ICE isn’t af­ter farm­work­ers, ag sec­re­tary as­sures farm­ers gathered in Merced County

The Fresno Bee (Sunday) - - News - BY THAD­DEUS MILLER [email protected]­ced­

Some San Joaquin Val­ley farm­ers said Fri­day at a meet­ing with U.S. Sec­re­tary of Agri­cul­ture Sonny Per­due that they con­tinue to strug­gle to find enough work­ers to har­vest their crops, at­tribut­ing the scarcity to the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s hard stance on de­por­ta­tion.

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump has de­layed a na­tion­wide Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment (ICE) sweep in­tended to de­port peo­ple liv­ing in the United States il­le­gally, in­clud­ing fam­i­lies, say­ing he would give law­mak­ers two weeks to work out so­lu­tions for se­cur­ing the south­ern border.

But tough talk like that can be dif­fi­cult on farm­ers.

“All these crops, lit­er­ally all these fresh fruits and veg­eta­bles are hand­picked and most of these peo­ple that do these jobs are im­mi­grants,” Los Banos-area farmer Joe Del Bosque said. “They’re con­cerned about the ad­min­is­tra­tion de­port­ing them. It’s a huge con­cern.”

Del Bosque spoke Fri­day at the Merced County Fair­grounds in Los Banos, where Per­due and elected of­fi­cials held a town hall for farm­ers. The farmer asked Per­due to re­lay his mes­sage to Pres­i­dent Trump.

Most of the farm­ers in the build­ing raised their hands when asked if they are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the same dif­fi­culty.

Per­due said the pres­i­dent wants to re­form im­mi­gra­tion in a way to al­low mi­grant farm­work­ers to come and go legally, stress­ing that im­mi­gra­tion au­thor­i­ties are seeking out un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants who com­mit crimes.

“The pres­i­dent un­der­stands how im­por­tant for­eign-born work­ers are in this coun­try,” Per­due said.

When asked about peo­ple be­ing de­ported who have not com­mit­ted crimes, Per­due said he wasn’t aware of any.

Other farm­ers ex­pressed frus­tra­tion over moves by the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion. Arvin-area farmer Kent Sten­derup said his al­mond farm is feel­ing the im­pact of tar­iffs.

“The pres­i­dent said he would take care of us, he would help us,” he said. “We sup­port the pres­i­dent and his mo­tives. It’s worse than it was a year ago.”

China im­ports $2 bil­lion in ag prod­ucts from Cal­i­for­nia alone – mostly fruit, nuts and wine.

“We need to restart those ne­go­ti­a­tions back where we were and hope­fully we get trade that helps not only al­monds but re­ally all of Amer­i­can agri­cul­ture,” Per­due said.

Not all the strug­gles of farm­ers falls on Trump. They are also sub­ject to changes in the mar­ket, like the dairy farm­ers who asked the sec­re­tary for help saving their in­dus­try.

Fresno-area farmer Mark McAfee, who is also with the Cal­i­for­nia Dairy Cam­paign, said the state lost 2,700 of its 39,000 dairies last year.

“We can’t keep do­ing what we’re do­ing. Con­sumers are re­ject­ing 50,000-head dairies,” he said. “The en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pacts are pretty treach­er­ous when you re­ally look at it.”

GENE LIEB [email protected]­banosen­ter­

U.S. Sec­re­tary of Agri­cul­ture Sonny Per­due, cen­ter, answers ques­tions Fri­day at the Los Banos Fair­grounds.

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