Letter From the Editor: Immigration in Philadelphia’s Western Suburbs

In this month’s issue, we take a look at how the immigration debate has impacted one local student.



 

This past fall, a caravan of 6,000 or so workers from Honduras commanded international media attention as it drew the ire of President Trump and his supporters. Now, it’s no longer big news, as most of the migrants have either been deported or they’ve simply gone home. Crisis averted.

Meanwhile, in Kennett Square, anti-immigration sentiment continues to instill fear and threaten the industry that defines this Chester County borough of more that 6,000. Mushrooms are the largest cash crop in Pennsylvania, pumping an average of $500 million into the state economy annually. Southeastern Pennsylvania’s $2.7 billion mushroom industry employs some 10,000 people, and Kennett Square—the Mushroom Capital of the World—is at the heart of it.

More than three generations of immigrants have contributed to the revitalization of Kennett Square, many arriving to work at the mushroom farms. They’ve lent vibrancy to the restaurant scene—and the small-business community in general. They’ve even opened their own mushroom farms.

But workers are leaving. In the past 10 years, the number of Mexican immigrants living in the United States has declined by more than a million. “And that’s bad news for everyone,” Chris Alonzo told Alfredo Corchado, Mexico border correspondent for the Dallas Morning News, in a story published by the New York Times. “All the negativity, the fearmongering, the anti-immigrant feeling is hurting our small town.”

“All the negativity, the fearmongering, the anti-immigrant feeling is hurting our small town.”

As the owner and president of Pietro Industries, a third-generation mushroom farm, Alonzo has witnessed the labor shortages first-hand. Workers aren’t applying for jobs, he told Corchado, and many won’t be seen around town, for fear of the authorities checking their documents.

M. Perez lives with that fear every day. We learned about this talented young writer through one of the teachers in Chester County’s public schools. An unauthorized Mexican immigrant, Perez (a pseudonym used to protect her identity) came to the area with her family and has lived here most of her life. We’ve featured two of her poems in our February issue. Honest, articulate, sad, angry and ultimately hopeful, both do a memorable job of personalizing a highly politicized issue.

“Walking in plain sight, where society is watching and waiting to judge you, is quite a journey,” she notes in the poem “Different.”

That should be something everyone can relate to—no matter where they stand on the immigration debate.