Latino labor is vital for Idaho farming

Workers and farmers agree appreciation is growing.

(IDAHO FALLS) POST REGISTEROctober 8, 2013 

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Steve Labra, an operator at Howard Taylor & Sons in Osgood, repairs a piece of farm equipment at the shop on West 81st North. Labra has worked at the farm for 40 years.

MONTE LAORANGE — postregister.com

  • HIGHLIGHTS OF THE U.S. SENATE IMMIGRATION BILL

    BORDER PATROL

    The bill sets requirements that must be achieved over the course of 10 years before anyone in the country illegally can obtain a permanent resident green card. They include:

    • Roughly doubling the number of Border Patrol agents stationed along the U.S.-Mexico border, bringing the total to at least 38,405.

    • Completing 700 miles of pedestrian fencing along the border, which would add 350 miles of new fencing.

    • Installing a host of new security measures and technologies in specified locations along the border, including specific numbers of surveillance towers, camera systems, ground sensors, radiation detectors, mobile surveillance systems, drones, helicopters, airborne radar systems, planes and ships.

    • Initiating a system for all employers to verify electronically their workers’ legal status.

    • Setting up a new electronic system to track people leaving the nation's airports and seaports.

    PATH TO CITIZENSHIP

    The estimated 11 million people living in the U.S. illegally could obtain “registered provisional immigrant status” six months after enactment of the bill as long as:

    • Homeland Security has developed border security and fencing plans, per the specifications set out in the bill.

    • The people arrived in the U.S. prior to Dec. 31, 2011, and maintained a continuous physical presence since then.

    • They do not have a felony conviction or three or more misdemeanors.

    • They pay a $500 fine.

    DREAM ACT

    Immigrants who entered the U.S. as children may have their status adjusted from “registered provisional immigrant” to “lawful permanent resident” if:

    • They have been registered provisional immigrants for at least five years.

    • They were younger than 16 when they entered the U.S.

    • They have earned a U.S. high school diploma, a commensurate alternative award or a GED.

    • They have earned a degree from an institution of higher education or completed two years in good standing in a program for a bachelor’s degree or higher degree in the U.S., or have served in the military for at least four years, and if discharged, received an honorable discharge.

    • They have provided a list of each secondary school he/she attended in the U.S.

    Sources: Politico and U.S. Senate Bill 744 full text

OSGOOD — Leon Carrillo was getting some rest under the midmorning sun.

The grease smeared on his uniform and sweat beaded on his forehead were evidence his job as a machinery operator at Howard Taylor & Sons isn’t easy. Workdays on the farm can last anywhere from eight to 16 hours.

Carrillo leaned against a tractor and grinned. He joked with his co-workers in his native Spanish. Some of their hands were coated in thick wads of grease, but they played along.

As their laughter faded, Carrillo’s eyes drifted off to the cropland around him.

Carrillo, who recently turned 48, has worked in the United States for the past 18 years. When he was about 30, he says, he was laid off from his job in Mexico. Finding a new job in his native country was nearly impossible, he says, so he came to the United States. It was “la necesidad,” he says.

Carrillo says he had to borrow money to finance his immigration. Now, he says, he’s living the American dream.

IMMIGRANTS’ IMPORTANCE

An average of 12,200 Hispanics worked in agriculture statewide from July 2012 to June 2013 — about 32.4 percent of the total number of Idaho’s employed farmworkers, according to government data.

Carrillo says Hispanics play an undeniably important role in the farming industry, especially in the rich potato fields of Eastern Idaho. He thinks the region’s appreciation for Hispanics has grown during the past two decades.

Howard Taylor & Sons human resources manager Dan Gubler says he’s also noticed greater cohesion between Idaho’s U.S.-born and migrant populations. Gubler credits the children in those two demographic groups with becoming the common bond between native-born and migrant.

“There are a lot of kids in the schools, and they are a part of sports programs,” Gubler says. “If you come out to the soccer fields on a weekend, they’re packed. And that culture has spread to our culture.”

Gubler was born in Peru while his parents built churches for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He knew Spanish before English. He says he welcomes the integration of cultures.

“But what is American culture?” he says. “I mean, it’s a makeup of everybody who has come here from other places, because that’s who we are. [Hispanics] are a big part of it.”

LOOKING AHEAD

Nonetheless, Gubler is not enthusiastic about the Senate immigration bill, now before the U.S. House of Representatives. He says the government has tried to provide amnesty while tightening the border with Mexico in the past but never follows through. He doesn’t think it will be any different this time.

“We’ve been down this path two or three times in my life,” he says.

One of Carrillo’s fellow machinery operators at Howard Taylor & Sons is 42-year-old Jose Canchola, who follows the immigration debate. Canchola says listening to the debate is one of the things he enjoys most about the U.S.

“Everyone is different, and everyone is entitled to their opinion,” he says, through Gubler’s translation.

The Latino immigrants fill jobs most Americans wouldn’t otherwise want to take, says Jesus Villalobos. Villalobos immigrated to the U.S. about 43 years ago and has worked on farms from Idaho to Michigan since.

Villalobos most recently picked and cleaned potatoes for Nonpareil Farms in Blackfoot for five years. He retired about a year ago. He says he rarely saw Americans working alongside him in the fields.

HARD LABOR

Villalobos believes most Americans opt for jobs that are higher paying and less demanding physically. But unskilled Latino migrant workers don’t have that choice, he says.

“They hire Latinos because Latinos will accept minimum wage,” he says. “It’s hard labor, because you are under the sun 12 to 13 hours a day.”

Gubler agreed. He says Latinos are vital to the success of local farms.

“Do I think [the industry] could survive [without Latinos]? I do, but who is going to be the individual to fill those roles?” Gubler says. “The dynamic is that my own children don’t want to do this. I don’t want to say they think it’s beneath them, but it’s hard work. If they think they can find something easier, they may try to want to do that.”

Many of these Latinos don’t realize they have workers’ rights, Villalobos says. He is a U.S. citizen, but he says it took a trip to a doctor about a year and a half ago for him to realize he could seek disability payments for a lifelong leg injury. Villalobos says his doctor told him he should have stopped working a decade ago.

Gubler says Latino immigrants such as Carrillo and Canchola risk injury and work their entire lives to provide a comfortable life for their children. He says he wishes politicians would see the workers in that light.

“For the most part, they’re keeping their noses clean and don’t cause problems,” Gubler says. “From my perspective, yeah, I think they get a bad rap.”

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