Fred Wilkinson, Managing EditorThe produce industry’s reliance on immigrant labor makes it a reluctant participant in one of the country’s most contentious political controversies — illegal immigration.
From E-Verify to state laws in Georgia, Alabama and elsewhere targeting illegal immigrants and those who employ them, a workable political solution to this social and economic issue has proved elusive.
It’s unrealistic to expect anything approaching a commonsense solution that recognizes the need for legal foreign guest workers to be crafted in this election year.
Even as Congress works on the latest farm bill, an AgJobs-type program’s inclusion is a remote hope.
Recent media reports played up the finding that for the first time in decades there is now a net negative migration rate from Mexico to the U.S.
Slightly more than half (51%) of current Mexican immigrants to the U.S. are unauthorized, while 58% of the estimated 11.2 million unauthorized immigrants residing in the U.S. hail from our southern neighbor, according to a recent Pew Hispanic Center study.
About 1.2 million of the 2.5 million workers employed for wages on U.S. farms are undocumented, with the share of undocumented workers highest in seasonal fruit and vegetable crops, according to University of California-Davis economist Phillip Martin.
Like fruit and vegetable growers and packers, cattle ranches and dairy operations have become increasingly staffed by foreign-born workers as the demographics of rural areas skew ever older, and most people born there move away for careers outside agriculture.
Anti-immigration hardliners maintain that, with high unemployment, the U.S. shouldn’t have to rely on immigrant labor.
That’s a seemingly attractive yet bogus sentiment that ignores the reality that there are, in fact, some jobs that native-born Americans are stubbornly unwilling to do, even for the decent wages experienced field workers can earn.
Some argue that the social safety net is too much like a hammock, allowing potential U.S.-born workers the luxury of saying no to jobs in agriculture.
Whatever one’s politics, the hot, dirty and even dangerous “Grapes of Wrath” lifestyle of migrant farmworkers is a relic of the past that is alien to the lives of native-born U.S. residents.
Produce growers know this better than anyone.
They often lose workers to construction, hotels and other industries that pay better and/or offer an easier paycheck or better advancement potential.