There have been several versions of a meme making the rounds recently that are dangerous. The most recent one that came across my Facebook page today showed a video of agricultural workers hauling buckets of sweet potatoes. The video shows workers moving quickly. The title reads, “Hey Trump Voters: Are You Going To Do These Jobs?” The caption reads, “Does anyone know a single American who wants to hurl buckets of sweet potatoes all day? What will we do if we deport them all?” It was shared on FB by Occupy Democrats.
These memes, aimed at Trump supporters, aspire to show how Trump’s immigration policies, with their promises to deport millions of immigrants, will backfire, hurting Americans who “won’t” do those jobs. As the meme featured in the photo here asserts, they are meant as “a lesson” to Trump supporters.
But these memes are dangerous—they justify having a second class of workers who are necessary but who don’t make a living wage. It normalizes one class for “American” jobs that Americans will do and another, harder, low-paying class for those who “will.”
The “lesson” that liberals are offering begins with the wrong assumptions. They assume that it is necessary or natural to have a group of workers who work under such harsh conditions and low pay that the rest of us would never do that work. They assume that as long as we have plenty of immigrants willing to do this work, the world is good.
The question should not be “who will do those jobs that Americans won’t do,” but rather, “How can we create working conditions and wages that provide dignified work for laborers who make it possible for us to eat every day?”
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states, “everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favorable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.” (Article 23)
According to FarmworkerJustice.org, few farm workers have favorable working conditions. The average yearly wage for an individual is $10,000 to $12,500; for a family it is $15,000- $17,000, at or below the poverty level. Farm workers work an average of 42 hours a week. Carlos Marentes, the director of the Border Farm Workers Center/ Centro de Trabajadores Agricolas Fronterizos, describes the long days of the workers who live at the center. The buses come for them at 3 a.m. and they are in the fields by 5. Depending on the season, they are back at the Centro about 5 p.m., they take showers, eat dinner, watch a little television and are asleep by 9 p.m. so they can wake up at 2 a.m. to start their day again.
Despite legal protection, farm workers continue to suffer from health problems created by pesticides. Children and youth continue to work in the fields. They sometimes do not have clean drinking water or sanitation facilities.
Another assumption that these memes get wrong is that there are no US-citizen farm workers, when in fact, approximately 1/3 of farm workers are citizens. Estimates indicate that about 50% of farm workers are undocumented and a little few than 20% are legal residents, a significant number are citizens, citizens who are treated as second-class citizens.
Our bottom line should not be: Trump's plan to deport immigrants will hurt us as Americans. There are hundreds of thousands of US citizens, Americans, working in the fields, putting food on our tables, every day. Our bottom line should be: there are humans working in the fields to feed us every day and sometimes they cannot feed their own families. They deserve dignity and respect and just working conditions.