A few days ago, comedian Stephen Colbert testified before Congress, more precisely a House subcommittee on immigration, about his experience packing corn and picking beans on a farm. Over the summer, United Farm Workers launched “Take Our Jobs,” a campaign that challenged U.S. citizens to replace immigrants in farm work. Colbert was there to relate his experiences during this campaign, in which he spent a day with immigrant farm workers.
Also appearing alongside Colbert was United Farm Workers President Arturo Rodriguez, who testified that less than twenty citizens or permanent residents have taken him up on his offer, shattering the widespread accusation spread by the anti-immigrant movement that immigrants are taking citizens’ jobs. Anti-immigrant organizations love to argue that people are lining up to take jobs that undocumented immigrants currently hold. The experiment by the United Farm Workers indicates that this is not the case. The group is pushing for a bill that would give undocumented farm workers currently in the United States the right to earn legal status.
Of course, for the anti immigrant movement, this was like nails on a chalkboard.
Colbert was invited to testify by Rep. Zoe Lofgren who chairs the subcommittee as a way to use his face to bring more attention to the issue. When asked by Rep. Chu (D-CA) why he was advocating for immigrant farm workers, 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 in and do our work, but don’t have any rights as a result. And yet, we still ask them to come here, and at the same time, ask them to leave. And that’s an interesting contradiction to me, and um… You know, “whatsoever you did for the least of my brothers,” and these seemed like the least of my brothers, right now.”
As can be predicted, anti-immigrant groups rushed to their notepads, and the Operation Stephen Colbert Bashing began.
Anti-immigrant group NumbersUSA was first to bat, and chose to lead with heartlessness and a lack of empathy for other human beings stating:
“Colbert pointed out in his opening statement that only 15 Americans, other than himself, participated in a program launched by the United Farm Workers called “Take Our Jobs.” The union encouraged unemployed Americans to take agricultural jobs away from illegal migrant workers. But as Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas) pointed out during the hearing: why would any American want to do hard labor on the farm when they can make more money collecting unemployment?”
In other words, the fact that these workers are breaking their backs making less than employment is of no concern, seeing as they are not American.
Progressives for Immigration Reform, an anti-immigrant group with ties to white nationalist John Tanton, was second in line and decided to hit where it hurts: the high school-like drama preceding the hearings.
The comedian’s appearance was met with a fair amount of resistance from many on the subcommittee, including Democrat Rep. John Conyers of Michigan, who initially made no secret of his lack of enthusiasm about the situation. According to the Associated Press, Conyers, the House Judiciary Chairman, asked Colbert to leave the room “and to leave the job of testifying to the expert witnesses, including Farm Workers President Arturo Rodriguez.” He said, “you run your show, we run the committee.”
In the end, Colbert stayed because Lofgren wanted him to, and Conyers eventually signed off on the appearance.
As Colbert tweeted, “There’s no good emoticon for testifying before Congress. This’ll have to do: [8^($) The $ represents the value of the truth I’ll be spewing.”