When I was a child growing up in Muncie, Indiana, we lived across the street from some college dormitories and a very large Presbyterian church. Behind those buildings were acres and acres of undeveloped land, scrub mostly, in the way of farm fields returning to nature. Stands of trees gave way to clearings and marshes, offering a haven for neighborhood kids to run around in, play army, and pretend to be out in the wilderness.
“Don’t go in there,” was the stern warning of our parents. That made it all the more compelling. “There are hobo camps out there,” was the biggest threat, “and one of them bit a boy last year, sent him to the hospital to get tetanus shots.” That was almost enough to do the trick, but not quite. We would come upon an old campfire or stray shoe, and it sent shivers up and down our spines. Never mind they were the remnants of local high schoolers having fun, such relics played perfectly with the fear-induced fantasies planted by our parents.
That is the way with fear, it neither requires facts nor is mitigated by them. Fearful thought, or the fear-based processing of information, is self-generating and self-fulfilling. There are millions of otherwise caring and compassionate people who unselfconsciously fall prey to their fears and are manipulated by the fearmonger-in-chief.
Borders and walls, eh? The Big Bad Covid-19 huffed and puffed and flicked our walls down with a sneeze. So much for the fantasy that we can wall ourselves away from the rest of the world. Meanwhile, the President’s (then) Chief of Staff was in London complaining that the United States is in desperate need of immigrants.
Here are some Finger Lakes fun facts to go along with those kicks in the head to the xenophobic hysteria that is fracking immigration policy these days:
- Approximately 70% of immigrants in the Finger Lakes entered the U.S. before 2000, only about 5% since 2010, according to Thomas DiNapoli’s 2014 report.
- Without NY State’s undocumented workers, 1,080 farms would go out of business or shrink dramatically, costing $1.37 billion, 21,000 jobs to citizen agricultural workers, and another 23,000 non-farm jobs. (The Chronicle Express, April 6, 2017).
- In Yates county, wineries account for 8% of sales tax, plus attract half a million visitors, and contribute 41 million dollars to the economy. Those wineries are completely dependent on workers from Central America and Mexico. (The Chronicle Express, April 6, 2017).
- According to U.S. census data, the continent of origin of most Finger Lakes immigrants is Africa, with those from Europe and Latin America next in roughly equivalent numbers.
- In 2017, 50 Finger Lakes winery owners wrote Tom Reed urging Congress “to create a safe legal way to allow foreign workers to come and go to the waiting jobs in America…” (The Chronicle Express, April 6, 2017).
- New York ranks behind only California in in the percentage of immigrants in its population – 22% (verses 13% nationally). For the Finger Lakes region, it is 6% according to Thomas’ DiNapoli’s 2014 report.
For those who see through a lens of fear, we need to help them take a deep breath, continually reassure them with facts, and help them explore the true nature of their fears – to see if indeed, that is what they want to live by.
Leon Whiteman says
Legal immigrants have picked vegetables all across the country for decades. They picked tomatoes in Central Indiana every late summer and fall during the time you and I both grew up in Muncie. The nearest to Muncie that I know this occurred was in Jay County.
Cam Miller says
Thanks for responding Leon. When we were growing up it was not considered illegal for Mexicans to cross the border and work in the United States. In 1965 we created quotas for immigration and that began a long process that has plagued us since. I volunteered for the Indiana Council of Churches Migrant Ministries program in high school and saw up close the horrendous conditions migrants were forced to live in and under in the Indiana tomato harvest. We have work to do to make the immigration process just, fair, and humane for everyone.
Eric Bonetti says
Not to mention the reliance of the hospitality and restaurant industries on immigrant labor. Gotta keep the bed linens fresh at those Trump hotels!
Cam Miller says
Bitter irony indeed. Thanks for the comment.