Friday, March 31, 2017

Stricter immigration laws, border wall threaten ag industries that rely on undocumented workers

Farm workers pick broccolini in King City, Calif.
(Associated Press photo by Marcio Jose Sanchez)
Of the 1.5 to 2 million farm workers in the country, 46 percent are undocumented, the U.S. Department of Labor estimates in its National Agricultural Workers Survey. The United Fresh Produce Association, a produce industry trade group, estimates numbers are higher, anywhere from 50 to 70 percent, reports Tamar Haspel reports for The Washington Post.

Either way, the industry could take a tremendous hit under President Trump's increased immigration enforcement and his proposed border wall, Haspel writes. And it's not as if Americans are standing in line for farm jobs, which often require long hours of backbreaking work for low pay.

A study in North Carolina in 2011, a year in which almost 500,000 people in the state were unemployed, found that when the North Carolina Growers Association listed 6,500 available jobs, only 268 Americans applied, 245 were hired, 163 showed up to work and only seven finished the season. Haspel notes, "Of the mostly Mexican workers who took the rest of the jobs, 90 percent made it through to the end."

Haspel also reports the undocumented workforce is shrinking because of Trump administration policies, stricter enforcement under the Obama administration, better conditions in Mexico, and an aging immigrant workforce. These scenarios have put pressure on farmers to raise wages and improve conditions, which could lead to higher prices for consumers. "If wages increased 25 percent (from $12 to $15), and that cost were passed on to us, produce prices would rise 2 to 3 percent. The yearly impact would be in the range of $30 per household, certainly affordable for many but not for all," Haspel writes.

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