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Mr. Colbert Goes to Washington

posted Mar 27, 2011, 10:52 AM by Golden Knight   [ updated Mar 29, 2011, 2:20 PM ]

Posted in Spectrum 

By Marc Magallanes


Photo Credit: Reuters

Stephen Colbert visited Washington D.C. this Friday not as a comedian, but as a witness to the plight of migrant farm workers. Invited by California Representative Zoe Lofgren (D), Colbert “testified” on the topic after he and Lofgren challenged the United Farm Workers “Take Our Jobs” campaign, a campaign that offers Americans to experience the menial work immigrant farm workers perform.

Lofgren stated early in the hearing that America is increasingly relying on foreign undocumented labor sources to harvest crops. She hypothesized that it may be due to America’s greater educational level that Americans today are refusing to work in the fields compared to decades earlier (about 95% of Americans currently working hold a high school degree). According to the Department of Labor, over 50% of seasonal agricultural workers are undocumented, but it is speculated to be around 75% due to a lack of accurate information. Critics of the use of underprivileged undocumented workers argue that the problem may be solved through higher wages and better working conditions.

This is often hard to achieve, however, because it will increase the price of produce, thus making American crops less competitive with the world. This in turn will create a ripple effect where American farms will move elsewhere while losing jobs connected to farming, according to Lofgren. She further argues that an ample supply of workers harvesting food is crucial to America’s food security because America is reluctant to rely on foreign food services. She stresses that the migrant workers help run the economy and keep the United States humming.

Lofgren was countered by Steven King (R, Iowa) from the beginning of King’s speech. He stated that she may just be exaggerating the potential effects of farming without the aid of low earning farm workers. He continued by saying that Americans are hard workers and will take any job, no matter how lowly or difficult. After King’s comments, the political rhetoric continued back and forth between both parties. The eight representatives each spoke with their own points and counter-points to their political counterparts.

Colbert was not warmly welcomed by the committee and some accused Lofgren of mocking the integrity of Congress.  Others said Colbert helped bring attention to a crucial issue as Angelina Jolie and Kevin Costner have recently done. What surprised the court was how Colbert stayed in his trademark character during his testimony eliciting some chuckles from the mostly subdued audience. Representative John Conyers (D) said that Colbert should just submit written testimony and leave, but Colbert reminded him that Lofgren invited him and would leave only if she wanted him to. Conyers relented. Representative Jason Caffetz (R) disapproved of Colbert.

Colbert did have one serious, out of character moment. When asked by Judy Chu (D) why he used his star power for this issue, Colbert replied, “I like talking about people who don’t have any power, and it seems like one of the least powerful people in the United States are migrant workers who come and do our work but don’t have any rights themselves. Migrant workers suffer…and have no rights.”