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Another perspective - July 19, 2014

The Mayflower, with 102 Pilgrims, landed in present day Massachusetts in December 1620. Having endured religious persecution for their beliefs in Europe, they had come in search of religious freedom. More than half of the settlers died during the first winter due to the harsh weather, inadequate housing and poor nutrition.

In March of 1621, an Indian named Samoset visited the colony. He had picked up some rudimentary English from English fishermen and he offered the assistance of an English speaking Indian named Squanto who had once been captured and trained to be a guide and interpreter. Samoset and Squanto were of the Wampanoag tribe, whose ancestors had lived in that area of North America for some 10,000 years. Squanto helped resolve disputes between the colonists and the local tribes. He is also credited with teaching the Pilgrims how to harvest sap from maple trees, and how to grow corn and other vegetables by using fish as a natural fertilizer.

In the fall of 1621, the Pilgrims shared a harvest feast with the Indians who had helped them survive. This feast is now considered the basis for the Thanksgiving holiday.

Sacagawea was a Shoshone Indian woman who served as a guide and interpreter for the Lewis and Clark expedition. She proved to be a valuable asset in negotiating with and keeping the peace with the Native American tribes along the way. On May 14, 1805, the boat Sacagawea was in nearly capsized and she recovered many important papers and supplies. On this occasion Lewis wrote in his journal: “the Indian woman to whom I ascribe equal fortitude and resolution, with any person on board at the time of the accident, caught and preserved most of the light articles which were washed overboard.” After Sacagawea died, William Clark showed his respect for her by adopting her two children.

There are many Americans who wouldn’t understand why Squanto and Sacagawea would be helpful to the newcomers to their land. “Go back to where you come from,” angry protesters told busloads of immigrant children from Central America. These children have a little different story than the Pilgrims. They didn’t come here for religious freedom but to escape the extreme gang violence in their home countries which have the highest murder rates in the world. According to a report from the United Nations, Honduras has the world’s highest homicide rate, 90.4 homicides per 100,000 people. El Salvador and Guatemala are also in the top five. “Basically, the places these people are coming from are the places with the highest homicide rates,” said Manuel Orozco of the Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington based research group. “The parents see gang membership around the corner. Once your child is forced to join, the chances of being killed or going to prison is pretty high. Why wait until that happens?”

The New York Times reports that during a recent visit to the San Pedro Sula, Honduras morgue: “more than 60 bodies, all victims of violence, were seen piled in a heap, each wrapped in a brown plastic bag…Last week, in nearby Santa Barbara, an 11-year-old had his throat slit by other children, because he did not pay a 50-cent extortion fee.”

While humanitarian arguments are not likely to change the hearts of people who chant USA! USA! USA! at scared little kids, perhaps economic ones will. There are jobs that most Americans are either unwilling or physically unable to do. Crackdowns on undocumented farm workers in Georgia and Alabama left crops rotting in the fields because legal workers could not be found in sufficient numbers to harvest the crops. The Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association reported that Georgia farmers lost at least $74.9 million in unharvested crops because 40 percent of the total workforce had been scared away by anti-immigration legislation. A new study by the conservative Farm Bureau analyzes three immigration reform scenarios that would affect the farm sector of the economy including farm output and food prices:

1. A border-enforcement-only immigration policy with aggressive federal and state deportation efforts, and harsh penalties for employers who knowingly hire undocumented immigrants would be most damaging to the economy. Under this policy, the loss of most of the 525,000 undocumented farm workers would result in a 23 to 47 percent drop in vegetable production, and a 30 to 61 percent drop in fruit production, increasing food prices for consumers by 5 to 6 percent. This policy would cost the agricultural sector as much as $60 billion over five years.

2. If enforcement was combined with some measure for legalizing undocumented immigrants, vegetable production would still decline by 10 to 22 percent and fruit production would drop by 13 to 28 percent, while food prices for consumers would increase by 2 to 3 percent.

3. If a guest worker program was included, production would only drop 2 to 9 percent for vegetables and 3 to 12 percent for fruits, with food prices increasing by 1 to 2 percent.

An analysis entitled, “Fear vs. Facts: Examining the Economic Impact of Undocumented Immigrants in the U.S.” appeared in the Journal of Sociology and Social Welfare in 2012. It came to this conclusion: “Although there are costs associated with undocumented immigrants living in the U.S., their overall economic contribution, including employment, purchases, and tax revenue generated may result in a financial benefit to the U.S. at the federal level, and for some local and state governments as well. Even in states where the costs of providing services to undocumented immigrants is greater than the tax revenue generated, those costs represent less than 5 percent of those states’ total budget allocated for law enforcement, education, and health care, and not the huge economic drain claimed by many politicians and anti-immigrant organizations. The negative depictions of undocumented immigrants by the media and the discussion by some politicians about the economic drain of undocumented immigrants on the U.S. economy, which are based on exaggerations, the distortion of data, or incomplete information, have created a hostile environment for undocumented Latinos in the U.S. This has led to ineffective and costly policies that deny services to undocumented immigrants and increase immigration enforcement.”

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