Florida farmer vilified after endorsing immigration reform

March 15, 2013|By Alana Semuels
  • Florida farmer Joe Wright.
Florida farmer Joe Wright. (George Skene )

Angry voters infamously shut down Congress' switchboard in 2007 to oppose immigration reform – an outburst that helped convince Republicans of the proposal's outsize political peril.

As Congress debates immigration reform again this year, there are still a lot of angry people – at least if the vitriolic phone calls and faxes raining down on one Florida farmer are any gauge.

Joe Wright was featured in a Los Angeles Times story and video in February about how business owners are becoming vocal supporters of immigration reform. Wright, a dairy farmer, can’t use guest-worker programs because he needs workers year-round. He says he feels isolated from the Republican Party because many politicians still seem on the fence about reform.

Since the story was published, Wright has received hundreds of faxes from strangers telling him he “doesn’t have a clue” about immigration, and saying they were “insulted” by his comments. They are mostly form letters with small variations.

“It’s unbelievable,” he said in an interview Thursday. “I don’t like being bullied.”

Although many business owners from around the country have called to applaud his decision to speak out, he said, the flood of comments have been negative – and harassing.

One reader from California called the Southeast Milk Cooperative, of which Wright is president, to accuse the co-op of hiring illegal workers.

Faxes have come in telling him to use the H-2A guest-worker program, which he can’t do because a dairy needs year-round workers.

“Grow up and use the laws like the rest of us have to!” one fax reads.

Wright had deleted 150 faxes before his mailbox filled up. Letters are printing off his fax machine nonstop, he said, some with a return address from The Villages, a retirement community in Florida.

Wright, who has said he will leave the Republican Party if Congress doesn’t support immigration reform, says the comments have made him more disappointed in conservatives. But he does understand one thing now – how intimidated Republicans in Congress must feel by the anger out there.

“I can see why Republicans would run from this issue,” he said. “If this is what the Republican Party is going through, good luck to them.” 



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