Skip to comments.CA: Life without 50,000 illegal immigrants (Ventura County)
Posted on 04/23/2006 4:28:24 PM PDT by NormsRevenge
The strawberries and celery could be gone, replaced by fields of wheat or endless checkerboards of pavement, homes and commerce. Fuel and packaging businesses that rely on farms would be wounded but so would construction companies and golf courses.
Taxes would go down. Hospitals would have more money to spend on wellness programs that combat diabetes. The Ventura County Sheriff's Department would save $3 million a year in jail costs.
There would be more jobs, but maybe not the kind people would want. Wages would rise, but so would the price of a night on the town and the hotel costs of a night out of town. One cost that wouldn't go up more than a few extra dimes would be a trip to a grocery store's produce aisle.
Between 25,000 and 50,000 people living in Ventura County are illegal immigrants, according to Pew Hispanic Center research. What if the number were zero? What if Congress agreed not only to fence off Mexico's border but find and deport every illegal immigrant in the county, state and nation?
A hint of the answer may come May 1 when the same groups that planned the March protest against tougher immigration laws, bringing more than 500,000 people to downtown Los Angeles, ask the nation's illegal and legal immigrants to sit out a day. Don't work. Don't go to school. Don't shop. Don't sell.
Their message is as loud as a flood siren. Without undocumented workers, crops would rot. Restaurants and hotels would fail. The economy would cough and falter like a car running on fumes.
"Everyone who uses us will see if they need us or not," said Alvaro Rojas, an undocumented landscaper who will spend the day home in Ventura, watching television coverage of the walkout. "If the people unite the way they have been, they'll send a message."
But life without undocumented people, according to advocates of tougher immigration laws, would mean plugging the drain that empties welfare and public school budgets. It might not cure California's budget problems but it would help, said John Keeley of the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington, D.C. It could mean better pay for everyone from road repair workers to day-care providers.
"Who in America doesn't want to see wages rise and working conditions improve?" Keeley said. "Who doesn't want to see the poor improve their outcome?"
Neither side suggests that deporting 11 million or more people is possible. But exploring how life would change offers a way to measure the contributions and drains of a population that in Ventura County is between the size of Santa Paula and Camarillo.
The scenario dives deep into emotional wells. Immigrants talk of how look-the-other-way policies exploit undocumented workers through slave wages and squalid living conditions. A Sacramento man in the lodging industry interrupted an analysis of how massive deportation could wound tourism with this aside:
"I'd push the bastards back in a heartbeat."
Economists distill the debate by poking holes in claims made by both sides. They say a Ventura County without undocumented workers would mean more jobs for low-skilled employees but would also mean fewer start-up companies creating new jobs.
"Your economy will grow more slowly," said economist Kevin Klowden of the Milken Institute think tank in Los Angeles. "Southern California becomes more dull. You have fewer people coming in who are eager to start businesses."
Society wouldn't collapse as it did in the 2004 mockumentary, "A Day Without a Mexican," in which 14 million people vanished from California. Klowden argued that countries across the world, from Switzerland to Japan, survive without large illegal immigrant populations. There wouldn't be rioting in the streets. Life would change, but not from day to night.
"If you're talking about 5 percent, it can't be that different. It's only 5 percent," said Los Angeles research economist James Smith, referring to estimates of Ventura County's undocumented population. "You'd still have taxis. You'd still have restaurants. It's just going to be more expensive."
The spectre of a $10 head of lettuce marks immigration debates like neon in Las Vegas. Without undocumented workers to harvest fruits and vegetables, the theory goes, prices would explode.
It is myth, said Phil Martin, an agricultural economist at UC Davis. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show that American households spent about $460 on alcohol in 2004 and only about $370 on fresh fruits and vegetables.
Even if farm wages rose 40 percent, households would pay only $9 more a year for fruits and vegetables, according to Martin's calculations.
"The average household doesn't even go through one head of lettuce every two weeks," he said, focusing on the limited reach of wages. "It's important for farmworkers and it's important for farmers, but it's not all that important to the average household."
Farming on thin ice
Economists don't believe that Scott Deardorff would lose the tomato, lettuce and cabbage farms his family has worked for four generations. They say that if left without an unauthorized workforce, he and other farmers would find crops less reliant on people picking them, maybe wheat or cotton. Or they'd develop machines that can help harvest citrus or even strawberries by shaking the fruit free.
Things look different in a half-picked field of celery just outside Oxnard. Deardorff, who also farms in Fillmore and Piru, uses about 100 farmworkers a day to pick the crops, paying an average of about $9 an hour. When his tomatoes are ready, he uses 300 workers.
Some labor contractors believe that as many as eight of 10 county farmworkers are here illegally. If they all left or were deported, Deardorff and the vast majority of the 2,300 farms throughout Ventura County would be paralyzed.
The berries and lettuce might stay in the fields.
"How many American people do you see in the crews?" said Alex Limon, a farm foreman standing in a Saticoy strawberry field dotted with three dozen workers. "Not one."
Economists argue that workers would emerge if the pay increased. That wouldn't solve Deardorff's problems. The price of crops is set globally, meaning that local farmers are stuck with whatever the market dictates.
If Deardorff had to pay 40 percent more for labor, his costs could rise $2.4 million a year, cutting deep into revenue. He wouldn't cover rent that ranges as high as $3,000 an acre each year.
Wheat wouldn't work either. Deardorff wouldn't be able to grow enough to keep his farm going.
"I wouldn't be here," he said, suggesting that the only people who would survive would be small farmers who serve local markets and the corporate operations that farm in Mexico and other countries. "We'd be dependent on food from over our borders."
If farmers fall, the fault lines would snake everywhere: fuel providers, tractor dealers and businesses that charter helicopters to spray crops.
"We only distribute what these guys need," said Tim Tyler, manager of Calpine Containers in Oxnard, which sells wooden pallets and cartons to farmers. "If they stop harvesting, they're not going to need packaging."
It wouldn't happen overnight, said Bill Watkins, a UC Santa Barbara economist who co-authored a study on Ventura County's agricultural future. But if losses started to grow, farmers would want to sell their land and that could generate political war.
Farmers might push to overturn growth-control laws designed to protect open space and farmland by restricting the ways it can be sold and developed. Slow-growth advocates would push back.
If farmers won, they would probably sell the land slowly to protect its value but, over the years, the county might accumulate more high-rises, shopping centers and homes.
"I think it would accelerate the move to become more like Orange County," Watkins said.
If farmers didn't have the votes to overturn the growth-control laws, they might try to sell their land in small parcels to families who would build sprawling estates and run gentleman farms. They might grow five acres of grapes for wine.
"That's one of those romantic deals for rich people," Watkins said, suggesting that in either scenario, the days of strawberries and celery would be gone.
A growing hit list
In a Ventura County without illegal immigrants, some golf courses might lose 20 percent of their workers, said Steve Badger, a Woodland Hills consultant with 34 years experience in golf. Construction companies nationwide would lose about one of eight people, according to a Pew Hispanic Center study. Restaurants, hotels and other tourist businesses would lose one of 10 employees.
Retail stores and factories would be hit. The increase in wages would topple more dominoes, causing industries that pay the minimum wage to consider pay increases that would in turn force them to charge more for goods and services.
And Rich De La Rosa wouldn't be standing in a Ventura career development center holding a briefcase on a Friday morning. He'd have a job.
De La Rosa, once a carpenter who couldn't get work because his prices were undercut, blames undocumented workers.
"They would do it for $200 less and they would get the job instead of me," said the Oak View resident who has been unemployed since October and is now looking for work in sales. "All they want to pay is $10 an hour because they can get these immigrants in there for that much."
But $10 an hour would disqualify De La Rosa from food stamps and Medi-Cal. He'd still have to find a way to pay rent and take care of his three kids, ages 14, 6 and 4.
If employers lost their undocumented workers and were scrambling to find replacements, De La Rosa would fill the bill. At the right price.
"Twenty dollars an hour," he said of what it would take for him to work in a strawberry field. "There are people willing to do that work but people are not willing to make $75 to $80 a day."
Without illegal immigration, there would be less demand for housing. An educator worried about losing funding based on enrollment acknowledged that school test scores would likely improve.
The birth rate would likely decrease. The county's median age might get older, increasing concerns about overburdening Social Security. A statewide child-care crisis would grow worse, meaning that parents might have to change their jobs or schedules to take care of preschoolers.
People who came to this country looking for opportunity would go back to other lands. High school students intent on college would instead learn how to survive poverty in Mexico and other countries. Undocumented workers would face the one thing worse than making next to nothing.
"Even if (employers) are paying us the little bit that they are, we're still living better than in Mexico," said Rojas, the landscaper who makes $400 a week.
When he first crossed the border with the help of his cousin, Rojas thought that he would return to Mexico in a year or two. That was 13 years ago.
Now he lives in East Ventura, in a rented home decorated with paintings of Jesus and photos of his wife, Norma Rojas, and her family. Born in Mexicali, she gained citizenship in 1995 and is using her status to petition for her husband's residency.
If he were deported, Rojas would be in Ermita de Guadalupe, the small farming town in Central Mexico where his family still lives. He'd run a ranch with maybe 10 cattle and a few pigs. Maybe he'd open a fruit stand.
He might have to do it alone. Norma Rojas has three daughters from her first marriage who live in Ventura County along with three grandchildren. She would face a terrible dilemma.
"Do I leave my husband or do I leave my children?" she asked
Doctors could leave
On most days, about 100 of the more than 1,500 inmates at the Ventura County Jail are illegal immigrants held for deportation. Eliminate that number and jails with daily populations flowing over maximum limits would become manageable.
Each inmate costs about $80 a day in food and shelter. Without undocumented people in the jail, the county would save nearly $3 million a year, Sheriff Bob Brooks said. That would be enough to hire 30 deputies, revive crime prevention programs, open new storefronts and reclaim a gang suppression program from a list of budget casualties.
Crime would drop 3 percent based on the calculation that each of the detained inmates committed only one crime. Sheriff's officials say drug smuggling would go down because a majority of their investigations involve people who sell drugs to help finance their journey across the border.
Hospitals throughout California spend about $800 million a year on uncompensated care for illegal immigrants, much of it in emergency and prenatal services, said Jim Lott of the Hospital Association of Southern California. Save that money and a hospital mired in budget red might survive. Financially stable hospitals could expand or offer new programs dealing with childhood obesity or other problems.
Clinicas Del Camino Real wouldn't have such options. The nonprofit organization operates nine clinics in western Ventura County for farmworkers and other poor people.
In a county without illegal immigrants, the clinics and its 300 workers wouldn't be needed.
"It would make us redundant," said Chief Executive Officer Roberto Juarez, contending that far more than his clinics would change.
Hospitals might save money on uncompensated care but would have more empty beds, Juarez said. Doctors who specialize in outpatient care and pediatrics would lose so many patients that some would leave the county.
Private hospitals would use the reduction in uninsured patients to argue that tax-funded Ventura County Medical Center would not be needed.
"They could do away with the public health system completely and go with the private sector," Juarez said.
County officials won't speculate on the impact of undocumented patients on public healthcare, but said the county hospital and system would survive.
Fewer children in schools mean that in some communities, new classrooms and buildings wouldn't be needed. Schools that are crowded now wouldn't be anymore. Keeley of the Center for Immigration Studies, an advocate for restricting immigration, argues that government would spend millions less on teaching students whose primary language is not English.
But because districts get funding based on enrollment, life without undocumented students could mean less money. In the Fillmore Unified School District, every student deported would mean $5,126 less in state funding.
School officials say they have no way to know how many students they'd lose. But about 1,000 students are enrolled in a migrant education program. If 70 percent of the children were undocumented a speculative estimate for undocumented students in Ventura County schools from a 2003 report the district would lose $3.5 million.
That could mean closing a school, Superintendent Mario Contini said. About 20 or more teachers might not be needed. Those savings would offset some of the loss, but the district would likely have to cut more.
That means that the elementary music program would likely go. The school cafeterias where Janet Bergamo teaches fourth- and fifth-graders to play clarinet, alto saxophone and trombone would fall silent.
"If you aren't a sports person and you aren't a computer person and you like to move to music and you're always humming, where do you go?" Bergamo asked.
But for every prediction that schools, farming or healthcare would change one way, others contend that the exact opposite would happen. Economists and demographers disagree with each other, just as members of Congress do.
The nationwide walkout May 1 may provide more insight, but its measurement will be flawed because the protest will involve legal and illegal immigrants. Taxicab drivers, port workers, truckers and anyone else who supports immigration are being asked to sit out a day's work as well.
"It has become an international action. Rome, Italy, is calling. We're the belly of the empire," said protest organizer Jesse Diaz of Ontario. He said the day is about refuting people who question the impact of immigrants on businesses and the nation's financial health.
"If that is the case, if their argument is sound, then the economy will boom and the stock market will surge," he said before offering his own prediction. "It will be chaos."
Sure costs will go up, but higher wages will trickle down.
Once government has succeeded in getting your money, you can bet they will not give it back, even if the original "need" for the tax has gone away.
I've always thought that any "tax cut", which is always highly publicized, is secretly compensated back to the government by raising a thousand other current taxes by miniscule amounts in a way that no one will notice. Call me cynical.
A reasonable overview, I think.
We see it happening here ,, it's called a parcel tax, a library tax, a supplemental district fee, a toll fee, you name it, it comes in many forms.. all accomplish much the same and all of course are temporary. ;-).
All you have to do is round up and deport fewer than a million, send several hundred corporate executives to prison, and make it virtually impossible to get any job other than cutting the lawn, the other 10 million will move themselves.
This is actually going to have the biggest impact on slumlords.
Then use H-2 visas if you are short of agricultural labor, that is what they are for.
We have a system in place. Life will go on.
The owners of these farms that use illegal immigrants are the richest group of phonies.
They try to intimidate us to believe that cost will go up but that is a fallacy. The only thing that will happen is that these guys will make less money without paying slave wages to these illegal aliens!
I agree, life will go on..
I used to raise veggies in my backyard and think I can still remember how to plant a seed or two.
Mr Grower says, "we need more temp visas"
United Farmworker Union says, "we need more green cards".
Of course, this assumes that ILLEGAL workers could not be replaced with the necessary number of LEGAL immigrants from Ukraine, Thailand, Ethiopia, Italy, etc. The benefit of spreading the immigration around versus having the majority of our immigrants being from Mexico is that they will quickly assimilate into the American culture. They would have to because there would not be enough immigrants from any one culture to allow them to maintain that culture here (i.e. no Ukrainian shopping, Ukrainian schools, Ukrainian government forms, Ukrainian television, Ukrainian radio, etc.....)
I would be happy to have total immigration HIGHER than the current level of legal AND illegal immigration if it could be spread around. When America was a much younger country, we had immigration MUCH higher as a percent of the population than we currently have. They assimilated just fine. The reason we can't have that level of immigration now is that the leftists have 1) denigrated teaching the greatness of American culture and 2) burdened our country with a welfare system that keeps us from admitting too many people because we would have to support them. I'd rather fix those problems than keep out the millions of people around the world who would join the America culture and make this country great for another millennium...
Rojas says he would only work for $20 an hour, then he proceeds to say that he works now as a landscaper for $400 a week. If that is a 40 hour week, that is $10/hour.
What kind of fuzzy math is involved here???
The quota on the H2A ag worker visa is no where near what agriculture needs. Plus, the regulations on the visa are so complex that no-one can conform to it and the quota is never reached.
Mr Grower says, "we need more temp visas"
United Farmworker Union says, "we need more green cards".""
What the Union is really saying is "we need more UNION MEMBERS...."
AgJobs is the bill that was written in 2003 to reform the H2A ag worker visa and one of the provisions of that bill was to give the union broad access to the workplace to organize.
More importantly, AgJobs also has the path to citizenship/green card language that makes the worker easier to organize. Temp workers are hard to organize.
Make the employers of illegal aliens pay the full cost of bringing in non-American workers, i.e. K-12 education for the illegal aliens' kids, health care, etc.
You will be amazed at how quick those employers find American workers to do the work.
Illegal immigration is the mother of all corporate welfare programs.
His other option is to move to Mexico and farm.
Sounds like everything would balance out fairly well. And the best part is: America would be for AMERICANS again.
Hooked on Jose.
I heard Bob Brinker today talking about how the government needs to be doing more to make sure we have energy sources into the future. I wanted to scream at my radio. Here we have one of the brightest and most able investment advisors of our era talking about Keynesian manipulation of the economy by the government.
The morons in the giant, bloated government bureaucracy can't even keep our borders secure (a task which they are REQUIRED to do by the Constitution), and he thinks they're the answer to our energy situation.
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