Polemic in Georgetown

Two articles by The News Journal have created controversy

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“From Delaware to San Marcos,” a series of two articles published by The News Journal on July 5 and 6 has sparked controversy among the Hispanic community in Sussex County.

Follow these links:

@link href=’http://www.delawareonline.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2009907050361’target=”_blank”>Migrants’ wages fuel renaissance in rural Guatemala/link

@link href=’http://www.delawareonline.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2009907060341’target=”_blank”>Georgetown immigrants still living a world apart/link

USA Today’s editorial board reminded us on July 4 that new Americans “symbolize what’s right with America, a nation of immigrants that was built by opening its doors… America remains the envy of much of the world and a magnet for millions who come seeking opportunity they can’t find elsewhere.”

We shouldn’t confuse immigration with something wrong or illegal. Our country is the best example of the prosperity that a group of immigrants can create overtime.

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In response, a Letter to the Editor was sent on July 7 to The News Journal by a group called “Georgetown’s League of Hispanic Business Owners”:

Yesterday, the News Journal (published in Wilmington) ran a poorly researched front page story profiling Georgetown’s Hispanic population.

After calling the newspaper, we found that the journalist no longer worked there! This left us with no choice but to write this letter to help clear the ‘air’ with regard to specific facts and comments contained in the article.

First of all, regardless of what anyone may think about the Hispanic population in Georgetown, it is a very simple fact that the economy of Southern Delaware fundamentally depends on a multi-billion dollar scale poultry industry. There are 5 world scale plants in Sussex County, and 2 more plants within 10 miles of Sussex County in Maryland that together employ close to 40,000 employees. Despite the rise in unemployment nationally, these plants continue to have serious – yes significant – shortages of labor, as witnessed by the dozen or so staffing companies supporting them to help ‘find’ employees for these plants on an ongoing basis. There is also substantial low income workers supporting the hospitality and landscaping industry on the beach and two major cucumber pickling plants that together account for another 20% of the local employment base.

The Hispanic population of Sussex County and Georgetown in particular provides the very economic backbone of the region. There quite simply is no other means of supporting local industry without supporting the Hispanic population. This by the way, is probably true nationally.

In the News Journal Article, there was a comment made by Georgetown’s former mayor (Mr. Ricker) saying:“ I am not sure we have benefited by the presence of the Hispanic Community”! Could he be seriously suggesting that Sussex County would even survive without industry? There simply cannot be any industry without a labor force to support it. The very existence of Sussex County’s economic base is threatened without an indigenous labor force.

A second comment was made by Georgetown’s former mayor suggesting that “ San Marcos (in Guatemala) has received more benefit from the Hispanic population here than us”. Interestingly the total GDP nation of Guatemala is about the same size as the US broiler industry, which is highly concentrated in Sussex County. Could he be seriously suggesting then that a small city in Guatemala could in any shape or form be larger than the US broiler industry?

Thirdly, to suggest that Kimmey Town’s state is somehow a derivative of the presence of the Hispanic community is simply far from reality. Many of us who have been active in the town of Georgetown remember the state of this part of town 20 years ago. We remember a large number of condemned houses owned by local landlords – who would not even sign up to the town’s water and sewage network! In fact, the Hispanic community has been the catalyst for significant local redevelopment not only in Kimmey Town but also downtown on North Race Street which has been completely revitalized. Mr. Ricker’s own tenure as a Mayor was marked by the most oppressive planning and zoning regime that actually held back development. It was during his tenure that Sussex County actually threatened to walk out of Georgetown because of the treatment of the Planning and Zoning office. Georgetown’s development (including Kimmey Town’s redevelopment) has been held back not because of the Hispanic community but by the abuse suffered from previous Georgetown Town regimes.

The strategy of attacking the local Hispanic community is a bankrupt one. This debate is old one, that has been fought and Mr. Ricker’s views have been proven as patently wrong. While Mr. Ricker’s views have not changed, we believe the rest of Georgetown has moved on. Indeed, Mr. Ricker’s views do not have a shred of constructive proposals in them. What is he fundamentally proposing? Could Mr. Ricker be seriously suggesting that Hispanics should be deported? Is he seriously suggesting that more ICE raids have had beneficial impact? Is he serious or delusional? How does he intend to help revitalize housing stock? What is he really proposing that WILL WORK? Let’s hear it.

ICE Raids last year resulted in serious production losses at the plants, and significant vacancies in local housing stock. Both these factors led to significant economic loss. In fact this pattern was repeated nationally and it precipitated an unprecedented housing crisis, which has led to one of the country’s deepest recessions. Yes, these raids caused our current housing crisis. There are facts to prove it. Millions of Hispanics have actually gone back, and our country has suffered greatly. There is clear ‘causal’ linkage nationwide between ICE raids and the housing crisis. This ‘last minute’ Bush policy designed to appease to voters like Mr. Ricker almost bankrupted the United States of America. Now in retrospect it was an absolutely stupid move.

The federal government has in fact let us all down. There is a clear need to support US industry with a temporary worker program. Negotiations with Central American nations had actually led to a proposal for a 3 year visa status, with controls in place ensuring that temporary workers return to their home country’s or miss out on lifetime benefits. Interestingly the Federal Government has been reaping billions of dollars of social security and tax revenue without any future liabilities from the Hispanic population! An illegal workers’ status actually works to the federal government’s benefit not the employee’s benefit! It is the US government that is holding back on the temporary worker program not Mexico or Guatemala or Honduras or El Salvador.

By any measure, payroll tax revenue contributions from Sussex County’s local Hispanic Population exceed $250 Million dollars per year. The local Broiler industry is a Multi-Billion dollar industry, and a global exporter. To undermine the Hispanic community is to undermine ourselves as citizens of the United States.

There was one other comment made by Mr. Ricker: “that the Hispanic community does not integrate”. It is in fact Mr. Ricker’s Xenophobic attitude that inhibits integration. How can anyone want to integrate with someone that is so openly hostile? It is a well know fact that the Georgetown Fire Company, of which Mr. Ricker is the Former Chief has not ever welcomed an African American member, let alone a Hispanic one.

Finally, instead of polarizing our local community, our leaders really should be working hard at supporting integration and supporting the prosperity of every segment. Perhaps Georgetown should try to find a sister city in Guatemala (like for example Tacana) that can enhance community integration, and arrange for student exchanges, etc. Local leaders can do a lot to reduce polarization and Xenophobia and help integration.

In this highly interconnected world, a loss in any one area will in fact result in a global loss to everyone. There are no losses now that are truly local in nature – every local crisis from climate change, health issues, banking, housing etc. immediately becomes a global phenomenon.

To Mr. Ricker and those that share his views, we say: We only truly prosper, if we prosper as a whole community …as a human race. We are one!

Sincerely,

Georgetown’s League of Hispanic Business Owners.