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Nationally, more than half of the nation’s 2.5 million seasonal farmworkers are undocumented. The simple fact is, without the back-breaking work of immigrants — undocumented and otherwise — there would not be food on our tables.
It’s a fact lost among the toxic rhetoric of Republican candidates this election season. Farmworkers play a vital role in sustaining our nation’s agricultural and farming economies, and that reality was highlighted by a dairy farmer, Jason Vorpahl, who asked Ted Cruz a question during this week’s Republican town hall in Wisconsin.
“We offer a competitive wage and offer full benefits to all our employees,” Vorpahl said, who operates a 2800 head dairy farm in the state. “Most farms in the dairy industry cannot find American-born workers to milk the cows and take care of them. The only ones willing to do this hard work are Latino immigrants who, if we didn’t have them for eight hours, there would be a crisis across the country in our industry. What is the short-term solution to keep our current labor force intact? And what is the long-term solution moving forward?”
Sadly, we’re certainly all too familiar with Cruz’s “long-term solution” on updating our nation’s immigration reform system — it’s no solution at all. Cruz’s sole contribution to the 2013 Senate immigration reform bill he ultimately voted against was a nasty amendment preventing all undocumented immigrants from ever being able to attain citizenship, and, during his Presidential race, he has adopted an immigration stance calling for “attrition through enforcement” – also known as “self-deportation.”
So naturally, the only response Cruz could muster was to repeat the farmer’s concerns back to him: “…In the agriculture world, I think the first option should be trying to find American workers. Now that may mean wages come up. It may mean that we have to use more tools,” citing the example of a pepper farmer in Arizona who “actually went and invented a new tool to help pick the peppers. And then he went down to the local community college and he ended up hiring Americans coming out of the community college.”
But as Esther Lee reported last year, farmers across the nation have indeed attempted to recruit native-born workers to replace immigrant workers, oftentimes with disastrous results:
But without undocumented farmworkers, fruits and vegetables will rot in the fields as they did in 2010 after the passage of Georgia’s anti-immigrant laws. Apples are a $1.5 billion-a-year industry in Washington State, where growers have been dealt with a series of picker shortages over the past four years in part due to strong anti-immigrant tensions in agricultural communities. One orchardist recalled that only five workers remained of the 149 people that were referred to him earlier in the season, the Seattle Times reported.
Idaho, the third largest dairy state behind California and Wisconsin, relies on undocumented farmworkers to work the long hours in its $3.25 billion dairy industry. A lobbyist for Idaho’s dairy industry estimated that the workforce consisted of “probably about 70 percent foreign-born labor,” while Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID) put the number closer to 90 percent. But like other owners in the agricultural industry, dairy farm owners face worker shortages. One dairy farm owner complained that domestic workers are hard to find because “people in the domestic labor pool don’t have the skills [the owner] needs” and those workers are harder to hire and retain. He also said that domestic workers “last maybe one, two, three days at the most,” KTVB reported.
It’s precisely why Wisconsin and America’s farmers welcomed the Senate’s 2013 effort to update our nation’s immigration system, a bill Cruz attempted to derail. There are millions who labor on our nation’s farms and ranches across America, working hand-in-hand with farmers to keep their industries alive, and they need help — and that’s nothing Ted Cruz is willing to provide.