- Legal Industry
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Workers cut romaine heads with quick strokes of the blade from a field on a cool October morning. They accurately shave off the greenest of the exterior leaves and pass the crisp romaine hearts to a bagger, who then systematically sprays each handful of with chlorinated water, after which, they slide them into retail packs. Each full bag is then tossed to a platform where another worker seals and packs it into a carton. The full boxes are then handed to another who then loads a truck and delivers the produce to grocers across the nation.
Out of the standard crew of 18 workers, 12 of them are perhaps undocumented immigrants.
From this farm fields, the political woes of Washington appear to be remote. But if the stalled debate on federal immigration reform inches its way forward, and appears to be sputtering on, even in a deadlocked Congress, the $4billion agricultural industry in Monterey County could be plowed under.
The most abundant salad-growing region in the nation plants and picks its labor-intensive signature crops with mostly illegal workers.
Around 45,000 Monterey County agricultural workers comprise more than 25% of the local workforce. Industry groups estimate that as much as 70% of them are undocumented workers.
It is widespread knowledge but not discussed, but false documents habitually pass as legitimate. Growers and contractors do check the Social Security card r driver’s license of a new hire, but unless these documents are overt fakes, they regularly pass muster.
At present, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement do not target Salinas Valley growers for that reason. Virginia Kice, the spokesperson for ICE, said “The fact that a business has an unauthorized worker on the payroll doesn’t mean they knew or should’ve known. They may have been duped.”