A broad-based group of elected officials and other community leaders joined local strawberry farmers at a rally on Tuesday aimed at raising awareness about the important role immigrants play throughout Central Coast communities, according to the California Strawberry Commission, event sponsor.
The rally provided momentum for a delegation of local strawberry farmers heading to Capitol Hill next week to brief members of Congress about the importance of immigrants and the need for achieving meaningful immigration reform, said Victor Ramirez, chair of the commission.
“Today we stand united as a community that embraces immigrants as an integral part of our economy, society, culture, and history,” said Ramirez.
“We are taking an active leadership role on this issue because strawberries remain the quintessential immigrant crop,” he continued. “For nearly a century, strawberry fields have provided a path to the American dream for countless immigrants from Europe, Japan, Mexico, and Laos. We want to keep this dream alive.”
According to the commission, about 65% of all California strawberry farmers are of Hispanic descent; of those, 25% worked their way up from field workers to own their own small farming operations. Demographically, another 20% of strawberry farmers are of Japanese or Asian descent.
Ramirez, a Salinas native, reported that he and other Central Coast strawberry farmers are scheduled to meet with members of Congress and White House staff next week. The delegation of growers is with the Silicon Valley Leadership Group (SVLG), a trade organization representing nearly 400 technology and innovation companies, partnering for its Capitol Hill outreach efforts, according to Ramirez.
In a to joint letter being sent by the commission and SVLG to Congress, high tech and related emerging technologies in the next 12 years are anticipated to have an economic impact between $14 trillion and $33 trillion a year. Agriculture and related businesses account for about $10 trillion annually to the American economy; it employs just over one-sixth of the entire U.S. civilian labor force.
In addition to economic benefits to business, addressing immigration reform is critical for helping business solve many societal issues, including world hunger.
“We want to explain to lawmakers how our industries have been built in large part by immigrants, who remain essential to the future success of our nation’s largest sectors of the economy — agriculture and technology,” said Ramirez. “On a human level, immigration is about affording people the opportunity to work for a better life for their families and communities. Immigration is as American as apple pie and makes our nation stronger and a better place to live.”
According to Congressman Sam Farr, who represents the 20th District in California, “The voice of unity and encouragement from the local community is a real boost to me and other reform supporters here in Congress.”