WASHINGTON, DC - The Trump Administration’s hastily written, ill-advised executive orders on immigration have had many unintended consequences, including on the tourism industry and across the agricultural sector.
Over half of all United States farm workers are undocumented, according to the U.S. Department of Labor; over 8 million undocumented immigrants contribute to America’s workforce, according to Pew Research Center; and undocumented immigrants contribute some $11 billion to the US economy every year, according to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP).
Across the nation, Trump’s policies are exacerbating labor shortages and creating tidal waves of fear, which is why Senator Feinstein introduced the Agricultural Worker Program Act, co-sponsored by Senators Leahy (D-VT), Bennet (D-CO), Hirono (D-HI), and Harris (D-CA), to protect farm workers from deportation and put them on a pathway to legalization and citizenship.
Under the proposed legislation, to qualify for a ‘blue card’ (temporary residence and a work permit,) employees must have worked a minimum of 100 days over the past two years, and, to qualify for permanent residency, they would need to work for an additional three to five years in the agriculture industry.
A corresponding House bill is expected to be introduced shortly by Representative Luis V. Gutiérrez (D-IL).
While President Trump doubles down on pay-your-way visas for the wealthy, he’s threatening the futures and livelihoods of the immigrants who break their backs to feed our country - and the stability of communities that rely on them as both workers and consumers.
For example, if the agricultural industry stopped having access to immigrant labor, agricultural output would decrease by as much as $60 billion, with the dairy industry losing another $32 billion, which would lead to economic chaos.
Without undocumented immigrant workers, dairy farms estimate that milk would cost $8/gallon while strawberries would cost $15/pound.
In California, the nation’s crop goldmine, Trump’s policies have exacerbated a pre-existing labor shortage, according to the Californian:
“Farm workers – the majority who are undocumented - are fearful of being deported.
The dilemma has left elected officials, agriculture industry associations and growers scrambling for potential solutions, and much of the conversation has focused on immigration.
In Salinas, agriculture is a key economic driver and a $9 billion industry and one heavily reliant on migrant workers. Annually over 80% of the salad greens consumed in the U.S. are grown in the Salinas Valley.
During harvest season in what is the “salad bowl of the world,” there are some 45,000 field workers and another 2,500 who work in packing houses. According to Farm worker Justice, a Washington D.C. - based nonprofit advocacy group there are some 2.5 million farm workers in the U.S. and the majority are undocumented.
If they were deported “agriculture would collapse” said Bruce Goldstein president of Farm worker Justice.”
New York farmers, including Jeff Williams, director of public policy at the New York Farm Bureau, documented similar fears regarding the “ripple effect [Trump’s immigration policies] may have.
The fear is that more and more migrant laborers who could work here legally will elect to stay home instead of risking arrest or harassment by coming to the U.S., adding to an already worsening labor shortage. The concern, Williams says, stems in part from what farmers are already experiencing – a nervous and anxious workforce.
"On the first day of the Trump administration, we got calls from farmers saying, 'My workers are afraid to leave the farm,' " he said. "People are scared to show their face,” according to The Buffalo News.
In Pennsylvania, the adverse impacts of Trump’s policies and a corresponding increase in workplace raids from Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents are felt deeply in the mushroom sector, according to a new piece in the Wall Street Journal:
“The pool of workers is tight—and has shrunk in recent months. Growers attribute this partly to the strong economy in Chester County, where unemployment fell to 3.5 percent in March.
Another factor is fears over the Trump administration’s crackdown on illegal immigration, which growers say has prompted some workers to leave the U.S.
But the Trump administration’s more aggressive stance on illegal immigration has raised concerns even among documented workers, according to growers and immigrant advocates in Chester County. Growers say their workers are legal as far as they know, and each applicant must submit a federal I-9 form.
Last month, Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents arrested 12 people at Kaolin Mushroom Farms’ Landenberg, Pa., site in what the agency called a targeted enforcement action. Mike Pia, Kaolin’s president, said the agents told company officials they were looking for four people. None of those four was present or worked for Kaolin, he said, and the 12 who were arrested worked for a subcontractor.”
According to Lynn Tramonte, Deputy Director of America’s Voice Education Fund, “Trump’s anti-immigrant policies offer zero solutions, and a lot of heartache for immigrants, their families, and entire industries. Immigrants are vital to America’s farms and farming communities. It’s time for Congress to pass immigration reform like the Feinstein-Gutierrez bill, which recognizes reality and treats farm workers with the appreciation and respect they deserve.”