Just as in Georgia, the rest of the nation’s farms lean heavily on the very group of people targeted by the president. According to the American Farm Bureau Federation, the US harvest requires between 1.5 million and 2.2 million workers annually—and at least half of them are undocumented.
For years, the agriculture sector has grappled with farmworkers’ immigration statuses—but there are no easy fixes. After Georgia’s crackdown, Hall says, the state’s large growers eventually responded to the labor shortage by leaning on the H-2A immigration guest worker program, which gives migrants temporary visas without a path to citizenship. Indeed, the Trump family’s own Virginia vineyard applied to the US Department of Labor for six H-2A visas in December, weeks before his inauguration. But Hall says the H-2A program has failed to keep up with Georgia’s labor demand—and as recently as the spring of 2016, large-scale Georgia farmers were again complaining of six-digit losses as crops rotted and requests for H-2A workers went unanswered.
Even if the H-2A program were robust enough to “help growers sleep at night,” as Hall says, it wouldn’t exactly be a panacea for workers. In a 2013 report examining the program’s impact in the South, the Southern Poverty Law Center concluded that guest workers area “routinely cheated out of wages, forced to mortgage their futures to obtain low-wage, temporary jobs, and held virtually captive by employers.”
If farmers and farmworkers face a tough row to hoe, what about eaters? Most US consumers likely didn’t miss the blueberries or bell peppers that rotted in Georgia’s fields—they could opt for those grown in California or Mexico instead. But Trump appears to want to take the spirit of the state’s immigration policy nationwide.
Research by the Farm Bureau suggests that the federal immigration policy Trump is promoting could result in a massive farm labor shortage across the country, causing domestic fruit output to plunge anywhere from 30 to 61 percent and vegetable production to fall by 15 to 31 percent. Industrial-scale livestock operations and slaughterhouses also rely heavily on immigrants, so meat production could tumble by as much as 27 percent. As a result, the group concludes, US eaters are looking at food price hikes of 5 to 6 percent. That might not sound like much, but it’s sure to squeeze families on a tight budget. So Trump’s efforts to save us from “bad hombres” is bad news for farms—and for Americans who are just trying to put dinner on the table.
Read more: www.motherjones.com/environment/2017/06/immigration-farm-workers-employment-trump/