Those who vigorously oppose the presence of undocumented workers in the United States offer many reasons for their conviction. One of the most prominent is illegal aliens take jobs that otherwise would be filled by U.S. citizens. Do you know anyone who'd want this job? Last week in a vineyard south of Bakersfield, twenty-three Spanish-speaking women were picking grapes when a helicopter began spraying weed-killing poison on an adjacent field of oranges. A strange odor enveloped the women but they kept working until feeling "dizzy and nauseated", according to the Bakersfield Californian. They ran to the opposite end of the field where tears filled burning eyes, and four women went into convulsions. Nine-one-one was called and firefighters rushed in, put up blinds for privacy, instructed the women to strip to their underwear, and helped hose them off before they were taken to the hospital. No one died. And all were released t! hat day.
Some of the ladies are no doubt back at work. Perhaps all of them have returned. But don't worry. There are still plenty of openings, and U.S. citizens can get these low-paying jobs anytime: you won't need an education or training or even identification. You'll just have to bend over and break your backs in the heat and the cold and wind and dust as you inhale the pesticides. They're always there. In Kern County they officially sicken about a hundred workers a year. Many more are also devoured, slowly and at first imperceptibly, by chronic exposure to poison.
How often do you see farmworkers closer than driving by in your climate-controlled cars? I've had some in my English as a Second Language class for adults at night. Most of their coworkers never will make it to school. They're too tired. Those who come often arrive late from the fields and leave early so they can sleep a little and get up before the sun. Almost all have very little education; some have never attended school. Few will ever learn English well. It's going to be difficult to escape the fields. Their children will be the ones to do that.
I first wrote about the contributions and difficulties of illegal immigration last month. Since then I have been deluged by emails on the subject. Overwhelmingly, the letter writers continue to denounce those who have broken the law in order to work here. Regarding the poisoned farmworkers, one of my rare letter-writing supporters recently sent me this ironic note: "I really hope the INS investigated the immigration status of these ladies because they certainly are taking jobs away from hardworking Americans."