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Are the Trump Administration’s Immigration Policies Hurting Farmers in the US?

It is harvest time across the US. Fruits and vegetables are ripe on the fields ready for picking, packaging and distribution throughout the length and breadth of the land. And some destined for the export market. The agricultural industry in the US accounts for approximately $170 billion to the gross domestic product per annum. However, that contribution to the GDP may be under threat as US immigration laws are tightened under the Trump administration.

US farmers depend on migrants, for a large percentage of their 2.4 million farm labor force, particularly, migrant workers from Mexico. It is estimated that up to 50% of these workers are undocumented and cannot work legally in the US. That is what the Trump administration is trying to stamp out. It is clamping down on illegal immigrants. The stated purpose is to preserve US jobs for US citizens. However, few US citizens are prepared to do the back breaking jobs required on the farms. They have many other easier options available to them.

The number of farm workers has been gradually declining in recent years. States like California, Arizona, New Mexico,Texas and Alabama have been the hardest hit. In the past five years 40% of farmers have not been able to get all their labor requirements for the year in California. The situation is not better in the other states. Farmers in the citrus, grape, berries, sweet potato and other products are on the receiving end of this labor shortage. Wages in the agricultural sector have also improved in recent years. As a result of these farmers are resorting more and more to machinisation to try and alleviate the labor shortage problem.

Many immigrant farm workers are now returning to their countries of origin as they find US immigration laws to be difficult to contend with particularly as border patrols are strengthened and in some cases resulting in separation of families. The H-2A visa introduced by the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 is intended to allow farmers to apply for a specific number of temporary or seasonal workers to supplement their seasonal labor requirements throughout the year and may be granted up to a full year. Farmers are feeling the pinch of increased border patrols as the number of migrant workers decline and their crops are left unharvested and rotting on the fields resulting in huge losses. It is predicted that if the trend continues, the US might increasingly be forced to supplement its food requirements via imports, despite the fact that agricultural land is availlable but cannot produce enough due to shortage of labor.

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