Take Our Jobs – Please!

Take Our Jobs. It sounds a bit like a punchline from an old Vegas lounge act, and ever since comedian Stephen Colbert got involved, one might be forgiven for assuming it is little more than that; but Colbert is out to make a serious point. Last week, the Comedy Central star was in Washington to testify before Congress about the plight of migrant farm workers, and with trademark satiric wit, drove home the point that Congressional dithering on immigration reform preserves a status quo that draws thousands of undocumented agricultural workers without hope of gaining permanent legal status. (See Stephen Colbert Takes Comedy to Congress During Testimony on Immigration Reform, by Suzanne Gamboa, 24.Sep.2010, Star-Telegram (Dallas / Fort Worth).

Colbert recently participated in a program sponsored by the United Farm Workers union, called Take Our Jobs, a thought-provoking public relations campaign that took anti-immigrant activists at their word: if they were so sure that undocumented farm laborers from Mexico and Central America were displacing native-born Americans from backbreaking agricultural jobs – picking fruits and vegetables for long hours in the summer swelter – then all of those aspiring American-born farm workers could belly up to the beanpoles and take the jobs normally done by low-paid migrant workers. (See Take Our Jobs WebSite.)

According to the Star-Telegram, only seven people accepted the challenge, with Stephen Colbert spending a single day on a farm in upstate New York. His testimony before Congress drew on this experience, mostly for laughs at the expense of a Congress that has failed to create a just, fair, and workable immigration system, especially, as Colbert pointed out, for the farm workers we depend on for our food supply. As the Star-Telegram reports, Colbert was asked why he chose to testify on this issue, and he responded – in a moment of seriousness – “I like talking about people who don’t have any power. And it just seems like … the least powerful people in the United States are migrant workers who come and do our work but don’t have any rights as a result. And yet we still invite them to come here, and at the same time ask them to leave.”

As the United Farm Workers point out on their Take Our Jobs webpage, government statistics show that “since the 1990s, at least 50 percent of the crop workers have not been authorized to work legally in the United States.” Colbert reportedly told a House immigration subcommittee that “perhaps this ag jobs bill would help. I don’t know. Like most members of Congress, I haven’t read it.” The AgJobs bill is designed to provide a path to permanent residence to foreign agricultural laborers who have worked in the U.S. agriculture industry for at least 150 days for the past two years. It remains, like the rest of immigration reform, stuck in limbo until something motivates Congress to return to the difficult, but necessary, work of overhauling our immigration system. Stephen Colbert may have been having a laugh at Congress’s expense, but he has a point: immigration reform is long overdue.

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