Editorial: Immigration policy: What should a cup of coffee cost?

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In the current conversation about the crisis at the U.S./Mexico border, we should not ignore our role in bringing people to our southern border.

Much has been said about the violence and economic conditions in Central America. Much has been said in praise of opportunity in the United States. Not much is being said about how we individual U.S. citizens spend our money. What we’re willing to pay for things like food and clothing is a blind spot in our distress over the border that may have a direct tie to the crisis.

Guatemalan coffee is an example

Guatemala currently is “the single largest source of migrants attempting to enter the United States,” according to a June 11 article in The Washington Post. Coffee prices are named as a leading culprit. The price of coffee is falling, leaving coffee farmers unable to recoup their costs and pay their bills.

I love coffee. I wasn’t drinking a cup when I read that article, but only because it was the afternoon when I read it. Since then, every cup of coffee is a question: What should a cup of coffee cost me?

As of this writing, you can buy a 1-pound bag of coffee purportedly from Guatemala for $12.62 with free shipping on Amazon. But is that a fair price?

One fair trade company, Grounds for Change, offers a single-source 8-oz. bag of Guatemalan coffee for $8.45 plus shipping. Is that a fair price? Interestingly, Grounds for Change coffee is “Organic Certified by the Washington State Department of Agriculture.” How often have we complained about the price of coffee sold by companies based in Washington State?

A fair price for coffee

Let me make an assumption. If you like coffee, you don’t want to pay a lot for it.

With all the buying options, if we just take the two above and make a buying decision knowing only the size and price of each bag of coffee, we most likely will buy the less expensive bag. As we learn more about fair trade, we might lean toward buying from a so-called fair-trade company like Grounds for Change.

When our purchase is made, we may think we have paid a fair price—fair for us because it’s not too expensive and fair for the producers. But have we really paid a fair price?

According to the Washington Post article: “Certified fair-trade coffee has a minimum price of $1.60 per pound, set in 2011. However, that sum is paid to the exporting company, not the farmer. Many farmers in Guatemala received about $1.20 per pound this year. That was significantly less than their cost of production.”

So, I wonder, if what I’m paying for coffee isn’t enough for coffee farmers in Guatemala to cover their costs, what should I pay for Guatemalan coffee—or any coffee, for that matter, since most of the coffee I buy comes from … well, I don’t know where it comes from. And that’s part of the problem.

We don’t know what a fair price is for coffee or most other products we consume. Our connection to those who produce what we consume is so abstracted that we have no conception of what things really cost. One result is that we may not be able to understand a person’s desperation to get into the United States. Most importantly, we can’t see how we contribute to their desperation.

Drinking coffee and reading the news

When we don’t know the effects of our spending, we can read the news with less empathy for immigrants affected by our choices and more indignation toward them. But this indignation toward desperate people has a limit.

On June 21, the Associated Press reported deplorable conditions at a facility near El Paso, in which children were taking care of children. One child, a 14-year-old girl from Guatemala, said: “I need comfort, too. I am bigger than they are, but I am a child, too.”

Four days later and as a result of their earlier story, the Associated Press reported most of the 300 children were moved to facilities managed by the Office of Refugee Resettlement.

In both articles and many others like them, government officials place blame on others in government for not allocating enough resources to the border.

Meanwhile, we continue drinking our coffee while we read the news.

The Bible on the costs of our pleasure

The biblical prophets have something to say about our connection to the crisis at our southern border. And they leave us no quarter.

God described Israel, saying: “Hear this word, you cows of Bashan on Mount Samaria, you women who oppress the poor and crush the needy and say to your husbands, ‘Bring us some drinks’” (Amos 4:1).

Some in Israel were enjoying life at the expense of others, and God wouldn’t put up with it any longer.

To such people, God said: “I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me. Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps.

“But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream” (Amos 5:21-24).

Immigration policy begins with our purchases

Our purchasing decisions have led, in part, to the crisis at our border. Now we must deal with the results, and in doing so, we must not neglect the causes, which will cost us.

In addition to expecting our government to address immigration policy and how immigrants are treated on our soil, we can help our legislators and government officials by making different buying decisions. We can pay a fair price for what we consume.

We can exercise more discipline in our overall spending. As Andres Gutierrez said during Convención this week, “We all crave something, but the lie is we tell ourselves we have to get it.”

“Bring us some drinks,” they said (Amos 4:1).

In the case of coffee, we can pay what a cup of coffee is worth to the people who produce it, not what we’re willing to pay for it or what it’s worth to the American companies who sell it to us.

People who believe Romans 12:1-2, that we are to offer our bodies as living sacrifices to God, ought to reconsider what a cup of coffee should cost us. I am, and I’m wondering if you know where I can buy good coffee at a fair price.

Eric Black is the executive director, publisher and editor of the Baptist Standard. He can be reached at eric.black@baptiststandard.com or on Twitter at @EricBlackBSP. The views expressed are solely those of the author.


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