Ten years ago, I read an article about increased immigration raids tearing apart a small farming community in upstate New York. I took a ride up to Elba, a town of roughly 2,500 (or–as the sign welcoming you into town reads—“Population: Just Right”).

It’s a beautiful area, with a diner, a post office and a grand, gorgeous school at its center. And everywhere you look, for miles and miles, land and sky.

So much land. So much space. And opinions about who belongs on that land were turning neighbors against each other.

My play, A Good Farmer, was sparked from the complicated, emotionally-difficult realities and choices that communities such as Elba, and countries, such as the United States, are forced to make about illegal immigration every day. It’s easy—too easy—to reduce illegal immigrants to stereotypes. It’s even easier to pretend that they alone are guilty in their actions. In truth, illegal immigration is a system propped up and sustained by millions of private employers and a government choosing to look the other way when it serves them.

According to The National Center for Farmworker Health, there are 3 million illegal farm workers in the United States. They are severely underpaid, and work under conditions most Americans would not abide. Twenty-two percent of those farmworkers are women. The women have it the worst. According to Human Rights Watch, they are subject to widespread sexual harassment and violence. And because of the illegal nature of their work, it is almost impossible for them to come forward to report such abuse.

And if you’re thinking: “Hey, that was ten years ago! I’m sure it’s a lot better now—“ well. I seriously doubt anyone reading this thinks that. But let me assure you, any advances that were made in the past decade have been rendered moot in the current political environment.

In fact, in March of 2017, The Boston Globe ran an article about that same little town in upstate New York.  The article was titled “Fear on the Farm.” In it, a Mexican farm worker named Sergio who has lived in America for 25 years recounts how he recently sold his home because of his fear of deportation. Delivery service from a local Hispanic grocery has skyrocketed due to fears of deportation. And the employers are worried too– a farmer explains that if he lost his Hispanic workforce, revenue would drop by 75%.

Drama is conflict. And the people of this farming town, and towns like it across the country, are in constant and mounting conflict with hard economic realities, politics and law enforcement, and with the views, needs and humanity of their neighbors and friends.

A Good Farmer is the story of two women: a farm owner named Bonnie, and an illegal immigrant who works for her, named Carla. It is about their unlikely friendship, and the love each of them has for one another and their kids. It’s a story about how people down on their luck often turn on those who have even less. And how people who seemingly have nothing in common can become family.

It’s not a play with answers. Just questions. And, I hope, deep compassion for all  people – born on this land, or any other.

This article was originally published by the New Jersey Theatre Alliance.

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