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Stephen Colbert signs up to be a farm worker

July 20, 2010

On July 8, fans of Comedy Central’s Colbert Report were treated to an unusual announcement by host Stephen Colbert’s guest, United Farm Workers’ President Arturo Rodriguez. In the wake of rising political tensions over immigration in the US, the UFW unveiled a new national campaign inviting American citizens and legal residents to “take our jobs” as farmworkers picking fruits and vegetables in California’s Central Valley, jobs which are predominantly held by immigrants, many of whom are undocumented.

With Colbert’s character riffing on anti-immigration talking points that immigrants are taking American jobs, Rodriguez countered that many of the jobs immigrants are accused of stealing are among the most dangerous and least rewarding jobs in the country. He challenged those who seek to blame immigrants for unemployment try out the backbreaking labor that goes into putting food on the tables of the rest of the country.

Rodriguez directed viewers to the UFW’s campaign website and complete an online job application form stating “I want to be a farm worker.” A disclaimer at the bottom reads: “Duties may include tilling the soil, transplanting, weeding, thinning, picking, cutting, sorting and packing of harvested produce. May set up & operate irrigation equip. Work is performed outside in all weather conditions (Summertime 90+ degree weather) & is physically demanding requiring workers to bend, stoop, lift & carry up to 50 lbs on a regular basis.”

The UFW seeks to break the perception that unemployment is caused by immigrants taking jobs that would otherwise be held by native born Americans or legal residents. The union maintains that immigrant workers cannot be blamed for stealing jobs that no one else wants. To prove the undesirability of such work, the UFW pledges that any person who takes on the extreme physical demands of farm labor and wishes to keep the job at the expense of an immigrant worker is welcome to have it.

“Farm workers are tired of being blamed by politicians and anti-immigrant activists for taking work that should go to Americans and dragging down the economy,” Rodriguez said. “The reality is farm workers who are here today aren’t taking any American jobs away. They work in often unbearable situations. I don’t think there will be many takers, but the offer is being made. Let’s see what happens.”

On the show, Rodriguez stated that so far only three people had responded to the UFW’s challenge. Colbert to take Rodriguez and the farm workers up on their challenge: “Make that four,” he replied. Unimpressed by the harsh conditions Rodriguez had laid out, Colbert joked “well it was 104 degrees here! I did my show, 22 minutes a night!”

The UFW is also lobbying with the agriculture industry for an AgJobs bill to provide undocumented farm workers the right to earn legal status by continuing to work in agriculture. The bill is sponsored by Senators Richard Lugar (R-In.) and Diane Feinstein (D-Ca.) in the Senate and Reps. Adam Putnam (R-Fl.) and Howard Berman (D-Ca.) in the House.

Michael Paarlberg

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