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Farm Groups Fear Impact of Deportations on Ag Industry

Farmers say consumers will pay more for fruits and vegetables if millions of undocumented workers are deported. (kconnors/morguefile)
Farmers say consumers will pay more for fruits and vegetables if millions of undocumented workers are deported. (kconnors/morguefile)
December 26, 2016

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- President-elect Donald Trump campaigned on a promise to deport as many as 11 million undocumented immigrants, a plan that has some farm groups raising a red flag.

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 granting workers 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 they wouldn't back plans to make farm workers U.S. citizens.

“[There’s] A very small needle that has to be threaded,” Suppan said, "between providing agri-business what it wants and still somehow pretending to keep to the electoral pledge and the general idea of deporting the immigrants who are blamed for the 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 of 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 currently being offered, which, according to the USDA, is on average $10.80 an hour, and even less for undocumented workers.

"Let's say you take the average wage up to an average of $15 an hour, and you include benefits,” Suppan said. "That changes the pricing structure of agriculture, and then 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, veggies, dairy and meat.

More information is available at iatp.org.

Mona Shand, Public News Service - FL