Ag States Need Immigrant Labor on the Farm
SIOUX FALLS, S.D. - A big part of President-elect Donald Trump's campaign platform was immigration with a promise to deport 11 million people who are undocumented, but some farm groups are saying "not so fast."
According to the American Farm Bureau Federation, about half of all farm workers in this country are undocumented. The group supports a plan to set up a visa program that gives people residency but not citizenship.
Steve Suppan, senior policy analyst at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, said the Farm Bureau has to walk a fine line because their constituents are largely Republican and wouldn't back plans to make farm workers U.S. citizens.
"A very small needle that has to be threaded between providing agribusiness what it wants," he said, "and still somehow pretending to keep to the electoral pledge and the general idea of deporting the immigrants who are blamed for loss of employment."
The American Farm Bureau has called for immigration reform, saying there needs to be a new, more flexible visa program that meets the needs of farmers and workers but at the same time guarantees that the agricultural workforce is not subjected to mass deportation.
Suppan said the industry depends on minimum-wage- or in some cases less than minimum-wage-labor, but he expects there will be some deportations under a Trump administration.
"There are going to be, definitely, some fairly spectacular roundups, at least of the type that will show, you know, 'victory for America,' the immigrant-deportation variation on the 'Carrier saving 700 jobs'," he said. "So I expect to see a fair amount of public-relations outreach concerning migrants."
To the argument that immigrants are taking Americans' jobs, Suppan said legal citizens haven't wanted to work in the industry, especially for the wages that currently are being offered, which, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is on average $10.80 an hour, and even less for undocumented workers.
"Let's say you take the average wage up to $15 an hour, and you include benefits," he said. "That changes the pricing structure of agriculture, and then it becomes questionable whether, for example, the confined animal-feed operation business model is viable."
Some farmers say Trump's plan would lead to higher prices for fruits, vegetables, dairy and meat.
More information is online at iatp.org.