Growers have difficulty fielding adequate crews to harvest crops; Washington has a shot this year at providing meaningful relief.
Except for illegal immigrants, no group has more at stake in the national fight over immigration reform than California farmers.
"It doesn't pay to plant a product if you can't harvest it," notes Mark Teixeira of Santa Maria, who says he had to let 22 acres of vegetables rot last year because he couldn't find enough field hands to gather the crop. "That hurts."
As security has tightened along the California-Mexican border, the flow of illegal immigrant labor into the nation's most productive agriculture state has slowed significantly, farm interests say. ...
Any time some demagogic politician bellows about rounding up all the illegal immigrants and shipping them back to their own country, it sends chills up farmers' spines.
Roughly two-thirds of the state's crop workers "are not properly documented," says Rayne Pegg, who heads the federal policy division of the California Farm Bureau.
Remember when farm owners were loudly complaining to any available journalist that there was a nationwide farm labor crisis due to overly restrictive immigration policy?
Well, they're still saying that. But now they are also worried that proposals to create a "path to citizenship" for immigrants currently living illegally in the United States might also create a farm labor shortage. As it turns out, the farm lobby is worried that once we legalize these immigrants, they won't want to work on farms anymore.
There's good reason for the farm lobby to worry about this. Once authorized to work in the U.S., many farm workers will no doubt seek employment in less onerous conditions. This happened after the last immigration amnesty in 1986. Unless a new wave of illegal immigration follows, farm owners would truly have to compete in the broader — legal — jobs market. Wages would have to rise or farms will have trouble attracting workers.
The farm lobby has a not-quite-novel solution to this situation: mandatory farm labor.
The Wall Street Journal explains:
The tight labor market explains why farm groups are pressing Congress to include, in any immigration overhaul, provisions that would ensure a steady flow of workers and prevent an exodus of newly legalized laborers from the sector.
Under one possible scenario, agriculture workers would earn permanent legal residency by working a certain number of days on farms each year; those who worked longer would get a green card sooner.
The essence of being a "guest" is that eventually you leave. But who cares about that?
Growers don't want to pay enough wages or pay for enough accommodations (e.g., shade tarps for stoop laborers) to get Americans to appy for these jobs, and they don't even want to pay enough to keep foreigners working at them. So, they want to bribe their foreign workers by having the rest of us give their workers legal permanent residency in return for accepting terrible wages from the growers.