Farm workers harvesting yellow bell peppers near Gilroy, California. Crews like this may include illegal immigrant workers as well as members of the United Farm Workers Union founded by Cesar Chavez. Photo courtesy of Idaho Department of Labor.

The Modern Plantation

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Viewpoint Article by Brian Almon of Ada County, Idaho

By the time of the Civil War, the American South was addicted to slavery. It had structured its economy in such a way that abolishing slavery would have devastated its people, and so the issue of slavery became a matter of life and death, something worth seceding over. Indeed, recovering from the aftermath of the Civil War continued far beyond the end of Reconstruction as the region had to essentially rebuild its economy from scratch.

This should have been a lesson against building an economy on a foundation of indentured servitude, but Idaho’s agricultural industry seems determined to make the same mistake.

If you have been following the discourse around immigration reform for long, you know about the trope that enforcing immigration law will lead to crops rotting in the fields. Democratic Congressman Jerry Nadler was only the latest to echo that old talking point, saying last week that “We need immigrants in this country. Forget the fact that the farm — vegetables would rot in the ground if they weren’t being picked by many immigrants — many illegal immigrants!”

This narrative has been present in Idaho as well. Last year, the Idaho Senate passed Joint Memorial 1, a statement calling on the federal government to reform the immigration system. Included in the text of the memorial was a request for:

An effective process by which persons currently present in the United States without lawful status and who are gainfully employed and their immediate family can obtain work authorization or residency status, without a pathway to United States citizenship, provided said persons have no criminal history beyond their immigration-related violations, and provided further that an appropriate fine is assessed and paid in satisfaction of their immigration-related violations

Joint Memorial 1 from 2023 legislative session

Several legislators tried to argue that this was not, in fact, amnesty, which is absurd. Even if illegal aliens have to pay a fine, getting to stay in this country and work is amnesty no matter which way you slice it. If I stole a car, I could not simply pay a token fine and then keep the vehicle.

The Idaho House thankfully threw that memorial in the trash where it belonged, but the issue has not gone away. This week, Rick Naerebout, CEO of the Idaho Dairyman’s Association, wrote a letter in the January issue of AgProud’s magazine to preemptively attack the idea of implementing E-Verify in Idaho. E-Verify is a computerized system that would allow employers to check the citizenship or immigration status of their employees, facing sanctions if they knowingly hired illegals.

Screenshot courtesy of Idaho District 1 Senator Scott Herndon on Twitter.

First of all, it is uncanny how large the Idaho Freedom Foundation (IFF) looms in the minds of anyone to the left of IFF President Ron Nate. I am sure there are many political figures in Idaho who have no connection to IFF, yet they still oppose importing a servant class of foreign workers to provide cheap labor to big agricultural firms. Nevertheless, leftists seem to think that tying an issue to IFF is an effective way of scaring conservatives away from it.

The Idaho Dairymen’s Association lists three positions regarding immigration reform on its website:

  • Legal status for existing agricultural workers and their immediate family
  • Access to a worker visa program for year round agricultural employers
  • Verification of legal status of workers is the responsibility of the US government, not employers

There is something perverse about American businessmen eschewing American workers for cheap foreign labor. “Illegal immigrants do the jobs Americans won’t do” is simply the modern incarnation of “slaves do the jobs that white men won’t do.” At some point, the conception of America changed from being a nation, a country with unique people and heritage, to nothing more than an economic zone, a giant open-air flea market where goods and services can be bought and sold. In this modern conception of America, there is no difference between a citizen and an alien, no difference between legal and illegal. Human beings are simply cogs in a machine that generates GDP and cheap goods.

Consider also how we lament that teenagers today are not going out and working like they did in years past. If Big Ag was not so addicted to foreign labor, perhaps there would be a greater market for teenagers to find good entry level jobs.

This has nothing to do with the migrants, both legal and illegal, who ofttimes are hard workers, and everything to do with industry leaders who would exploit those people to save on the bottom line and resist efforts to hold them accountable to the law.

The Idaho Dairymen’s Association (IDA) is very closely linked with the Idaho Dairy Industry PAC (IDI-PAC). The IDA website links to a legislative update from IDI-PAC from last year in which they promote a bill that would have allowed illegal aliens to have driver’s licenses in Idaho.

This is a type of issue we can confidently say will be supported by all of the Democrats, which means we need 11 Senate Republicans, 25 House Republicans, and the Governor to support the legislation.

IDI-PAC, February 3, 2023

That bill was thankfully defeated, but it will surely be back.

Headlining that legislative report are IDA’s government affairs director Bob Naerebout and David Claiborne, co-founder of Sawtooth Law Offices which is an associate member of the IDA. I would guess that Bob Naerebout is the father of current IDA CEO Rick Naerebout, based on their website biographies.

According to the legislative update, IDI-PAC planned to raise $100,000 for the 2024 primary election. According to the Sunshine report, they have raised $45,348 toward that goal, mostly from agricultural corporations and other political organizations.

IDA and IDI-PAC appear to be on the same page as the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry (IACI) as well. According to the Sunshine report, IDI-PAC has already maxed out donations to the nine IACI-endorsed challengers for the 2024 primary. They also gave an additional $5,000 to the IACI’s PAC, the Idaho Prosperity Fund.

IDI-PAC maximum allowed donation to nine IACI-endorsed candidates for the Idaho legislature in the 2024 primary.

Returning to last year’s legislative report, IDI-PAC opposed a bill to prevent state agencies from sponsoring or donating to nongovernmental events such as pride parades. Unsurprisingly, they supported the Launch Grant, and they opposed Idaho Senator Tammy Nichols and Idaho Representative Judy Boyle’s bill to prohibit food containing vaccine materials.

Immigration is, without hyperbole, the most important issue of our time. As President Donald Trump said, “if you don’t have borders, you don’t have a country.” The question before us is not a racial one, but rather a question of identity. What does it mean to be an American? What does it mean to have a country? Does American citizenship mean something? Are we a nation, or are we simply a global shopping mall open to the world?

Here in Idaho we cannot do much to fix the southern border. We can, however, stop employers from hiring illegal aliens and hold the line on laws that respect the idea of American citizenship and legal foreign workers.

This viewpoint article by Brian Almon was originally published on Gen State Chronicle.