I ate a vegan meal the other night, admittedly not out of any solidarity with animals, but in an attempt to be healthy faced with a menu of fried this and that. So I chose from the “power foods” section of the menu, and yes, I felt powerful for a moment.
But pride goeth before the fall. As I basked in my healthy, animal-loving glory, I started to look at my plate. Avocados, lettuce, tomatoes, chickpeas. Delightful together, but most likely picked by migrant farm workers who may or may not be making a living wage. Or by migrant workers who face deportation every day as they pick the delightful items for my vegan meal. Or by workers whose nieces and nephews are denied such basics as soap and toothpaste and who right now could be sleeping on a concrete floor, under bright lights that never go out.
It’s not just my tasty meal that is prepared on the backs of the very same people our government detains in substandard conditions and wants to wall out. Look around at any number of the little luxuries we all take for granted and you will find underpaid migrants, trafficking victims and child labor. The goods we buy at a bargain are only a bargain on the consumption end. On the production side, many of those cheap T-shirts and flip-flops that make up our summer wear, the decorative melamine plates for our outdoor meals, and the foods we serve at the backyard barbecue come at an incredibly high cost to those who produce the items.
As we travel the aisles, doing our shopping, it is easy to ignore the plight of the immigrant or trafficked person who makes our patio party possible. Nothing on the label suggests that the strawberries we choose for our Fourth of July flag-themed dessert were handpicked by someone who just a few short weeks ago was told not to open her door in case her family was selected as part of the planned Immigration and Customs Enforcement raid. Nor does the price take into account that the migrants picking the produce are currently wrestling with whether to be counted in the U.S. census for fear that a planned question on citizenship will be used not to provide funding for schools or other services, but to identify individuals for deportation.
In the meantime, our federal government continues its now decades-long failure to enact comprehensive immigration reform to ensure the workforce needed to put food on our table is treated fairly, with the respect and dignity due to any human being. Instead, it cuts aid to countries in need and adopts policies and practices aimed at destroying families and denying migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers the very freedoms we will celebrate on the backs of their labor.
Utah Catholics have long spoken out in support of comprehensive immigration reform, but more is required. Each of us has a voice with which to share our belief that every person has the right to a life of dignity and to pursue that life elsewhere when his or her home country is incapable or unwilling to protect its citizens. We must also share our belief that we are not entitled to denigrate the rights of others so that we may have more. Catholics can and must speak against the continued exploitation of migrant workers’ cheap labor while government treatment of detained immigrants spirals ever downward.
We who have full freedom of motion and speech must insist that our elected officials adopt policies and enact laws that represent a moral path forward, not a kick to the gut for the already downtrodden.
Jean Hill is director of the Office of Life, Justice and Peace. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.