At a time of high unemployment, many Americans are convinced that these aliens take American jobs. As a test, this summer the United Farm Workers (UFW), the main agricultural union, launched a campaign called “Take Our Jobs”, inviting willing Americans to work in the fields. In the following three months 3m people visited takeourjobs.com, but 40% of the responses were hate mail, says Maria Machuca, UFW’s spokesman. This included e-mails such as one reading: “We’re becoming more aggressive in our methods. Soon it may come to hands on, taping bitches to light posts.”
Only 8,600 people expressed an interest in working in the fields, says Ms Machuca. But they made demands that seem bizarre to farmworkers, such as high pay, health and pension benefits, relocation allowances and other things associated with normal American jobs. In late September only seven American applicants in the “Take our jobs” campaign were actually picking crops.
That was the point, says Arturo Rodriguez, the UFW’s president. America’s farm jobs, which are excluded from almost all federal and state labour regulations, are not normal jobs. Americans refuse to do them. The argument about stolen jobs is “just a façade” for a coarser scapegoating, says Mr Rodriguez, and “we demonstrate the hypocrisy.”
Teresa, Felix and Gonzalo Vega only nod sadly when asked about the rancour, the Arizona law, the politics. They feel they had no choice in coming illegally. Would they do it again? “No, not if I had known what lay ahead,” says Felix. But after a silence, he corrects himself. Yes, he would, because even though he doesn’t think he’ll ever get papers, he has two sons who are American and could be lawyers or writers one day, living openly.
Teresa Vega is the most reticent. She admits that her “plan didn’t work”. She hears that Erminio, at home in Oaxaca, is not doing well. He is often ill. “He needs love” and doesn’t get enough, she says. But then she, too, reverses herself. She always thinks of her first son, the one who died because she had no money to save him. Yes, she would come again.
People like the Vegas will always keep coming, no matter the fences that go up on the border and the helicopters that circle above. For they are like the Joads. As Steinbeck wrote: “How can you frighten a man whose hunger is not only in his own cramped stomach but in the wretched bellies of his children? You can’t scare him—he has known a fear beyond every other.”</p>
The Economist; this is the last section of the story, please go read the rest of it, too.