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.”
There's plenty of blame to go around. At the state level it has largely been Republican legislatures and governors that have clamped down on immigrants, while at the federal level the Obama administration has deported an alarming number of Latin American immigrants. But at a time of record unemployment that shouldn't be a problem. Aren't there unemployed people who will step in to do the work?
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.
This is a true conundrum. Americans don't want the jobs that immigrants are hired to undertake, but then we also don't want the immigrants to come do those jobs. Guest worker programs are offered as the solution, but they carry a lot of political baggage (mainly that it is hard to send them back home when we're through exploiting them). So, in the meantime we have a higher than necessary unemployment rate, and a food supply that is at risk.