Anti-immigrant legislators need to hear our labor stories

The produce industry has a unique view of immigration.

It’s rational, not emotional. 

The supply side can’t find enough workers for its work. Even when they raise wages to high levels, generally, grower-shippers can’t attract enough domestic workers. Sometimes, grower-shippers hire illegal immigrant labor because they will do the work, and they can fill their orders.

Grower-shippers see this labor challenge firsthand and have to deal with the consequences every day. 

Most everywhere else, immigration and labor problems are more of a concept with less immediate consequences. 

That’s especially true in Washington, D.C.

While the United Fresh Produce Association’s annual Washington conference is a highlight of the year, allowing the industry access to national legislators, each year I think United Fresh misses an opportunity on labor.

When United brings in speakers on immigration, they are always well-versed in ag’s issues and supportive of increased immigration.
But that’s not who the industry has win over.

Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., spoke at the Sept. 19 breakfast. He knows agriculture’s challenges. He even grew up on a farm. He supports guest worker provisions and was even a member of the Gang of Eight, the bipartisan group of senators who passed immigration reform with 68 votes in 2013.

He seems like a great ally for the produce industry. The problem is that he may not be around in the next Congress.

Many Republicans who support immigration reform are having trouble with voters. 

Late September polling shows he’s trailing a Republican challenger for his seat by 47% to 21%, with 29% undecided.

Flake has been an outspoken critic of President Trump, who won Arizona, and he’s been labeled a supporter of “amnesty.”

There’s that dirty word that turns immigration emotional. And emotion often wins elections.

Candidates say what voters want to hear. 

Hope and change. 

I will build a wall and Mexico will pay for it. 

No amnesty for illegal immigrants.

Lots of Republicans run on this, which gets them elected, and then they have to deal with the realities of immigration reform. 

The industry needs to spend more time with Congress members who run against amnesty.

Industry members need to tell them their stories.

United Fresh ought to bring more of these speakers to their events so the industry can find out what appeals may work and help fix this decades-old problem.

Greg Johnson is The Packer’s editor. E-mail him at

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