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Need for farm workers driving Denham effort

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Need for farm workers driving Denham effort

Trey Gowdy, R-South Carolina, responds to a question Wednesday morning at Manteca’s Place of Refuge Church on Button Avenue. Gowdy, the Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Irrigation and Border S...

JASON CAMPBELL/The Bulletin


POSTED April 4, 2013 2:15 a.m.

Agricultural production is down in San Joaquin County and the surrounding areas.

In some cases, according to California Farm Bureau President Bruce Blodgett, numbers are down as much 20 to 30 percent on certain crops and tree nuts and up to 50 percent on others when compared to last year.

And the reason behind the production slowdown is quite simple, says Blodgett – they just don’t have the workforce needed to handle the load.

That’ where Congressman  Jeff Denham comes in.

Denham, a Republican from Turlock that represents Stanislaus County as well as Manteca, Ripon, Tracy, and Oakdale, spent his Tuesday night hearing emotional pleas from the Latino community during one of two immediate “listening sessions” in Modesto about immigration reform. It drew more than 1,500 people and produced a moderate amount of protestors.

Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-South Carolina, was Denham’s guest for both sessions. Gowdy is the Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security.

The scene was much different Wednesday morning when he held a similar event at Manteca’s Place of Refuge church on Button Avenue. With the exception of a few barbs that were tossed out there by some local labor representatives, the tone of the event was moderately peaceful as the congressmen spelled out their intentions and how they’d like to achieve those goals.

“This is something that I take extremely seriously, and I know that we want to move forward in a positive direction,” Denham said. “We want to get this right – we want this to be a multi-generational process instead of something that’s broken for decades.

“We want to get it right so we don’t have to keep having this discussion year after year, decade after decade.”

If Blodgett had his druthers, he’d further expand California’s existing guest worker program so that those who come to the United States for economic reasons will continue to get that opportunity – even if they choose not to become full-fledged United States citizens. The shortage of labor, he said, was evident this last year when fruit was left on trees to rot because there was nobody to harvest it.

But then there are those that are living in fear of getting deported every day – like the father of 12-year-old Alejandro Sanchez.

According to Sanchez, officers from the bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement came to his house looking for his dad and were called out when he was pulled over for speeding. He remains in America, Sanchez says, but his status remains sketchy at best.

“It’s scary,” he said. “That’s my dad. I don’t want to see him go.”

Part of the reason that Denham is seeking input from his constituents, and why he called out a high-ranking member of his party that has considerable pull on the subject of immigration, is because Congress is in the process of revisiting the issue to determine a course of action. It could drastically alter the landscape for those who have been living in fear for decades.

Rhetoric began to get heated last week when a congressman from Alaska used a derogatory term for Hispanic people during a television interview, but the fervor seemed completely absent from Wednesday’s event. Any and all ill-will towards Denham or Gowdy seemed to come from those representing labor unions.

Manteca Police Captain Charlie Goeken – who is also the mayor of Waterford – said he wasn’t a fan of immediately making all 11 million undocumented immigrants citizens because some of those that would instantly become Americans could have significant criminal backgrounds. Those that fall through the cracks and know how to manipulate the system, he said, make it unsafe for a blanket policy.

“We know that the vast majority of these people are hardworking and law-abiding, but there are those that have broken our laws,” Goeken said. “We had a guy last week that we arrested and deported, and he came back and ended up running somebody down with his car.

“I know that people come to this country for the economic opportunity, but letting the criminals follow them would be counter-productive and put these same people in jeopardy.”

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