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Senator won't pick up bucket of tomatoes but says law must stand

Felicia Persaud | 10/13/2011, 11:42 a.m.
Letter No. 30: Immigration reform now!

Meet Alabama Republican State Sen. Scott Beason, one of the sponsors and co-authors of the June immigration legislation that has now become the harshest in the nation-and the man who last month referred to Blacks as "aborigines."

The Beason-supported law makes it a state crime to be in Alabama unlawfully or to not carry proper immigrant documentation; allows police in Alabama to demand "papers" showing citizenship or immigration status during traffic stops; and requires police to transport drivers whose license information cannot be determined to a magistrate to determine their immigration status. Those who are determined to be in the country unlawfully can be detained until they are prosecution or handed over to federal authorities.

Except it seems that Beason and his colleagues did not think of their farm-owning constituents when pushing this law, a move that has him now facing the ire of this group.

You see, it's almost tomato-picking time in many farms in Alabama-except this year, there are no migrant workers around to do the back-breaking work of picking and hauling heavy buckets of tomatoes, thanks to one of the state's tough new laws.

Undocumented migrants are leaving Alabama and running scared since a federal judge upheld portions of the laws that had been challenged and allowed the harshest to go into effect.

On Oct. 2, Beason got quite an earful from some farmers and was even boldly challenged to pick up a full bucket of tomatoes.

The challenge, from Chad Smith of the Smith family farm in Alabama, proved the point that many in the immigrant advocacy community have been making for too long. Not only did Beason decline to pick up the bucket of tomatoes to simply get a sense of the weight undocumented migrants chug around daily, but his inaction made it clear-neither will the majority of Americans, which is why the vegetables in Alabama will be rotting.

The reality is that despite the high unemployment rate, no legal American wants to work on a farm, doing the hard, callus-inflicting job of picking, packing and hauling fruit and vegetables daily. Especially since the farmers said they get about $10 a box for their tomatoes and workers get just $2 of that.

Smith, who said his tomatoes are rotting on the vine, summed it up accurately after Beason failed to take up his challenge. According to the Associated Press, Smith threw down the bucket he offered Beason and said, "There, I figured it would be like that."

Smith is just one of the farmers angry about the new law they are feeling the effects of. Lana Boatwright, another farmer, said row upon row of ripening tomatoes on her farm are almost ready to be harvested but most likely won't be, as there is no labor to pick them.

Boatwright is no lawmaker but her solution is so practical and sensible, she should run for office. "These people want to make a living. Make them pay taxes-that's fine, they don't mind," Boatwright told her local Fox affiliate. "Hopefully, one day the federal government will streamline some of their processes when temporary workers come through like they used to do two or three decades ago-come through, pick those crops (and) move onto the next place where those crops are ripening."

It is now time for farmers across America who are annoyed with the failure to pass real immigration reform in this country to take their anger to Washington, D.C., and offer the lawmakers who are above the reality of life in everyday America some of Boatwright's advice. The solution is simple: a work permit and travel document to all morally upstanding, hard-working undocumented immigrants who can contribute to the economy and coffers of America, as generations have done before.

The writer is founder of NewsAmericasNow, CaribPR Wire and Hard Beat Communications.