Most likely, the millions of immigrants who took to the nations streets Monday, in large metropolitan areas and in small-town America, came as something of a surprise to many Kentuckians.
If you dont own a tobacco farm or a thoroughbred horse farm in Kentucky, you dont know how critical immigrant labor is to this states agricultural and horse economies.
If you dont venture behind the counters and into the kitchens of many fast-food restaurants in Kentucky, you dont realize how much of the labor in those kitchens is performed by men and women who dont speak much English.
If you havent built a new home in recent years in Kentucky, you wont understand how much of that home, including highly skilled work, is performed by immigrants to this country.
The fact is that, in all likelihood, an immigrant from Mexico or Central America probably will help prepare Saturdays Kentucky Derby winner for the race or will help clean the $500-a-night Derby special hotel rooms in Louisville that have been booked for months.
And a good percentage of those working immigrants do not have legal permission to be in this country. Conservative estimates put the number at 12 million nationwide.
Mondays day of protest was aimed at showing Americans how dependent we are on immigrant labor, including those 12 million illegal immigrants. A bill in Congress passed by the House essentially would make those illegal immigrants wanted men and women and deport them. A bill in the Senate, supported by President Bush, would set up a way for those 12 million men and women to become legal, tax-paying members of American society.
If there is any question about the importance of immigrant labor, just consider that the nations largest meat processing plants were closed yesterday because most of their employees were marching in the streets. A lot of affluent Americans missed having their lawns cut and shrubbery trimmed Monday because their gardeners were downtown carrying signs instead of trimmers.
Twelve million workers doing jobs Americans wont do cannot be ignored or deported. We have to have our tobacco cut and housed, and our skinless, boneless chicken breasts neatly packaged in the meat section of the grocery at an affordable price.
Those are facts Kentuckians cannot ignore out of blissful or willful ignorance.