May 23, 2005
A reason why there are undocumented workers
By George Thomas Clark
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, California, 23 Spanish-speaking women were picking grapes when a helicopter
began spraying weed-killing poison on an adjacent orange grove. A strange odor enveloped the women but they kept working until
feeling “dizzy and nauseated,” according to the Bakersfield Californian newspaper. They then 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 that day.
Some of the ladies no doubt are now 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 farm workers 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 farm workers, 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.”
George Thomas Clark is the author of Hitler Here, a biographical novel, and Outliving Flynn,
a short story collection. He can be contacted through his web page at http://www.GeorgeThomasClark.com/.