Fear­ing worker short­age, farm­ers push back on im­mi­gra­tion

The Washington Times Daily - - NATION - BY AN­DREW SELSKY

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.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

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.

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