Thursday, February 09, 2017

Calif. farmers who supported Trump fear a labor shortage; 70% in Central Valley undocumented

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Farmers in California's Central Valley who rely on migrant workers but backed President Trump, based on his pledge to reduce regulations and taxes, could now face a labor shortage, Caitlin Dickerson and Jennifer Medina write for The New York Times. Many thought Trump's tough stance on immigration was all talk. "But two weeks into his administration, Trump has signed executive orders that have upended the country’s immigration laws," they note. Now farmers in the nation's top agriculture state are worried "what the new policies could mean for their workers, most of whom are unauthorized, and the businesses that depend on them."

Researchers at University of California, Davis say that in the Central Valley, about 70 percent of farm workers are in the U.S. illegally, reports the Times. "The impact could reverberate throughout the valley’s precarious economy, where agriculture is by far the largest industry. With 6.5 million people living in the valley, the fields in this state bring in $35 billion a year and provide more of the nation’s food than any other state."

Workers riffle through muddy leaves to
find ripe, purple heads of radicchio.
(NYT photo by Max Whittaker)
"Farmers here have faced a persistent labor shortage for years, in part because of increased policing at the border and the rising prices charged by smugglers who help people sneak across," the Times reports. "The once-steady stream of people coming from rural towns in southern Mexico has nearly stopped entirely. The existing field workers are aging, and many of their children find higher-paying jobs outside of agriculture."

"Many growers here and across the country are hopeful that the new administration will expand and simplify H-2A visas, which allow them to bring in temporary workers from other countries for agricultural jobs," the Times reports. "California farmers have increasingly come to rely on the program in the last few years."

Central Valley farmers "say that legalizing the existing work force should be the first priority," reports the Times. "While they support the idea of deporting immigrants who have been convicted of serious crimes, they oppose forcing people to leave the country for minor crimes, like driving without a license."

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