VIDALIA, Ga. — For years, labor unions and immigrant rights activists have accused large-scale farmers, like those harvesting sweet Vidalia onions here this month, of exploiting Mexican guest workers. Working for hours on end under a punishing sun, the pickers are said to be crowded into squalid camps, driven without a break and even cheated of wages.
But as Congress weighs immigrationlegislation expected to expand theguest worker program, another group is increasingly crying foul — Americans, mostly black, who live near the farms and say they want the field work but cannot get it because it is going to Mexicans. They contend that they are illegally discouraged from applying for work and treated shabbily by farmers who prefer the foreigners for their malleability.
“They like the Mexicans because they are scared and will do anything they tell them to,” said Sherry Tomason, who worked for seven years in the fields here, then quit. Last month she and other local residents filed a federal lawsuit against a large grower of onions, Stanley Farms, alleging that it mistreated them and paid them less than it paid the Mexicans.
“We have tried to fill our labor locally,” said Brian Stanley, an owner of Stanley Farms, which is being sued by Ms. Tomason and others. “But we couldn’t get enough workers, and that was hindering our growth. So we turned to the guest worker program.”
Mr. Stanley, like other farmers, argues that Americans who say they want the work end up quitting because it is hard, leaving the crops to rot in the fields. But the situation is filled with cultural and racial tensions."Jobs Americans won't do" is code for "Jobs it is easier and cheaper to hire unskilled Mexican nationals than American blacks to do" and for "Jobs Americans won't do at the prevailing wage given the glut of foreign labor on the market." Only bad people say that out loud though. Think of the DREAM children!
The US Catholic bishops expend major political capital on this almost every year. I've known a few priests and bishops in my time and most of them sincerely believe all the stories about families being torn apart, about high school valedictorians who are deported for being illegal immigrants, about family values not stopping at the Rio Grande and all that. At the same time though, it's impossible not to notice that Mexicans make up a significant number of all Catholics in the United States under forty. The bishops have essentially written off their wayward Anglo children, in practice if not in principle, and are looking to revitalize the US Church through importing Mexico's underclass (I know journalists prefer the term "Hispanic," but unless you're in New York or Florida, it's good money the Hispanics you're thinking of are of Mexican descent or are Mexican nationals.)
One of the problems with this strategy is that Hispanics are losing the faith themselves:
There's an old joke in Latin America that goes, "When the Church opted for the poor, the poor opted for the Pentecostals." As a spiritual matter, illegal aliens should absolutely be welcomed into the churches to receive the sacraments or the corporal works of mercy. As a matter of justice, we have an objectively greater moral obligation to our fellow countrymen than to trespassing foreigners.Catholicism has a famed strong grip on Hispanic communities—and it is loosening. A Gallup poll released earlier this week found that the number of Hispanics who identify as Catholic in the US dropped from 58% to 54% between 2008 and 2012. Over the same four-year period, Hispanics who identify as Protestant rose slightly, from 27% to 28%.This demographic shift reflects a trend happening in Latin America. According to the polling service Latinobarómetro, the number of Catholic Hispanics in Latin America dropped 11% from 1996 to 2010, while the number of evangelicals, often a synonym for Protestants in Latin America, rose 9%.