Opinion: Farmers Say Trump’s Immigration Policy Threatens Their Bottom Line

When consumers suffer the dreaded “buyer’s remorse” it is typically because they failed to do any research into their purchase or were tricked by false advertising or a corrupt seller into buying a bad product. One might have empathy for voters suffering political buyer’s remorse because they were sold a pack of lies by a corrupt politician they ardently supported, but that is a very big “might.” It is likely that invalid buyer’s remorse is the case with a growing number of American farmers who gladly voted for Trump even though he pledged to get rid of undocumented Hispanic immigrants conservatives claim are stealing Americans’ jobs. It isn’t exactly clear what drove farmers to support the maniac who promised to round-up and evict the highly-skilled immigrant labor force they depend on to survive, but they did and now they are beyond experiencing buyer’s remorse. They are incredibly nervous and worried sick because their livelihoods are in jeopardy because of Trump’s nativist immigration policy.

It isn’t just Trump’s ugly immigration policies that have already “hit farmers and ranchers hard;” his anti-immigrant comments are making it difficult, if not impossible, to find highly-skilled cheap immigrant labor to do back-breaking farm work.

This has been an issue since Trump took office, and finally last week CNN aired a short “special” segment about the issue where a farmer in California said he was unable to “get any workers this year.” And, Joel del Boscaya, the son of Mexican immigrants, said the problem became increasingly worse after the election and Trump’s pledge of “mass deportations” began in earnest. Mr. Boscaya had this to say about Trump’s mass deportation threats and blamed him for his business woes. He said:

That makes me nervous. Putting a wall on the border, that makes me nervous.” He also said, like farmers across the nation, that Trump’s anti-immigrant comments and policies “affect his bottom line because we can grow crops, but not pick them.

An asparagus farmer, Joe Del Bosque, echoed Boscaya’s worries and lamented that skilled immigrant field workers are so afraid of being rounded up and arrested while on the job, or even traveling to the fields, that he struggled to find enough skilled hands in March to pick his crop.

One Oregon farmer who would only speak on condition of anonymity and refused to even identify his crop because he feared “harsh reprisals” from federal I.C.E. (immigration) agents, said he may be forced to retire. He is already unable to find skilled immigrant labor and understands that no-one is willing to start toiling at dawn in the dirt and cold except for immigrant labor. And like nearly all farmers, he “expressed admiration” for their willingness to do the back-breaking work with expertise and efficiency that no temporary labor, machine or inmate is capable of doing.

According to an article in U.S. News, the American Farm Bureau Federation has already warned that Trump’s strict immigration enforcement would raise food prices 5 to 6 percent because of a drop in supply. As it is now, skilled migrant field workers are already easy targets for ICE agents who have arrested hundreds of immigrants. Whether it was apple pickers in upstate New York, or Guatemalans “pulled over” on their way to pick plants used in the floral industry, Trump’s anti-immigrant talk and policies are having a harmful effect on the agriculture industry.

Some immigration hardliners, including Trump, claim that undocumented Hispanic farm laborers are stealing jobs from good white Americans. But like everything out of the “alt-White” movement Trump leads, that is patently untrue and an easily disproven dirty lie. According to an economist’s study for the Center for Global Development in 2013 who looked at farms in North Carolina; “immigrant manual laborers had ‘almost zero’ effect on the job prospects of native-born U.S. workers.”

In 2012, the U.S. Department of Agriculture conducted a study and reported that “stepped-up deportations could carry significant economic implications” for consumers and the agricultural industry and everything related to putting food on Americans’ tables. The study reported that if America’s undocumented labor force shrank only 40 percent, “vegetable production could drop by more than 4 percent.” Combined with fruits and nuts, just a 4 percent drop in production will translate into considerably higher prices for consumers.

Some large agricultural employers are actively lobbying for reasonable visa and immigration reforms because they comprehend that what the Trump is doing is not going to accomplish anything but decimate their businesses. In fact, at a recent seminar held by an immigration attorney talking about immigrants’ legal rights, attorney Sarah Loftin was more than surprised that half of the attendees were winery owners or farmers. What Ms. Loftin didn’t know, or at least didn’t say, was how many of the agricultural employers were also Trump voters.

There is such a high level of concern among agricultural employers that they are desperately looking at unwanted contingency plans like expensive mechanization or switching to growing “less labor-intensive crops.” For example, officials in Vermont are “considering a vocational program to train inmates in dairy farming.”

One vineyard owner is less than enthused, and not at all optimistic about the alternatives being considered to replace skilled immigrant farm labor; “I don’t trust that temps off the street, or jailhouse labor, or whatever alternative they come up with would work.” It is a valid concern by every farmer who understands, through years of experience, that agricultural field work is backbreaking, dirty, and requires a skill level that takes years to perfect. There is a very short window to harvest, process, and ship fruits and vegetables to market with no room whatsoever for inefficiency or carelessness.

It is impossible to know for sure how many in the agricultural community voted for the man devastating their industry with his words and deeds. However, in California’s Great Central Valley that provides well over half the fruits, vegetables, and nuts for Americans, farmers overwhelmingly supported the Trump. Now they are weeping and gnashing their teeth because they are having a tough time getting their crops planted or harvested. And, it is noteworthy to say that it is not only because ICE agents are rounding up undocumented field workers; it is because of sheer terror of the possibility they will be abducted, detained, and deported on their way to the fields. Trump’s anti-immigrant talk and policies may give farmers’ buyer’s remorse, make them nervous and threaten their bottom line, but for the immigrant labor force, it is more than just nerve-wracking; exactly as Trump and his supporters intended.

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