Fearing worker shortage, farmers push back on immigration
JUNCTION CITY, ORE. | The head of Bethel Heights Vineyard looked out over the 100 acres of vines her crew of 20 Mexicans had just finished pruning, worried about what will happen if the Trump administration presses ahead with its crackdown on immigrants.
From tending the plants to harvesting the grapes, it takes skill and a strong work ethic to produce the winery’s pinot noir and chardonnay, and nativeborn Americans just aren’t willing to work that hard, Patricia Dudley said as a cold rain drenched the vineyard in the hills of Oregon.
“Who’s going to come out here and do this work when they deport them all?” she asked.
President Trump’s hard line against immigrants in the U.S. illegally has sent a chill through the nation’s agricultural industry, which fears a crackdown will deprive it of the labor it needs to plant, grow and pick the crops that feed the country.
Fruit and vegetable growers, dairy and cattle farmers and owners of plant nurseries and vineyards have begun lobbying politicians at home and in Washington to get them to deal with immigration in a way that minimizes the harm to their livelihoods.
Some of the farm leaders are Republicans who voted for Mr. Trump and are torn, wanting border security but also mercy toward laborers who are not dangerous criminals.
Farming uses a higher percentage of illegal labor than any other U.S. industry, according to a Pew Research Center study.
Immigrants working illegally in this country accounted for about 46 percent of America’s roughly 800,000 crop farmworkers in recent years, according to an Associated Press analysis of data from the U.S. Departments of Labor and Agriculture.
Stepped-up deportations could carry “significant economic implications,” a 2012 U.S. Department of Agriculture study said. If America’s unauthorized labor force shrank 40 percent, for example, vegetable production could drop by more than 4 percent, the study said.
The American Farm Bureau Federation says strict immigration enforcement would raise food prices 5 percent to 6 percent because of a drop in supply and because of the higher labor costs farmers could face.
In addition to proposing a wall at the Mexican border, Trump wants to hire 10,000 more Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers and has served notice that he intends to be more aggressive than the Obama administration in deporting immigrants.
ICE agents have arrested hundreds of immigrants since Trump took office, though how much of a change from the Obama administration that represents is a matter of debate.
Field hands have been among those targeted, with apple pickers detained in upstate New York and Guatemalans pulled over in Oregon on their way to a forest to pick a plant used in floral arrangements.
It doesn’t appear the arrests themselves have put a sizable dent in the agricultural workforce yet, but the fear is taking its toll.
Some workers in Oregon are leaving for job sites as early as 1 a.m. and staying away from check-cashing shops on payday to avoid dragnets. Farm employers are worried about losing their work forces.
Farmers and others who depend on immigrant labor are predicting a catastrophe as federal immigration agents focus on arrests of people who are in here illegally.