The controversial Lou Dobbs was often labeled as an opinionated, biased, and outspoken television news anchor who had the stage to spread lies and conspiracy theories about immigrants and Latinos. While many were outraged by his broadcast, his loyal listeners cheered his remarks. Dobbs quit CNN two months ago, but don’t expect public perception about immigration to change.
Tom Saenz, president of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, commented, “The Latino community can and should celebrate that Lou Dobbs is no longer on CNN.” U.S. Senator Robert Menendez, a Democrat from Dobbs’s home state of New Jersey and the Senate’s only Hispanic member, called it “addition by subtraction” for CNN. While many may be relieved that he is temporarily silenced, we need to save the celebration for the day when AgJOBs is finally enacted. “Temporarily silenced” may be the key phrase here, because a man with such convictions as Mr. Dobbs will not be quiet for long.
On November 2, the New York Times ran a piece entitled, “White House Plan on Immigration Includes Legal Status,” which was the announcement that the Obama administration would insist on measures to give legal status to an estimated 12 million illegal immigrants. (This White House announcement alone should be enough to bring Lou back!) Promises are being made by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Senator Schumer of New York, and Senator Cornyn of Texas to tackle the issue in the first months of 2010. In the House, Congressman Ortiz from Texas, representing the Hispanic Caucus, recently introduced a Comprehensive Immigration Reform bill that includes AgJOBS. All of this is good news for agricultural employers across the country, but, at the same time, it must be seen as a call to action because once again the daunting task of changing public perception is upon us.
Even with Mr. Dobbs off CNN, you can be assured that someone will take his place and that his message will still be heard. Today’s employment environment is much worse than the last time immigration was being discussed on Capitol Hill, and with talk of taxpayers paying for health care for 12 million illegal immigrants, if we thought that last summer’s town hall meetings were confrontational, wait until they start talking immigration!
As agricultural employers, it will be critically important that your support be heard and felt. Your different national trade groups will be working diligently in Washington, D.C., on your behalf, and at the same time they will need you to also be working diligently back at home. You can count on U.S. Apple Association and United Fresh Produce Association to be knocking on your Congressional doors, but they will need you to make the calls and send the letters and to knock on those same doors to let your elected leaders know you want them to support AgJOBS. This fight will not only be fought in the halls of D.C., it now has to come back home to the districts. You have all heard about “bring a child to work day.” Well, it’s time to have a “bring a politician to work day” and invite your legislators to your operation to make the point that U.S. labor does not harvest their food.
Apple growers, mark your calendars now for Thursday, March 25, 2010, and join growers from across the United States as they march on Capitol Hill to deliver USApple’s message to support AgJOBS. For fresh produce industry members, contact United Fresh Produce Association to set up visits in Washington, D.C., to make your voice heard. To learn more about the issues, contact your national trade groups. They are working on your behalf and are more than willing to advise you and help you be heard.
Finally, and most importantly, don’t leave this up to your neighbor or take the attitude that since you are paying dues or assessments to national trade organizations, the hired help will do the work for you. You can bet that they will, but in this case, your hired staffs need you to work alongside them to make this happen. No matter how many times the message is delivered to Congress, the one that is remembered the most is the one from a constituent!