Stephen Colbert has a deal for all of the folks who believe farmers are scamming the system to get cheap labor at the expense of unemployed Americans.
The comedian is offering to help them get a job on a farm, picking strawberries, cutting lettuce, harvesting cherries or doing hundreds of other chores. The jobs are readily available, so all folks have to do is sign up and show up.
The campaign, which Colbert cooked up with the help of the United Farm Workers Union, is a stroke of genius. Whenever you can make your point with a little humor instead of a big lecture, you win.
We've listened to the lectures for decades now. "Illegal immigrants are ruining this country," the pundits and politicians say. In fact, illegal immigrants harvest much of the food that feeds this country. Most farmworkers were born outside the U.S., about half of whom are illegal, according to the UFW.
Farmers hire them because they are ready, willing and able to do the work that no one else wants. Anyone is welcome. The U.S. immigration "system" - if you want to call it that - is a sieve for those seeking work in the U.S. It is hardly the fault of the farmers or the workers. Rather, it's the fault of the politicians and others who would rather complain about the mess they created than fix it.
Since those politicians don't seem to be doing much else of value, they can get a farm job, too. I doubt they will, because there are no air-conditioned offices or lobbyists fawning over them. But there are plenty of 12-hour days in 100-degree weather, climbing up and down ladders and hustling to get the crops in before they become overripe.
Not long ago, youths worked in the fields, picking strawberries, apples and other crops. The tightening of federal labor laws - again, courtesy of Congress - ruled many of them out, and the void was filled by immigrant workers.
It's an economic reality.
Critics say the way to get "real" Americans to do farm work is to raise the pay. Do that and one of two things will happen: Either no one will buy the food because it's too expensive compared to imported food, or it will disappear from the marketplace altogether because the farmers will go broke.
Most farmers are price-takers instead of price-makers and have little or no leverage in selling their crops. They have to take the price they are offered, no matter whether they paid the farmworkers $10 or $20 an hour to harvest their crops. When expenses go up and revenue stays the same - or drops, as has been the case in many types of agriculture during the recession - the result is bankruptcy.
Colbert and the UFW have a website, www.takeourjobs.org, where pundits, politicians and others can sign up for a farm job.
Below the form on the website is this disclaimer: "Job may include using hand tools such as knives, hoes and shovels. Duties may include tilling the soil, transplanting, weeding, thinning, picking, cutting, sorting and packing of harvested produce. May set up and operate irrigation equipment. Work is performed outside in all weather conditions (summertime 90-plus degree weather) and is physically demanding, requiring workers to bend, stoop, lift and carry up to 50 pounds on a regular basis."
Who wouldn't want a job like that?
Harvest season is in full swing, and other harvests are shifting into high gear.
Come on, all you pundits and politicians, it's time to get to work.
Carl Sampson is the managing editor of the Captial Press.