We see their contributions every day, yet they could soon be targeted by the deportation plans of President-elect Donald Trump.
Two new pieces lift up backbreaking work of undocumented immigrant farmworkers, who make up as much as 1.75 million of the 2.5 million farmworker population, according to data from the US Department of Labor’s 2012 National Agricultural Workers survey.
These undocumented workers are vital to our economy, yet they’ve also been demonized for months by the President-elect’s racist rhetoric (not to mention the fact that he’s benefitted from their labor as well).
Now with Trump set to take office in just a matter of weeks, these undocumented workers and the farms that depend on them are facing uncertain futures. From NBC News:
Heriberto González, a farmworker in New York, has been in the United States for seven years.
At 26 years old, he says he has worked since he arrived in the country. He’s worked on fields picking an array of fruit and vegetables from asparagus to watermelon. But in Mexico, he had studied to be an engineer. The reason for his move was mostly due to his family’s financial position.
“The economic situation with my family was hard,” he said. “My dad couldn’t work because he had an accident a while back.”
So González traveled north in search of a better future, and found promise in the agricultural industry. He is not alone.
Among them is Boris Martinez, who is 25 years old. He is originally from El Salvador, where he was a computer engineer. It was his dream to come to the United States, carry out his professional career and own a house. Today, he works on a plant and flower field. He fears deportation.
“I am praying to God that (Trump) doesn’t follow through with the promises he stated in his campaign regarding immigration,” he said.
Without the work of these farmworkers — and US-born workers simply unwilling to take on this oftentimes agonizing work and grueling hours — US farmers face dire consequences that could reverberate down in many ways. From Huffington Post:
It’s not my kind of job. It’s just messy. I’m surprised that they don’t get a shitload of Mexicans willing to do that. They ship them all back to Mexico? These were the responses of four unemployed Americans in search of work when asked if they would consider working on a dairy farm. In the same area, when asking a Puerto Rican if he would do the work, he said “Yeah, if there’s work to do, I’ll start right now.” The average pay for one of these immigrant workers is $12 per hour from 2 a.m. to 12 p.m., with additional compensation of a living area on the farm. Simply put, the majority of Americans refuse to work in those conditions, and with 78 percent of farm workers in the United States foreign-born and 60 percent of farm workers in the United States undocumented, it’s no wonder why farm owners across the U.S. are panicking at the thought of immigration reform. Chances are the food you ate today was planted, plucked, and packed by workers who were born in Mexico or central America.
Our current legal immigration system does not meet the needs of the farm workers in the United States. Currently, workers “have to hide their faces like hardened criminals,” and tax payers have to pay billions of dollars to deport “peaceful people doing a job even unemployed Americans don’t want to do.” The only program in place to help immigrants to stay and work in the United States is the H-2A visa program which allows qualifying agribusinesses to hire foreign workers to fill temporary workloads. Most analysts, however, argue that it’s a broken system, riddled with bureaucratical inefficiencies, especially since this program only applies to seasonal workers. This means that for all other laborers, it’s a matter of when—not if—they’ll be picked up and placed in a bed of a detention center to be deported, all paid for by tax dollars. And once they’ve been deported, the workers come right back because they’ve been away from their original home so long that the United States has become their home. This cycle is not only a waste of taxpayers’ money but is also extremely hard on the agricultural economy.
As the demand for food products grows along with the population, farmers will increasingly struggle to keep up with demand, leading to the United States developing a reliance on foreign countries to produce our food. The Director of Congressional Relations at the American Farm Bureau Federation said that “If nothing changes, we’re going to continue to see more shortages and more instability in the markets… We can’t sustain in that environment, and we will get to the point where instead of importing our labor, we’re importing our food.” Solutions have been proposed, such as to create a “blue card” program to allow those who have proven their value as workers to stay, or to revise the H-2A program to make it easier for farmers to gain laborers as quickly as they need them. Almost all the ideas lead back to one answer, which is that we need to allow immigrants to come into this country to work the jobs Americans don’t want.