Friday, January 27, 2017

Trump immigration plan could cause U.S. farm labor shortage; dairy farmers have special problem

The federal government estimates that about half of the nation's farm workers are in the U.S. illegally, with numbers in some states believed to be much higher, David Sommerstein reports for NPR. A reliance on immigrants for farm labor has led to concern that President Trump's plan to build a border wall and ramp up immigration enforcement could hurt agriculture.

"Dairy farmers don't control the price of their milk. The federal government does that," Sommerstein writes. Cornell University's Thomas Maloney says at the minimum wage they can afford to pay, farmers are resigned to hiring foreign workers to do this dirty, physically demanding work." He told Sommerstein that farmers "are convinced most Americans do not want to do the kinds of jobs that they have available on their farms." (425 Business chart using Pew Research Center data; click on iot for a larger version)
The problem is that "there is no legal agricultural visa for the year-round work of dairy farms," like the seasonal visas for crops, Sommerstein writes. Steve Ammerman, spokesman for the New York Farm Bureau, told Sommerstein, "If it's strictly an enforcement-only, build the wall and deport all of our farm workers, then we're going to have serious problems when it comes to growing food and providing enough food to feed ourselves in this country."

Trump has said, "People are going to come through on worker permits to work the fields. We're going to have people, a lot of people are going to come through, but it's going to be done through a legal process," Sommerstein notes, "But so far, he's offered no details, leaving farmers and farm workers to square that Trump with the one issuing executive orders this week. One of them makes it a priority to deport non-citizens who have defrauded a government agency."

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