A recent editorial cartoon depicts two men standing at a podium before a horde of people protesting proposed immigration reform legislation. One turns to the other says, “You tell them they are all under arrest!”

The cartoon well depicts the absurdity of the immigration reform debate raging in the U.S. Last issue's commentary on the subject and the dimwit congressman who suggests prison inmates pick fruit and kick all the illegal Mexican immigrants back across the border elicited strong e-mail responses: illegal immigration is breaking the law; “corporate greed” is enticing cheap labor to cross the border, depressing wages for American workers; build a 2,000-mile long fence along the U.S.-Mexico border and keep them all out. Moreover, do not offer amnesty to illegals already here. Dump them over the top of the 2,000-mile long fence, and do not let them back across the border.

Those who take those positions are not mean-spirited, just frustrated at the enormity of the problem and fearful of a repeat of 9/11.

However, reality is there are 11 million illegal aliens here already. Most are Hispanic. They are part of the American workforce and therefore part of American society. A porous U.S./Mexico border has been a fact-of-life for decades. Kick 11 million people out, and America's economy would collapse.

My perspective on the issue is strictly from agriculture. I have been in fields, vineyards and orchards where certainly not all the day laborers or as the mass media likes to call them “migrant workers” were legals. I have seen Border Patrol raids, watched workers loaded into green buses, and hauled back across the border into Mexico only to beat the green bus back to the U.S.

I have talked to farmers who hired them legally and by the way, value field workers much more highly than the mass media likes to depict. Hired legally at fair wages because farmers or labor contractors cannot legally hire a worker without a Social Security number and other documentation.

Illegal immigrant worker abuse in agriculture? Sure. Widespread? Doubt it because without the workers from Mexico and South America, agriculture, most certainly in California, would come to a standstill. You would have to empty all the jails in California — as Southern California Congressman Dana Rohrabacher suggests — replacing illegal immigrants working in California agriculture, and it probably would not be enough replacement workers.

What is being lost in this immigration reform political bantering and posturing is the human element. Several months back I was talking with a Sacramento Valley farmer who had just welcomed back for the 14th straight year an illegal immigrant from Mexico who worked as a skilled mechanic. When I call someone on the phone, I always ask if I am interrupting. The farmer said no. He was just coming back from the shop where his crew was cleaning the man up, removing thorns and doctoring other scrapes and bruises he encountered on his journey from Mexico to the Sacramento Valley. It's 500 miles from the Mexican border to the Sacramento Valley.

I lived in Arizona years ago. When I read about the hundreds who die crossing one of the harshest environments imaginable to find work, it breaks my heart because I have been in that desert. It is desperation beyond description.

I am not saying give anyone and everyone a free ticket to American citizenship, but there must be sensibility and compassion in this debate, particularly when it comes to those from Mexico and South America who are simply escaping poverty and despair for a better life, just as our ancestors did. They are not terrorists.

It would be much simpler if there were an ocean separating the U.S. and Mexico. However, there is no Ellis Island. When someone starts ranting and raving about illegal immigrants, ask them to look up Ellis Island on the Web. According to the Web site, almost half of all Americans can trace their ancestry to Ellis Island where 22 million immigrants were processed. There is a link on the Web site to check on names of people processed on that 27-acre block of land in New York harbor.

I discovered 213 Clines listed, even two men by the name of Harry Cline.

Keystroke in your family name and see what comes up. It can be a sobering experience and maybe put a little different spin on the immigration reform debate.

e-mail: hcline@farmpress.com