The lead editorial in the June 15, 2006 Oregonian newspaper was about the EPA finally phasing out the use of Guthion, a pesticide known to cause serious health risks to farmworkers. Guthion has been one of the most widely used pesticides in Oregon's fruit orchard industry. The Oregonian editorial chastises the EPA for waiting so long, likely the result of agriculture industry lobbying pressure. Right on.
The Oregonian editorial begins with: Imagine that the federal government learned that thousands of middle-class workers, say high-tech employees, were regularly exposed to a chemical known to cause vomiting, seizures, paralysis, loss of mental function and death. Would the government wait more than four years to order a liesurely phase-out of its use? Of course not, but that is exactly what the government has done in the case of farmworkers, the editorial continues.
Good point, but the rest of the story wasn't told. The large photo of a farmworker accompanying the editorial shows a man who is most likely of Mexican or Latino origin. According to the National Center for Farmworker Health, Inc., of the more than 3 million migrant and seasonal farmworkers in the U.S.A., 81% are foreign born. Of these, 95% were born in Mexico, 2% in Latin America, 1% in Asia, and 1% in other countries. The estimates of the number of migrant and seasonal farmworkers and their dependents in Oregon are: 1990 - 128,564; 1993 - 147,245; and 2000 - 103,453.
Although the Oregonian editorial was about EPA regulation, or non-regulation of harmful chemicals, it is also an important story in the on-going debate about illegal immigrants to the United States. The numbers presented above debunk the lie that immigrants are taking jobs away from Americans - you don't see American workers clamoring for low-paying, high-risk farmworker jobs. The agricultural industry, like a number of others, is very dependent on a cheap labor force that is willing to move around and follow the work, a labor force consisting of many workers who don't get paid well, don't get health care benefits, and who can be "disappeared" back to Mexico if they make any trouble.
So yes, the Oregonian is correct that the EPA has been lax, and has been guilty of classism - I would say racism - in choosing who to protect from exposure to harmful chemicals. It's an outrage, and it is really an important part of the larger conversation about who gets to reap the benefits of being American. As a citizen of Oregon, it concerns me that somewhere between 100,000 and 150,000 of my neighbors are treated differently by the government because they are, after all, immigrants, and possibly illegal immigrants at that. This is not acceptable.