"He who has compassion on them will guide them and lead them beside springs of water." Isaiah 49:10

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Is Life a Bowl of Cherries?

Fidel "Butch" Montoya

Far beyond the headline news of the largest Federal immigration raid totaling close to 400 individuals in the history of the United States, there is another important story not getting near the attention it should.

It is the sad story of lies and abuse of immigrants on the harvest trail. A story of expectations and hope promised, and nothing but uncertainty and fear delivered.

The United Farm Workers are trying to raise awareness about the plight of the workers and their families who recently left Washington State and who were promised jobs in the cherry orchards near Shafter, California. They left Washington State after Stemilt Growers Company promised them jobs in California. They packed what belongings they had, and traveled expecting to the find the jobs promised and to be able to provide for their families.

Now what would you do if you were promised a job in another state by the world’s largest supplier of freshly picked cherries? If I didn’t have a job, and Stemilt Growers Company promised me a job, I would take the company’s word and promise of a job and move to where I could take care of my family.

The problem is when they arrived in California, the jobs promised didn’t exist. There was no housing, places to shower or bathe, unless you wanted to bathe with the ducks and fish in a water hole?

As for sleeping arrangements, they did’t exist either. Some workers slept in their cars, others found cardboard boxes, and others simply slept out in the open. If you were lucky, you might have spelt in a tent.

To make matters worse, only a handful of the immigrants were hired and the rest were told to hang around and maybe more jobs would open up.

Now with no jobs, no expectation of getting one, little or no money left over from their trip, no housing, and nothing but uncertainty left, they were told they could camp out in the orchards.

They went public with their plight and complained to the news media which covered their story. Backed by the United Farm Workers, the news media exposed the problems facing the unemployed immigrants.

Angry and upset,representatives from Kyle Mathison Orchards/Stemilt Growers Company called the sheriff department to get the migrants out of the orchards. Now with the cherry growers throwing them out, there was no hope.

Now imagine this, this company claims to treat workers fairly. What is fairness when you provide no housing, no jobs, and broken promises and the company calls the sheriff department to throw you out or have you arrested?

This is what is wrong with companies that claim to take care of workers. First off, Stemilt Growers Company claims to take care of workers? When Kyle Mathison Orchards promises more jobs than they know they will be able to fill, yet they continue to promise jobs, when in fact, they knew there are really not enough jobs.

This is an abuse and the lack of very basic worker’s protections just allows companies to take advantage of workers with little or no regard for the worker. This is wrong, and in the scope of issues facing migrant workers, this one is very real to the workers traveling a great distance only to find out the promised jobs simply do not exist.

So while the nation watches the ramifications of the largest immigrant raid in our country in disgust and awkwardness, not knowing what to do, farmer workers far from the national headlines and public awareness, are left in a hopeless situation as well.

The sad part of this story is, that as long as immigration reform is ignored and worker protections laws are not put in place, immigrant workers will continue to be displaced in society, and will continue to suffer in a climate of fear, hatefulness, prejudices, and racism.

It is time for a reasonable resolution for comprehensive immigration reform. We cannot keep playing games with immigrant workers lives. We need a new national affirmation to work together to find a solution to this disgraceful stain of injustice on our Constitution.

Or maybe we need to start a boycott of cherries from the Mathison Orchards/Stemilt Growers Company – supposedly the “largest shipper of fresh-market sweet cherries in the world.”

Fidel “Butch” Montoya
H. S. Power & Light Ministries – Latino Faith Initiative
Denver, Colorado 80212

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