If You Enjoyed Your Christmas Tree, Thank an Immigrant

By Gillespie, Nick | Reason, February 2006 | Go to article overview

If You Enjoyed Your Christmas Tree, Thank an Immigrant


Gillespie, Nick, Reason


I HOPE THIS month's cover story retroactively ruins--or at least greatly complicates--your holiday joy. Especially if you bought a Christmas tree as part of your celebration.

"America's Criminal Immigration Policy: How U.S. Law Punishes Hard Work and Fractures Families" (page 24) tells the tale of Buca, a 35-year-old Mexican immigrant who busts his hump every year bringing Christmas trees to market. It is grueling, back-breaking work--the sort that most of us born in the United States would never do for any amount of money.

Buca (we've omitted his last name to protect his family's identity) lives most of the year in North Carolina, where 20 percent of the nation's Christmas trees are grown. But for about two months, he has to leave the country--and his wife and two daughters-to comply with federal law regarding his guest worker visa. His wife, Amanda, who works as a nanny for a church leader, is an illegal immigrant, so the family splits up every year around Christmas rather than risk not being able to get back into the U.S. Under current law, Buca and Amanda have no shot at green cards, despite their long history of employment here and even though their two daughters are U.S. citizens.

Buca's plight--shared by hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of other American workers-reminds me of my maternal grandfather's story. Nicola Guida emigrated from Southern Italy in 1913. After being processed at Ellis Island, he was taken by a padrone, or Italian job broker, to a quarry somewhere in eastern Pennsylvania (no one in the family knows its precise location) where he worked for a year chiseling rock by hand. …

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If You Enjoyed Your Christmas Tree, Thank an Immigrant
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