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Series on Aliens

June 19, 1988

Your series on the tensions generated by the sudden and uncontrolled transformation of North County farmlands into "upscale" communities was unexpectedly and deeply disappointing in several respects--ranging from the inflammatory hype which preceded the articles, to the unbalanced note on which they ended.

On a substantive level, one of the series' most glaring faults was its failure to examine how the area's growers and nursery owners fit into the picture, e.g., by promoting an oversupply of farm workers, as well as by maintaining exploitative wage rates (often well below the minimum) and pay practices (frequent refusals to pay base wages earned--much less overtime). These factors are a big part of what seemed to offend many of the homeowners' sensibilities--i.e., "illegals" (such a dehumanizing label) seeking work on nearby street corners and living in neighboring fields.

Incredibly, the series did not pick up on the point made by a Border Patrol officer that many of the so-called illegals on which the series focused are no longer "illegal," having qualified for legalization. This basic misconception is clearly shared by nearly all of the homeowners interviewed.

For large numbers of workers, living in North County fields and ravines is now only a question of poverty--not undocumented status. Continued employment is the only chance these newly legalized, but homeless, workers have of escaping the subhuman living conditions they are forced to endure in the shadow of million-dollar North County mansions.

Civil rights issues aside, the much-advocated Border Patrol sweeps will simply not result in the wholesale riddance of poor immigrants desired by many homeowners. Ironically, the vigilante tactic resorted to by some homeowners of scaring off potential employers may well be self-defeating.

Fortunately, there are those homeowners whose concerns are tempered by compassion--a recognition of shared humanity with workers subjected to so much suffering and indignity in order to feed families from whom they are separated for months and even years on end. As for the other homeowners, they bring to mind something Mother Teresa said when asked during her recent visit to compare the poverty of Tijuana with the affluence of San Diego. She responded that among the rich there is also poverty, but of a different kind--poverty of the spirit.

CLAUDIA E. SMITH

Regional Counsel

California Rural Legal Assistance

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