Congress deals with this problem, expect more of the same from other states and cities.