I like to joke that she's the tallest immigrant to ever arrive in America, as she does stand just slightly over 151 feet tall. Well, that's the statue. On her pedestal she stands more than 300 feet tall, and is among the most beautiful and inspiring things I've ever seen. On June 17th, 1885, she arrived aboard the French steamer Isère, broken into more than 300 pieces and packed into more than 250 containers. Her name, of course, is Lady Liberty, or the Statue of Liberty, although to her sculptor she was La Liberté éclairant le monde, or Liberty Enlightening the World. I love that imagery, enlightening the world, so that's what she mostly is in my head.
When she arrived, like so many immigrants, she had no home. While it was French donations that built and donated this enormous statue of Libertas, it would have to be American donations that would build the monumental pedestal upon which she stands, and America in the early 1880s wasn't in a phenomenal place economically. Fundraising that began in 1882 was laggard, and largely unsuccessful, and in 1884 the New York Committee was more than $100,000 short of what it needed, and they suspended work on the pedestal. When Lady Liberty arrived at Ellis Island more than 200,000 people gathered on the shores to watch her unloading, and with excitement renewed, and a national fundraising push led by Joseph Pulitzer, the money needed to complete the pedestal was finally raised, and April of 1886 our immigrant finally had a home, and on October 28th of that year she was dedicated. Her arrival on the shores of Bedloe's Island gives me the chance to discuss something today that is important to me; immigration. At New York Harbor, between 1905 and 1914, nearly one million people came through immigration each year. Today, more than one hundred million Americans can trace their lineage back to someone who arrived right there at Ellis Island. The history of American immigration is not always a pleasant one, all the way back to the beginning. It was Thomas Paine who argued that "white people of good character" be the only ones granted citizenship in this new country. This is the America of the Know-Nothing Party, the first political party to ever be openly anti-immigrant. This is the America of the Chinese Exclusion Act, barring those of Chinese descent from immigrating. This is the America that created "illegal" immigration, with the 1924 Immigration Act. This is the America where Senators Durbin and Hatch wrote the first DREAM Act in 2001. It didn't pass. This is the America where Trump banned immigration from specific countries. But you see, immigration is vital to the growth and success of America. We can all think of high-profile immigrants across a variety of professions; in entertainment we have Natalie Portman and Audrey Hepburn, the sciences have given us Albert Einstein and Gerty Cori, and in business we can think of names like Arianna Huffington and Levi Strauss. Yet, these famous immigrants aren't the first ones I think of. The first ones I think of are the estimated 73% of farmworkers who are immigrants. This one trillion dollar industry (agriculture) touches the budgets of all fifty states (Indiana is tenth in agriculture production) and requires more than a million workers every year. Food production is critical infrastructure, but as our farming communities and farming populations age, we need new generations to take on this dangerous work. It is here that immigrants have, in the past, joined in on this essential work.
Or had, in the past. Over the last two years it has become more and more difficult for farmers to find all of the help they need. Workers are no longer making the migrant worker trip from Mexico, as rising wages in Mexico and unfriendly US immigration policies, have combined to make the trip less appealing. Labor shortages in this critical field have forced farmers to let crops rot because they can't be harvested, this means the United States doesn't produce enough of certain crops to meet demand, and the costs of those crops go up at the grocery store because we have to import the difference. The issues in farm labor cost fresh produce growers about $3.1 billion in 2014, and that number has continues to grow since then, and in the decade between 2000 and 2010, the share of fruits and vegetables being imported into the United States went from 14.5% to 25.8%. I mention all of this because we all need a better understanding that immigration is an economic issue. Now, it is not only an economic issue, but it is also a moral issue. I mentioned earlier that about 73% of farmworkers are immigrants. That number combines both documented and undocumented workers, but undocumented workers make up approximately 50% of all farm labor in this country. A majority of these workers have lived in the United States for ten years or more, and and more than 80% of them have worked for a single employer for seven years. A study done by CNAS and Texas A&M in 2015 estimated that about 77,000 of the 150,000 workers at dairy farms were immigrants, and that eliminating immigrant labor would reduce dairy herd by 2.1 million head, milk production by 48.4 billion pounds, and retail milk prices would rise 90.4%. Overall agriculture output would fall by $30b to $60b if American farms lost access to all undocumented workers. Reforming immigration policies allows these people, who pay taxes and live in the United States, to live without fear of family separation, and makes it easier for American farms to find the help they need to maximize production, and maximizing production lowers food costs. The more we make, the less we import, and home grown food is cheaper than getting it somewhere else. Massive reforms to immigration are a moral imperative and should be something the government is constantly focused on. DREAMers deserve an easy path to citizenship. Immigrant workers who have been here deserve an easy path to citizenship. People who want to immigrate to America deserve an easy path to citizenship. The world is not the same as it was when we first conceived immigration policy, and we have failed to keep up with the needs of this country as we reconceive immigration policy. There was an article in May of 2020 by the Cato Institute on new immigration ideas that I found fascinating, and I find myself in strong support of a few of these ideas. I despise the term 'illegal immigration' and will shout that people are never illegal, but the single best way to make sure we don't have to deal with that issue to overhaul the immigration procedures in this country. If you find yourself reading that Cato Institute white paper pay special attention (for me please) to chapters three and four, which discuss bilateral worker agreements in North America. As a Hoosier I also find myself fascinated with the concepts in Chapter 6, empowering local communities to offer community visas. Immigration is the road to economic prosperity, and in places where population numbers have remained flat for 30 years, community visas could add wealth and jobs to these areas. These are just a couple of ideas on immigration, and there are surely hundreds, if not thousands, more. I know that we, as a nation, must find the right immigration reforms for the prosperity of the nation and the health and well-being of the people here.