Bitter Harvest: U.S. Farmers Blame Billion-Dollar Losses on Immigration Laws

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Scott Olson / Getty Images

A migrant worker harvests watermelon from an irrigated farm field in the drought-stricken town of Vincennes, Ind., on July 18, 2012

Ralph and Cheryl Broetje rely on roughly 1,000 seasonal workers every year to grow and pack more than 6 million boxes of apples on their farm along the Snake River in eastern Washington. It’s a custom they’ve maintained for over two decades. Recently, though, their efforts to recruit skilled labor, mostly undocumented immigrants, have come up woefully short despite intensive recruitment efforts in an area with high rates of unemployment.

The Broetjes and an increasing number of farmers across the country say that a complex web of local and state anti-immigration laws account for acute labor shortages. With the harvest season in full bloom, stringent immigration laws have forced waves of undocumented immigrants to flee certain states for more-hospitable areas. In their wake, thousands of acres of crops have been left to rot in the fields, as farmers have struggled to compensate for labor shortages with domestic help.

“The enforcement of immigration policy has devastated the skilled-labor source that we’ve depended on for 20 or 30 years,” said Ralph Broetje during a recent teleconference organized by the National Immigration Forum, adding that last year Washington farmers — part of an $8 billion agriculture industry — were forced to leave 10% of their crops rotting on vines and trees. “It’s getting worse each year,” says Broetje, “and it’s going to end up putting some growers out of business if Congress doesn’t step up and do immigration reform.”

(MORE: Why Undocumented Workers Are Good for the Economy)

Roughly 70% of the 1.2 million people employed by the agriculture industry are undocumented. No U.S. industry is more dependent on undocumented immigrants. But acute labor shortages brought on by anti-immigration measures threaten to heap record losses on an industry emerging from years of stiff foreign competition. Nationwide, labor shortages will result in losses of up to $9 billion, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation.

In Arizona, Nan Walden’s complaints mirror those of the Broetjes. Walden is vice president of the family-owned Farmers Investment Co., the largest grower and processor of pecans in the world, with 6,000 acres (2,500 hectares) of farmland in the Santa Cruz Valley, 35 miles (56 km) from the U.S.-Mexico border. Walden says the state system in place for luring seasonal workers is wholly inefficient and adds that Arizona’s infamous SB1070 immigration law has only compounded the problem, creating a climate of fear for Arizona employers and employees. “This has led to people leaving our state, going to other states without these ambiguous clouds and legal sanctions hanging over employers’ and employees’ heads,” says Walden.

Farming operations nationwide, from New York to Georgia to California, are reeling from similar labor shortages despite offering domestic workers competitive packages that include 401(k) plans and health insurance. Almost in unison, farmers complain that even when they are able to lure domestic workers to what often amounts to high-skilled, grueling work, it’s not long before they abandon the job.

North Carolina, whose four main crops are valued at $2 billion, has seen its labor supply vanish since nearby Alabama and South Carolina enacted restrictive immigration laws. “Clearly, immigration reform is as much a federal issue as maintaining our military or managing our money supply,” says Larry Wooten, president of the North Carolina Farm Bureau. “And this state-by-state regulation, with hyperenforcement, is putting pressure on farming operations here in North Carolina and across the country.”

(MORE: We Are Americans — Just Not Legally)

With the federal government sitting on the sidelines, some state legislatures in response to that pressure have started to consider enacting guest-worker programs, often after heavy lobbying from agricultural and business groups. Utah, for example, recently approved a program that, starting this year, will allow undocumented immigrants to work in the state legally as long as they pass background checks.  The measure, though, is subject to federal approval.

Several other states, including California, Oklahoma and Vermont, have considered similar legislation. In Texas last year, Republicans signed off on a party platform that calls for a national guest-worker program. And just before the GOP convention in August, the Republican National Committee approved a platform on immigration that calls for a guest-worker program.

“We feel strongly that there has never been a greater need for federal leadership for immigration reform,” says Walden. “The United States farmer is still the most efficient in the world, and if we want to be in charge of our food security and our economy and add favorably to our balance of payments, we need to support a labor force for agriculture.”

246 comments
BisnisOnline
BisnisOnline

This claim could be due to the increase the significant number of farms in town who claim the distinct rights. I'm indefernce between the discussion. 

Regards,

Y a

Arts
Arts

When the demand decrease, people look for reason. I

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TedTheObserver
TedTheObserver

Correct me if I'm wrong, but aren't rising food prices the cause of all the revolts we're seeing around the world?

Eric Lund
Eric Lund

For decades farm employers got all the workers and none were illegals.  What now?  Fed is not importing enough legal workers. 

WeimMom
WeimMom

Check out www.theycometoamerica.com  read the reviews from many dealing with the illegal alien takeover in their cities, ridiculous to have to speak Spanish to get a job in the USA!  One reviewer wrote how they've devalued his Houston TX home, came home one day to see a Mexican herding goats down the street.....

WeimMom
WeimMom

My city is FULL of illegals, not only are they taking the jobs many low skilled, retired, disabled and unemployed need, they are taking up all the affordable housing. 

They come into major retailer, use their food stamps amp; WIC, hold up the line knowing they will be allowed to keep the 'extra' products not allowed on the taxpayer vouchers, they go to the money center sending their money to Mexico!

I would definitely pay more for produce if it meant following the very laws that make America great!

smashdivisions
smashdivisions

time ragazine, with the usual "sky-is-falling/we-love-illegals" article. so THIS year will be the year that fruit and veg prices will hike up because of a "labor shortage", right?... even though agribusiness profits are INCREASING annually. sorry "farmers", we don't believe you!

A Lloyd Flanagan
A Lloyd Flanagan

Funny, these guys seemed just fine with the situation when they had large numbers of people who worked hard for low pay and couldn't go to OSHA when there were problems. Somebody cut off their supply of oppressed workers, and now it's a crisis? Welcome to the party, guys. If you'd pushed for a rational, fair immigration policy for your workers years ago you'd have some credibility now.

keithm1295
keithm1295

Mr. "JOE"----

     Be careful please on what you SURMISE.  Farmers are under specific legal limitations---they can ask for only 2 types of identification and are BARRED from questioning the identification they are handed by the potential worker.  Farmers can (and are) sued by the Federal Government if the question the legitimacy of what they are handed.   As a farmer, I really have no good way to know.  So talk about these workers as "falsely documented" rather than in terms of  whether I have any true legal ability to determine their legal status. Keith

47wing
47wing

As a Texas road construction super once said to me - "Those Mexican boys can go all day long on their tortillas and tacos, rain or shine. Our boys would not last till breakfast time". 

Sorry people. If you like your food cheap and lawns mowed, you have to bear with the underground economy of undocumented workers - I will not call them illegal - going and may be even support it.

traz569
traz569

 Does Washington state have anti-immigrant laws?  I've never heard of

them from this very liberal state?  Seems to me, that the author's

reasoning would suggest that Washington would be a beneficiary of the

laws of the anti-immigrant states as illegals from those states would

have moved to illegal-friendly Washington.  I don't think we can blame

"anti- illegal-immigrant" laws for Washington's failure to find

workers. 

The author didn't mention the average amount a worker

makes, nor did he give any specifics about these generous benefits

packages that pickers supposedly receive.  He's got to be kidding. 

Those brutal jobs should get the equivalent of $30 an hour.   They don't

pay anywhere near that.  Raise the pay to justly compensate workers

rather than flooding our country with low-skilled workers (no that

doesn't mean we will pay 3 times more for food.  It might be ten percent

more at most.)

traz569
traz569

Does Washington state have anti-immigrant laws?  I've never heard of them from this very liberal state?  Seems to me, that the author's reasoning would suggest that Washington would be a beneficiary of the laws of the anti-immigrant states as illegals from those states would have moved to illegal-friendly Washington.  I don't think we can blame "anti- illegal-immigrant" laws for Washington's failure to find workers. 

The author didn't mention the average amount a worker makes, nor did he give any specifics about these generous benefits packages that pickers supposedly receive.  He's got to be kidding.  Those brutal jobs should get the equivalent of $30 an hour.   They don't pay anywhere near that.  Raise the pay to justly compensate workers rather than flooding our country with low-skilled workers (no that doesn't mean we will pay 3 times more for food.  It might be ten percent more at most.)

RobertSF
RobertSF

They farmers need to offer more money. That's how supply and demand works. I know the farmers would like slave labor like in the 1800s, but those days are over.

radsenior
radsenior

Acute farm labor shortages in the nation? Where are the laborer's? The radical right-wing have placed everything they could in their way to stymie immigration, legal or otherwise. The growing Hispanic/Latino population is swiftly becoming the giant Socio-politico-Economic power house to court. Many are conservative in nature, God-fearing family-oriented and those principles make them formidable and in need of careful wording in political speeches. It is not just the Puerto Rican community, but others like those from Central America and Mexican's who come to help harvest in the fields. TEA-Republican want their two-tiered "Dream Act" as put forth by Marco Rubio while others abuse their labor in the fields or construction sites. The cries from eastern Washington, Arizona, New York, Georgia and other farm communities wanting undocumented to do field work, as American laborers will not stoop down that far to earn a living. North Carolina, South Carolina and Alabama will suffer the same resulting from the current and previous Congress' inaction on immigration reform. The original "Dream Act" had been discussed and adopted ready to present to the Senate and passed to the president and the Republican's failed to bring it forward in 2010. The Congressional failures have exacerbated and already contentious issue and localities around the nation took it upon themselves to legislate locally. Let's all remember Paul Ryan is of the same caliber as Todd Akin, Eric Cantor and others of scarlet (R) fame. The scarlet (R) has replaced the unused (T) for TEA party radicals with confrontation on their minds. America needs change from the Gangnam style dancing in Washington over the budget and address immigration, the budget, taxation, women health issues and the upcoming sequestration which is due to occur starting January 1st 2013.

NM156
NM156

Farmers have a shortage because they expanded their operations based on cheap slave labor. They have nerve to pretend agriculture and prices are being affected by this so-called shortage.

ekaneti
ekaneti

Im glad to see that 90% of the posters here havent fallen for the propaganda of the farmer industry and Time magazine

ekaneti
ekaneti

I have no sympathy for any business owner whose business plan relies on paying below market wages. Those farmers should either pay higher wages, or their ag production should move to other countries our they should mechanize and use capital to replace labor. 

Shimmana
Shimmana

It is a sad fact that most Americans are not willing to do the slogging field work that immigrant workers have done for so long. Now we will all pay the price for the loss of those able and willing hands.

Lurch
Lurch

A problem arises by just using the term "undocumented (or illegal) immigrant". This assumes that the worker wants to be a fulltime USA resident, an immigrant. My experience with many Mexican and Guatemalans, both here and in their home countries, argues against this. Most would like to work where work is available (in USA) but live with their families and communities in their south-of-the-border homes.

Our border restrictions don't allow this. A sane policy would be something like a reinstatement of the old guest-worker program, coupled with economic development in Latin America so fewer would feel the *need* to work in USA. But don't expect sanity in our political climate.

Matthew W. Hall
Matthew W. Hall

Market forces are good until they aren't in your interests anymore, apparently.

Jason Derr
Jason Derr

Why can't goods and services be offered at an affordable price while offering the workers a living wage (which should include as a minimum ability to afford food, housing, education and healthcare)?

I agree with Joe, businesses (construction, hotel and catering, landscaping, agriculture)  should all have to abide by the same rules.  Businesses ought to provide jobs for the unemployed citizens, not encourage illegal immigration. The money saved on fruit and vegetables and is probably spent on more in border patrol, policing, and expatriation.

People say Americans won't do those jobs but I'm pretty certain that the truth is closer to something like this: Americans won't do jobs for illegal immigrant wages.

I admit that I  don't have a solution to this economic dilemma but I do know that there has got to be a better way than "global" exploitation and slave labor.  Accountability?

 

botti
botti

Don't forget the bitter harvest of low skill immigration from groups that do not assimilate at the same rate as Europeans or Asians. As Alex Aleviev reports:

"Perhaps even more important than the collapse of educational achievement among the lower strata is a deterioration of the higher education that was for decades the basis of California's preeminence in science and technology. California currently ranks 40th among the 50 states in college-attendance rates, and it already faces a significant shortage of college graduates. Studies have shown that the economy will need 40 percent of its workers to be college-educated by 2020, compared with today's 32 percent. Given the aging white population (average age, 42), many of these new graduates will have to come from the burgeoning Latino immigrant population (average age, 26). By one estimate, this would require tripling of the number of college-educated immigrants, an impossibility if current trends hold. The state's inability to improve the educational attainment of its residents will result in a "substantial decline in per capita income" and "place California last among the 50 states" by 2020, according to a study by the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems...

One myth is that because America is a country of immigrants and has successfully absorbed waves of immigration in the past, it can absorb this wave. But the argument neglects two key differences between past waves and the current influx. First, the immigrant population is more than double today what it was following the most massive previous immigration wave (that of the late 19th century). Second, and much more important, as scholars from the Manhattan Institute have shown, earlier immigrants were much more likely to bring with them useful skills. Some Hispanic immigrants certainly do integrate, but most do not. Research has shown that even after 20 years in the country, most illegal aliens (the overwhelming majority of whom are Hispanic) and their children remain poor, unskilled, and culturally isolated they constitute a new permanent underclass.Perhaps the most disingenuous myth about illegal immigrants is that they do not impose any cost on society. The reality is that even those who work and half do not, according to the Pew Hispanic Center cannot subsist on the wages they receive and depend on public assistance to a large degree. Research on Los Angeles immigrants by Harvard University scholar George J. Borjas shows that 40.1 percent of immigrant families with non-citizen heads of household receive welfare, compared with 12.7 percent of households with native-born heads. Illegal immigrants also increase public expenditures on health care, education, and prisons. In California today, illegal immigrants' cost to the taxpayer is estimated to be $13 billion half the state's budget deficit.

http://www.npr.org/templates/s...

Citizenright
Citizenright

Liars.  There are H2A farmworker visas available.   Also, how about raising the pay for harvesting food.  Labor is only 5% to 8% of the cost of food.  If it was 10% you could raise wages by 50% and only add a nickle per dollar to food costs.

These 21st Century plantation owners want the labor they can exploit.

mobilebay
mobilebay

Why do farmes ignore the many "guest worker" programs provide by the government? Their reply is "the paperwork is too involved." They would rather hire the criminals who sneak across our border. They can pay them less and treat them anyway they want. If you have to resort to whining about getting help, maybe you're in the wrong business. Hiring illegal labor may profit the farmer, but I don't see any advantage at the marker. Prices are still sky high and then we have the added cost of the billions spent on the upkeep of the illegals they farmers are so crazy about.

MariaKay
MariaKay

http://www.appeal-democrat.com...

Here is a link to a story about "labor shortages" of peach pickers in a California farmtown local newspaper. Note that in the comments, the reporter said she would pass along the phone numbers of any locals who wanted to pick peaches to the farmers. In response, this is what she posted:

"Ashley Gebb Appeal-Democrat

My phone has been ringing off the hook all day Katie. Men, women, teens, the unemployed, people with jobs who are willing to get up at the crack of dawn or work their weekends to help the farmers and make a few extra bucks. Unfortunately, it sounds like they cannot connect with the farmers and are getting turned down for lack of experience and other reasons."Straight from the horse's mouth, for all you know-it=all pro-illegal-alien folks who think you know so much about what kinds of jobs "Americans just won't do." The whole "labor shortage" trope is a big fat lie.

Justin Verson
Justin Verson

If the growing season is only 6 months, where does the farmer work the

other half of the year?  The economic model you described has many

variables, which means hiring illegals is probably not the only option

to achieve profitability.

http://www.proweb365.com/inter...

Madhukar C. Sheth
Madhukar C. Sheth

Why sud farmers suffer losses due to faulty political policy.  US politician give every incentive like unemploment wages amp; social security payments to discourage a normal man from working and thereby get election votes.  US labor thus became lazy amp; costly.  

This pleases lower middle class city dweller but displeases a farmer.

If industry is allowed to import  its  raw material,  farmer also sud  b  allowed to import his raw material - labor, preferably legally

Krowster
Krowster

The GOP are only interested in cashing in the labor forces of a foreign country, they do not care and inch about foreign workers, legal or illegal, in he U.S. Why? Because they are the primary users who do not want to pay a decent salary for a decent days work. However, this will stand provided it does not mean voting against them, then they get excited and start complaining that their slaves are unmanageable and need to be deported.

MariaKay
MariaKay

Again, picking fruits and veggies is not rocket science. There was no experience needed when my family was doing it in the 70s.

MariaKay
MariaKay

Albino Wino, most harvest work is done in the summer, when kids are out of school. That was the reason for the "summer vacation" in the first place.

Obviously you know nothing about farm work (eyeroll).

Krowster
Krowster

Blame the GOP for failing to provide any immigration reform that will support the farmers on jobs that the American people refuse to do or lack the necessary strength to do.

Anyone, with half a mindset, would know that most Americans haven't touched a shovel or lifted a rock in decades, let one know what it means to really work the earth.   But, as things move forward, many are going to learn this the hard way or become extinct.

Krowster
Krowster

Blame the GOP, they are the ones that want to export all illegals, in spite of the fact that no Americans wan to o any real world work.

gussley
gussley

Notice, while the Democrats push their "dream" acts and free college to prepare illegals for a lifetime of unemployment, Republicans are trying to bring in guest workers where they are needed, like agriculture.

HunterST2
HunterST2

The farmers could step up amp; pay a living wage. There would be plenty of workers IF the pay was right. They are deliberately plowing under that 10% amp; whining when they could get workers by just paying enough amp; taking a smaller profit. Pure greed. They figure to force congress to approve their cheap workforce amp; call it reform. Meantime they are claiming a big write off on those crops amp; getting more money wholesale too. Well the illegals aren't worth the cost to the rest of America just so the big farmers (small farmers are now a minority) can get cheap workers. The rest of the country foots the bill for the hidden costs of illegals. 

LittleGnatCatcher
LittleGnatCatcher

American farmers, not known as a bunch of liberals, are calling for national immigration reform and federal, rather than state enforcement. Wow. The extreme right wing of the republican party is bleeding their party of constituents across the board. Think of all the groups they've turned off. And now, farmers are feeling the pain as well.

PaoloBernasconi
PaoloBernasconi

This country has an entire sector of the economy living on the exploitation of illegals.

Just create a temporary workers visa, so you can legally exploit poor people from Central and South America...   

Can you imagine a 300 lbs fat USA true citizen balloon picking tomatoes under the sun? How long do you think he is going to last before he falls flat dead? The answer is never, because he dies before even reaching the field... 

JohnYuEsq
JohnYuEsq

Money means power. Concentrated wealth at the top means extraordinary power at the top. The reason Romney pays a rate of only 14 percent on $13 million of income in 2011 -- a lower rate than many in the middle class -- is because he exploits a loophole that allows private equity managers to treat their income as capital gains, taxed at only 15 percent.

And that loophole exists solely because private equity and hedge fund managers have so much political clout -- as a result of their huge fortunes and the money they've donated to political candidates -- that neither party will remove it.

In other words, everything America is learning about Mitt Romney -- his tax returns, his years at Bain Capital, the video of his speech to high-end donors in which he belittles half of America, his gaffes, the budget policies he promotes -- repeat and reenforce the same underlying reality.

So much wealth and power have accumulated at the top of America that our economy and our democracy are seriously threatened. Romney not only represents this problem. He is the living embodiment of it.

ROBERT B. REICH, Chancellor's Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley

Mondie
Mondie

A Guest Worker Program could be the solution if a Do-Nothing congress was not presiding. Latin migrant laborers would have no problem with traveling to the US during harvest season and returning home for the winter.