Well, the immigration hornets were a-buzzing with consternation at Fox this morning over Stephen Colbert's remarkable testimony on migrant workers -- probably because he got to utter the immortal line: "Turns out even the invisible hand of the
September 24, 2010

Well, the immigration hornets were a-buzzing with consternation at Fox this morning over Stephen Colbert's remarkable testimony on migrant workers -- probably because he got to utter the immortal line: "Turns out even the invisible hand of the market doesn't want to pick beans."

Megyn Kelly and Rep. Steve King -- yeah, the same Steve King who empathizes with nutcases who fly their planes into IRS buildings -- were particularly nettled by the satirist's powerful counterpunch to the kind of nativism they love to revel in. Both proclaimed it a waste of taxpayers' dollars, and King even tried to claim that Colbert had "lied" about work he did alongside migrants.

Well, as Faiz Shakir at ThinkProgress ably limns, Colbert was telling the truth.

More important, he actually illuminated a larger truth about immigrant labor in America: Migrant workers really are doing work that Americans won't do anymore.

And there's nothing wrong with that. It is, in fact, a product of the American Dream.

Let me illustrate this with a story of my own:

I grew up in southeastern Idaho, and in high school in the early '70s, I made my summer money by working on the potato farms that formed the basis of the regional economy. The summer after my senior year of high school I spent hauling irrigation pipe on a potato farm near Shelley (actually, we grew potatoes, wheat and hay, and I hauled pipe in all three).

It was the hardest job I ever had, and it really taught me how to work. But even then, it took me about a month into the summer before I finally became a reliable worker who could get the job done. I probably was the exception. The truth was, our crew of suburban high-schoolers was poorly equipped to do the job, and at $1.25 a line -- a line being composed of 22 pieces of 20-foot-long irrigation pipe, properly connected in place -- we didn't really have any incentive to learn to do it, either. There were a lot better and a lot easier ways to make better money, even in high school.

But it also meant that our employer couldn't really rely on us to get the job done right day in and day out, to be on time for work, to be ready to haul ass and lay out the irrigation lines.

A couple of years later, I went back and visited my old boss, who I had become friends with, on the farm near Shelley. He was pleased to see me, and introduced me to his new pipe crew: all Mexican immigrants. I don't know if he was particular about their immigration status, but I suspect he wasn't.

Because this crew was quite the wonder -- about 180 degrees removed from my old crew. Not only were they the most reliable people he'd ever employed, they were the most efficient he'd ever had, too. At hay-cutting time, they pitched in and worked in between pipe-hauling sessions -- something we Caucasian kids simply didn't ever have the energy for. (I'm telling you, this was hard work.)

For awhile I thought it said a lot about how soft and spoiled we suburban white kids have become -- and there's probably something to that. But reflecting on it further over the years, I realized it was perfectly natural. That's how the American Dream works.

Working-class people who come to this country start out poor and often have to work hard -- but they do it with the idea in mind of making a better life for their children. My great-grandparents were farmers too, but they wanted their children to achieve greater things -- and they did, though largely still in the working class (my mother's family did road construction, and my father's dad was a Ford mechanic). By the time my generation came around, we were being schooled to move up the career ladder into the white-collar world. So yes, we were softer. Of course we were. But that really wasn't a bad thing. God knows my parents would have been distressed had I not aspired to attend college.

Which I did, that first year, by doing the kind of farmwork I spent the entire summer swearing I would never have to do again. And I didn't. (The next summer I worked as a mechanic/welder in a farm-machinery plant, and the summer after that I did road construction. And the summer after that I was in my first newspaper job ...) In my family, that's how the American Dream came true.

Of course, someday the same will be true of the children and grandchildren of these migrants. That's the American Dream. And that's what Stephen Colbert was talking about.

Not that Steve King or Megyn Kelly would have any idea.

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