A few weeks ago, several hundred farm workers were fired from their jobs in Santa Maria by a farm operator after the Immigration and Customs Enforcement people checked the farm’s employment records and found that they had produced fraudulent identification papers as proof that they were here legally. Earlier in the year another farmer had to do the same thing.

There are a lot of questions concerning the ICE action, but first let’s say that if this was the result of a new government initiative to check the records of every employer’s in the United States, then I wouldn’t even be commenting on this particular case. 

But it wasn’t — it was the result of a disgruntled employee’s complaint following his/her firing by the farm operator.

We have to keep in mind that most of these workers had been here for decades, minding their own business and working hard to feed and house their families. Most of them probably had driver’s licenses or California identification cards issued by the Department of Motor Vehicles and were following all of the other rules of good behavior.

So, the first question is who is responsible for checking the validity of their documents, the employer or ICE?  Through a variety of laws, legislators have made it impossible for employers to verify who is here legally and who isn’t. Heck, you don’t even have to prove you’re here legally to vote.

Secondly, the employer may have been accused of discrimination by immigration activists if he/she questioned the documents they provided, so the employer has to accept their documentation at face value, and, of course, they are now the guilty party.

Were the workers in question arrested and charged with the crime of obtaining and possessing false identification papers? Nope, they were just fired and allowed to reapply for work somewhere else, though it was speculated that they may be working in the same fields while working for a labor contractor.

Were they arrested and scheduled for a deportation hearing? Once again, nope, they were set free, and news reports didn’t indicate whether any of them had been checked by local law enforcement for any outstanding court arrest warrants.  

In fact, it appears that ICE didn’t actually contact any of them, they just told the farmer to fire them.

Some have said that people who are currently unemployed and receiving state/federal assistance could have been hired to do the work. Several years ago they tried to do that down in Camarillo and the result was devastating to the farms that employed them.  

Not only did the new workers show up late and loaf on the job but they also wreaked havoc on the crops they were supposed to harvest.

So what’s next for Santa Barbara County farmers? Will ICE come rolling in to Carpinteria and check all the greenhouses or launch a raid on all the landscapers, restaurant or hotel operators in Santa Barbara?  

Nope, that’s not how they operate — it’s only if a complaint is filed, and even then the only thing that happens is that the employer losses his/her workforce temporarily until the workers find a labor contractor that will hire them.

So what’s the net effect in Santa Maria? Was the population of immigrant workers reduced? Were the employers fined for unwittingly hiring individuals with falsified documents?

The only thing I can see that happened here was that the employees lost their source of income temporarily and when rehired by another company probably had to work for less money.  

The other thing was that the farmers who employed them had difficulty getting their crops out of the fields and to market.

Everybody lost, including people who were not directly involved in the actions taken. 

If it costs more to rehire these workers from labor contractors, the cost of produce and berries will most certainly increase, and if the fired workers qualify for a Golden State Advantage card (welfare) or any other benefits because of lower wages, we all pay for it.

Something needs to be done to resolve this issue. As far as I know the federal government has been “working on this” since the 1940s and hasn’t fixed it yet.

Now the issue has become so polarized that a reasonable solution may get lost in the fog of politics.

The Republican’s want to close the borders, and the Democrats need a divisive issue of their own to get voters to think politicians can help them.

Come on politicians; stop the rhetoric. Roll up your sleeves and start fixing the problems that impact the ability of Central Coast businesses’ to remain successful.

— Ron Fink, a Lompoc resident since 1975, is retired from the aerospace industry and has been active with Lompoc municipal government commissions and committee since 1992, including 12 years on the Lompoc Planning Commission. He is also a voting member of the Santa Barbara County Taxpayers Association. Contact him at news@noozhawk.com. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.