California farming and our food sources

From the New York Times comes this information on the nature of immigration in California.

Mr. Trump’s immigration policies could transform California’s Central Valley, a stretch of lowlands that extends from Sacramento to Bakersfield. Approximately 70 percent of all farm workers here are living in the United States illegally, according to researchers at University of California, Davis. The impact could reverberate throughout the valley’s precarious economy, where agriculture is by far the largest industry. With 6.5 million people living in the valley, the fields in this state bring in $35 billion a year and provide more of the nation’s food than any other state.

Now he worries that a Trump administration could mandate a Homeland Security Department program called E-verify, which was aimed at stopping the use of fraudulent documents. In all but a few states, the program is voluntary and only a small fraction of businesses use it.

Farmers here have faced a persistent labor shortage for years, in part because of increased policing at the border and the rising prices charged by smugglers who help people sneak across. The once-steady stream of people coming from rural towns in southern Mexico has nearly stopped entirely. The existing field workers are aging, and many of their children find higher-paying jobs outside agriculture.

Many growers here and across the country are hopeful that the new administration will expand and simplify H-2A visas, which allow them to bring in temporary workers from other countries for agricultural jobs. California farmers have increasingly come to rely on the program in the last few years.

Yet, many of Mr. Trump’s supporters say they are counting on him to follow through on his promises. Dan Stein, president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, said that limiting the use of foreign labor would push more Americans into jobs that had primarily been performed by immigrants.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s programming computers or picking in fields,” he said, “Any time you’re admitting substitutes for American labor you depress wages and working conditions and deter Americans.”

Mr. Marchini, the radicchio farmer, said he felt similarly after seeing generations of workers on his family farm send their children to college and join the middle class. Mr. Marchini’s family has farmed in the valley for four generations and he grew up working side by side with Mexican immigrants.

He said that no feasible increase in wages or change in conditions would be enough to draw native-born Americans back into the fields.

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