'American Harvest' shows plights of immigrants, farmers - Catholic Courier

‘American Harvest’ shows plights of immigrants, farmers

PITTSFORD — Before screening an immigration documentary at Nazareth College on April 14, Angelo Mancuso asked how many of the students in attendance planned to enter the agricultural field.

The answer was none.

Mancuso, director and producer of “American Harvest,” said the student response was just further proof of the challenges faced by farmers and growers in the United States. Many of those interviewed for “American Harvest” said they have little choice when it comes to hiring their workforce — largely Mexican immigrants — whether documented or not. Without them, the future of American agriculture is bleak, and food exports and prices will continue to increase, many of them said throughout the film.

“The story Angelo portrayed is reality,” said Ed Schoen, owner of Schoe-Acres dairy farm in Phelps, who was a last-minute addition to the speaker panel that led a discussion following the screening in Linehan Chapel. “It’s not hype. These (immigrants) are wonderful people who want to work. … They care for the job they do. They take pride in their work. They are not out to damage this country.”

Along with Schoen and Mancuso, the panel included Father Jesus Flores, the Diocese of Rochester’s coordinator of Migrant Ministry; Sister Luci Romero, a migrant minister based in Sodus, Wayne County; and Ami Kadar, interim director of the Albion-based farmworker advocacy group Centro Independiente para Trabajadores Agricolas. The screening was cosponsored by the diocese’s Parish Support Ministries, diocesan Catholic Charities and Nazareth’s multicultural-affairs office.

Following the screening, Schoen emphasized that a large majority of the “illegal immigrants” in this country arrived with documents, which likely expired and they just never left. The answer to this debate, therefore, is not the longer, taller fences that have been part of recent federal legislative proposals, he said.

“I know very well the need for border security,” Mancuso said. “But these issues aren’t black and white.”

Mancuso knows of what he speaks when it comes to immigration.

His father died when his mother was pregnant with him, so Mancuso’s grandparents stepped in to help raise him. His grandfather was an immigrant from Italy who arrived in the United States illegally, he said.

Because of that experience, Mancuso told the audience of more than 100 people that he sought to create a film that would give people the facts to make their own decisions on the immigration debate. The film is dedicated “to the immigrants who built this great nation,” he said.

He and his film crew traveled more than 15,000 miles to more than 15 states and Mexico to make the film. Production began in May 2006 and was completed a year later. In the film, Mancuso interviewed growers, shippers, vendors and produce brokers as well as farmworkers from Mexico, immigration activists and an Ellis Island historian.

One group of Mexicans is shown as they reached the Arizona border. They are able to reach out to a family member in Los Angeles — using the film crew’s cell phone — only to be informed that the relative could not help them. Moments later, a siren blares. Immigration officers arrive and shut down the film’s taping.

That persecution is a daily reality for immigrants in our area, Sister Romero said.

“We can’t live with all this suspicion,” she said.

Seeing so many people’s interest in the film, however, gives her hope, Sister Romero added.

“Solidarity with each other does still exist,” she said.

Many of the growers repeatedly said in the film that it is migrant workers that allow for the United States to have the cheapest food supply in the world. They see few Americans willing to step up and work the fields as needed despite the complaints they hear about illegal immigration.

“The vast majority of people we depend upon are from Mexico, that come and harvest these crops,” Theo Rumble of Fresh Start Produce Brokers of Georgia said in the film. “And, some of them are legal, some of them are illegal. And, do we know who’s legal and who’s illegal? No. We really don’t. I’m not a document expert, and I’m not going to become one, either.”

“We’re in a crisis situation,” Mark James, executive director of the New York Farm Bureau’s Finger Lakes office, remarked in the documentary. “There may be far fewer farmers tomorrow than there are today if we don’t solve some of these (labor) issues in the U.S.”

James said a guest-worker program is desperately needed as well as reductions in the backlog of H-2A visa applications, which allow farmers a certain number of migrant workers for a set period of time.

Schoen concurred with James and said politicians need to order a “time-out” on the raids and deportations of migrant workers — which activists and farmers agree have been on the rise — until an acceptable reform plan is adopted.

The ramifications of those raids on agriculture are already being felt, Kadar said, as a tomato farmer in Pennsylvania recently announced plans to cut tomato crops because of the lack of workers due to increased immigration enforcement.

Coincidentally, Schoen pointed out that those that decry the estimated 12 million immigrants living and working in this country should realize that number represents the population size of the state of Pennsylvania.

“Think of the buying power, think of the person power,” Schoen said. “Now, take that away from the economy. … It would be horrendous.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: For more information about the film or upcoming screenings, visit www.americanharvestmovie.com.

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