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NPR: Immigrant Workers and Their Crucial Role in US Food Production

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This week, the NPR show “All Things Considered” is highlighting stories from Harvest Public Media, a public radio reporting project that focuses on agriculture and food production issues.  Each story highlights the struggles of some of the many immigrant workers that play a crucial role in food production across the U.S.

In yesterday’s segment, they highlighted workers at the Tyson Foods Inc. chicken-processing complex in Noel, Missouri.  Many of the Somali newcomers in the area describe feeling unwelcome in the local community, which has seen a large increase in the number of immigrants in recent years.  Furthermore, many workers are struggling to find affordable housing and there is a long waiting list for open units at the local housing authority.

On top of these difficulties, immigration issues are also a problem for many workers.  “We have kids who are afraid because their parent has been stopped on their way to catch chickens and they are concerned that they will be deported,” Noel Elementary School Principal Angie Brewer said during the segment.

Another older NPR story from October highlights southern New Mexico’s chili harvesting and production industry. In the fall, New Mexico farmers need hundreds of workers to handpick the chili crop.  Even though they pay about $14 an hour, they can’t find enough help.  Meanwhile, other countries where hot peppers are popular and where the labor force is plentiful have surpassed chili production in the U.S.  If New Mexico had an increased labor pool, they could increase their harvest.

“The U.S. agriculture industry is trying to find more reliable sources of labor,” explained NPR’s Ted Robbins.  “It’s pushing Congress for immigration reform, which includes a streamlined guest worker program.  Migrants could come, work and go home with less hassle.”