FAIR or Foul on Guestworkers?
by DCDave

Though victory has been won on the agricultural guestworker expansion issue and the conservative Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), with its last-minute layout on its web page of all the best arguments against it, the organization now appears to be ashamed of what it has done. The issue will certainly be revived, and the general public still knows far too little about the matter, but for some strange reason FAIR has already taken all its good anti-guestworker material, along with the useful links, down. Could someone have leaned on them? Am I somehow missing it? Go see for yourself.

By contrast, one might have a look at the web page of the California Rural Legal Assistance Fund. They continue to pound away at the issue, but their big problem is that they give short shrift to the main FAIR concern, that is, the contribution of the guestworker arrangement to illegal immigration. For that, the readers will have to refer to the articles on the subject on my site and the newly-noted Testimony of Richard Estrada.

Please note the following press release about the legislative victory, which is good as far as it goes, but the writers of the release seem to be oblivious to the role that fear of illegal immigration played in the victory:

National Latino Summit on ‘Guestworker’ Legislation

Steering Committee:

Mario Obledo, Chair
Antonia Hernandez, President, Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund
Arturo Rodriguez, President, United Farm Workers of America, AFL-CIO
Baldemar Velasquez, Farm Labor Organizing Committee
Raúl Yzaguirre, President, National Council of La Raza

News Release

For Immediate Release:
October 16, 1998
Contact: Ricardo Sanchez

Farmworkers deserve nation’s attention, support

National leaders applaud Clinton
for killing ‘guestworker’ amendment

Washington, D.C.—White House and congressional negotiators last night stripped away a controversial "guestworker" amendment which would have allowed large agricultural growers to import an unlimited number of foreign laborers. The amendment, called the Agricultural Job Opportunity, Benefits and Security Act of 1998, was stripped from an omnibus appropriations bill (S.2260) for the Commerce, Justice, State (CJS) federal departments.

Elimination of the "guestworker" amendment defeats the attempt for this year by agribusiness interests to circumvent the domestic agricultural labor market.

The amendment was stalled in a House-Senate conference committee since the August recess under the threat of a presidential veto. Both houses are expected to pass the CJS appropriations bill today, along with other major spending bills where compromises were also reached. President Clinton is then expeced to sign the bills into law.

Mario Obledo, president of the National Coalition of Hispanic Organizations commended President Clinton for "holding firm and not allowing the Republican-controlled Congress to do the bidding of this nation’s powerful agricultural lobby. We are extremely grateful to President Clinton for using the powers of his office to defend the least powerful in our nation. And we are indebted to many Democratic members of Congress, including the Hispanic Congressional Caucus, for asserting themselves to achieve this end.

"Farmworkers are the most marginalized of workers," Obledo asserted. "For decades farmworkers have fed the nation, yet they have been subjected to miserable living and working conditions, while their pay has remained stagnant or has declined It is inconceivable that thousands of men, women, children, and infants continue to live along river banks and in fields with twigs, branches and cardboard to protect them, and cook and bathe using river or pesticide-laden irrigation water."

Raul Yzaguirre, president of the National Council of La Raza, based in Washington, D.C., added, "This legislation illustrated the growers’ endless appetite for cheap foreign labor who are willing to come to the U.S. and work for low wages under intolerable conditions. There are no convincing arguments for a new guestworker program. Employers should compete in the marketplace to recruit and retain workers by offering decent wages and favorable working conditions."

"The condition of farmworkers is the nation’s #1 civil rights issue," declared Antonia Hernandez, president of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund. "It is imperative that Latinos across the nation provide leadership on this issue by proposing long-term solutions. We must challenge our nation’s elected representatives to do what is right and long overdue."

Obledo, who served as chair of the National Latino Summit on "Guestworker" Legislation which convened in Washington, D.C. last month to defeat the amendment, said the coalition will propose a Bill of Rights for Farm Workers during the 1999 session of Congress. "Given the contributions of farmworkers to the quality of life that we enjoy in America, among other rights we should guarantee all farmworkers a living wage, affordable housing, health and pension benefits, education, childcare, and the right to live with dignity," Obledo concluded.

For more information, contact Mario Obledo, 916-441-5000, or Ricardo Sanchez, 206-390-7778.

David Martin
October 18, 1998

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