Strange Bedfellows: Supporting Agribusiness to Help Illegals

In its quest to paint illegal immigration in sympathetic terms, the Times ponders the plight of agri-business, which might lose cheap labor if a federal crackdown on employers is implemented.

The reliably pro-illegal immigrant reporter Julia Preston, fresh from using a survey compiled by a (unlabeled) Hillary presidential pollster to make a pro-illegal immigrant argument, returnedto the beatSaturday with "Farmers Call Crackdown On Illegal Workers Unfair," which located another odd angle to defend amnesty for illegals - it will hurt agribusiness.

"Facing the prospect of major layoffs of farmworkers during harvest season, growers and lawmakers from agricultural states spoke in dire terms yesterday about new measures by the Bush administration to crack down on employers of illegal immigrants.

"'This is not just painful, this is death to the American farmer,' Maureen Torrey, who runs a family dairy and vegetable farm in Elba, N. Y., said in a telephone interview.

"'We've tried everything we can do,' Ms. Torrey said. 'But they are leaving us with no options.'

"At a news conference in Washington yesterday, Michael Chertoff, the secretary of homeland security, and Carlos M. Gutierrez, the secretary of commerce, formally unveiled the measures, which had been disclosed in general terms earlier, to reinforce border security and drive illegal immigrants out of the labor force.

"The new effort was cautiously welcomed yesterday by conservative Republicans who defied President Bush in June and opposed a broad immigration bill he supported that failed in the Senate. That bill included provisions to give legal status to illegal immigrants and to create a guest worker program for agriculture.

"Senator John Cornyn, a Texas Republican who turned against that bill, said the measures were 'a long-overdue step to regaining the trust of the American people that the federal government is serious about securing our borders and enforcing our laws.'"

Preston quoted four sources against the bill (one of them, Maureen Torrey, was quoted twice), compared to one for those in favor. Times Watch isn't classifying Chertoff himself in either category, based on what Slate journalist Mickey Kaus aptly termed the "bitter you-asked-for-it-now-you're-going-to-get-it quotes from Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff." (The exact quotes Kaus referred to appeared in the L.A. Times, but Preston heard something similar.)

Halfway in, Preston again quoted dire warnings from Torrey, the New York state farmer:

"Ms. Torrey, the New York farmer, and other growers expressed their distress to White House and Homeland Security Department officials during a conference call with the National Council of Agricultural Employers, arranged by the administration to explain the new plan. Ms. Torrey warned that dairy cows would die from lack of milking if New York farmers had to fire immigrant dairy workers."

Preston never bothered to mention that Torreyis an activist on the issue, part of the Agriculture Coalition for Immigration Reform and testified before Congress in May on behalf of reforming the alien agricultural guest-worker program and for allowing illegals to earn the right to become permanent legal residents. Incidentally, the "family dairy and vegetable farm" Maureen Torrey runs is called Torrey Farms - and comprises 10,000 acres of land.