What Donald Trump doesn’t know about the Mexican farm workers who make his 5-star dinner possible

farm workerDonald Trump’s sneers about Latino rapists, criminals, and druggies coming-to-harm-your-property-and-your-kids have real-life consequences. His all-too-familiar ethnic scapegoating intentionally obscures the truth about a community that’s made up for the most part of hard-working, well-intentioned, and law-abiding people just trying to support their families by working jobs that would otherwise go unfilled.

For some, Trump is validating their prejudices. For others, he’s fueling their hatred.

Let’s be honest. Trump world isn’t new. American history is stained with prejudice. Think about the Native Americans, the African slaves and the black community, the immigrant Italians, Irish, Germans, Japanese, Chinese, and Jews. Painting a community or ethnic group with a broad brushstroke has been the modus operandi of demagogues and opportunists throughout history. And Trump is no exception.

So who are the people Trump has scooped up in his trash bag of hate?

I, for one, don’t recognize them. They’re certainly not the legal farm workers I see lining up at the service desk at my local supermarket on Friday evenings. Visibly exhausted and obviously relieved that it’s the weekend, they hand their paychecks to the teenagers that work the desk and then fill out money orders to send a portion of their hard-earned cash back to their families back home. Home is mostly Mexico and Jamaica. Most are fresh-faced, young men but some have the furrowed facial skin and roughened hands that come with years of labor out in the fields. These are the laborers who travel seasonally to the upstate New York farming community where I live to fill the jobs that find no takers from the pool of American workers.

The real story—not the trumped up one—is that these workers come across the borders to do the essential work of planting, pruning, weeding, and picking the affordably priced food we take for granted. They arrive here only after an extensive and rigorous screening process that’s getting ever more difficult both for them and for their employers. The process involves a pile of documentation that includes written proof of work experience, passport and immigration screening, and appointments for on-site interviews at the American Consulate in Mexico.

The real story is that, without migrant farm labor, New York State’s agricultural industry—which accounts for $5.7 billion annually—would come to a standstill. This was evident at the beginning of this season when a technical issue delayed consulates from issuing temporary H2A agricultural visas. In my locality, the strawberry crop and a variety of berries went unpicked. The necessary work on the apple, broccoli, cauliflower, and cucumber crops was delayed. The labor shortage was so serious that local farms pooled their labor force and shared workers with neighboring farms in need so that crops could be picked on time and losses minimized.

And the family farmers in the Hudson Valley were not alone. The early-summer labor shortage due to the visa-program backlog created problems that stretched across the U.S. In a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson, Congressman Dan Newhouse (R-Washington State) explained the devastating economic fallout and reiterated the critical need in his state for Mexican farm laborers:

Farmers have no choice but to use the H2A process because there is a critical shortage of farm workers. The state of Washington alone has documented a 15 percent labor shortage and grows a range of labor-intensive specialty crops that need to be picked to contribute to the state’s economy. Each day that workers sit at the border, waiting on their final documents, Washington farmers are losing a valuable cherry crop that is wasting away in their fields because there are insufficient workers.

Let’s not forget that these are people and not just workers. Why do they leave their villages and their families to do the work in our fields? They come to the U.S. because the $10.75 to $12.25 per hour wages (depending on experience) that the federal government requires farms to pay cannot compare to the $10 per day they would receive working the fields in Mexico. They come because they are doing the best they can for their families. They come because their fathers, their grandfathers, their siblings, their cousins, or their friends have worked on the farms before them, and they know they’ll be treated fairly and according to strict labor standards set by the U.S. government. They come because, over the years, they and the other workers before them have formed personal connections with their employers.

That’s the human face behind the trash talk. And Trump and others like him need to see it. So here’s my invitation to Mr. Trump.

Dear Donald,
Why not take time out from your bloviating and hop aboard your private $7 million Sikorsky helicopter next weekend? Tell the pilot to set a course due north up the Hudson River. When you set down here in Columbia County you’ll get a reality check. Take some time to sit down with our local farm employers who will set you straight. You’ll discover that any applicant caught for illegal border crossing or any other illegal activity is denied an H2A. You’ll find out that illegal labor won’t be picking the crops up here any time soon.

So relax, Donald. After your visit upstate you’ll be able to fly back to Manhattan and enjoy your meals guilt free. You’ll know from firsthand experience that the ingredients that make it onto your five-star dinner plate were never touched by a rapist, a drug dealer, or a criminal.