Last summer, Colorado passed some of the most repressive laws against illegal farm laborers in the country. As a result, thousands of immigrants here illegally who have been working as seasonal farm laborers are in hiding or have left the state.
These people have done the labor that most Americans would never do for wages that have helped the farmers to reap profits and pass down to the consumers.
Last fall was a disaster for the farmers of Colorado. Without their traditional base of illegal cheap labor, the crops rotted in the fields. This year in an attempt to remedy this situation, the state legislature came up with the plan to use the inmates of the state penitentiaries as a source of farm labor.
The farmers are paying the Department of Corrections $10.00 an hour per inmate plus a negotiated charge for prison guards to overseers. The inmates make 60 cents a day.
The legislature claims that the program was started to keep the farmers from going out of business and the cost of the program per farmer is much more that he would have paid if he had his tradidional source of illegal labor.
The program was put into action this month and I saw a report about it on the ARTE Network international news here in France. They showed the inmates chained iin the fields and the guards armed watching them work. One woman was interviewed who said that she was unfit for the work but was being forced to do it anyway.
There are critics on both sides of the immigration issue. Mark Krikorian of the Center for Immigrattion Studies in Washington said, "If they can't get slaves from Mexico, they want them from the jails."
Ricardo Martinez of the Denver immigrant rights group, Padres Unidos asked, "Are we going to pull inmattes to work in the service industry too? You won't have enough inmates, unless you start importing them from Texas."
Farmers are not happy about this situation, but they are on the edge of fiinancial collapse. This is tantamount to slavery, but the anti slavery provisions of the Constitution leave open a loophole which permitted the Southern States to operate slave labor chain gangs for many years until they were abolished as inhuman.
If immigrant labor didn't exist, firms would start paying higher wages and offering benifits to entice Americans into picking lettuce and plucking chickens. Decent wages come from collective bargaining. The influx of immigrant labor has kept that possibility out of the question.
During the last 25 years, Hispanic and Black union membership has dropped more than half. The bargaining status of the working man in America is becoming less and less of a possibility as rights are trampled on.
If we put half as much energy into supporting the status of the working man as America puts into hating immigrants, we might accomplish something.