President Donald Trump’s anti-immigration crackdown is beginning to hit the nation’s farms very hard.
Trump’s campaign promise to deport 3 million undocumented immigrants with “criminal records” is disastrous for farmers as the agricultural industry relies heavily on foreign labor.
It’s ironic that many of the farmers affected by the ICE raids are ones that voted for Trump and now are torn between wanting border security but also sympathy towards workers who are not dangerous.
“That makes me nervous. Putting a wall on the border, that makes me nervous,” said an asparagus farmer, Joel del Boscaya. “We can grow the crops but not pick them.”
Field hands are the ones particularly targeted, and there have been reports of apple pickers in New York and Guatemalans in Oregon on their way to pick flowers being detained by the immigration police.
Some farm hands have resorted to arriving at their job sites at 1 a.m. and staying away from check-cashing shops on the day they receive their pay in order to avoid police. Farmers are worried they may lose their work force over minor transgressions by the laborers.
“They say, 'Don't go out, don't get drunk, don't do nothing illegal' because they need us too. They worry too," said Moses Maldonado, who is an undocumented immigrant and has worked for nearly four decades tending wine grapes and picking fruit in Oregon.
What’s even more worrying is, according to Del Bosque, white people don’t want to work in the dirt at the crack of dawn.
"Homeless people are camped in the fir forest over there," the farmer said, pointing to a stand of trees. "And they're not looking for work."
Farm workers in California earn about $30,000 a year for a full-time job — that’s about half the average overall pay in the state. Some farm owners even give their workers benefits reserved for white-collar workers like 401(k) plans, subsidized housing, health insurance, paid vacations and profit sharing bonuses.
But the new perks still have not persuaded white Americans to leave their day jobs for farm work. Nine in 10 workers in California are foreigners and more than half of them are undocumented.
In fact, farming uses a higher percentage of illegal labors than any other U.S. industry, according to a Pew Research Center study. Undocumented immigrants account for about 46 percent of America’s 800,000 farm workers, according to the U.S. Departments of Labor and Agriculture.
By law, people seeking jobs must provide proof of their eligibility to work in the U.S., but often times the papers are fake and agriculture employees claim they lack the expertise to determine if they are real.
Accelerated deportation can cause significant economic loss, stated a 2012 U.S. Department of Agriculture study. If the undocumented labor force shrinks by 40 percent, vegetables and other farm produce could drop by more than 4 percent. The American Farm Bureau Federation also said it could inflate food prices by 5 to 6 percent because of reduced supply and higher labor costs farms could face.