Is Agriculture at the Center of the Immigration Debate?

Is Agriculture at the Center of the Immigration Debate?

The White House released a report this month attempting to connect the dots between immigration reform and the agricultural sector. This report comes on the heels of the immigration bill passed by the Senate in June, which provides an earned path to citizenship for unauthorized farm workers and a new (supposedly less cumbersome) guest worker program. The House has yet to pass an immigration bill.

Is the White House connecting the right dots? Is immigration overhaul critical to the labor needs on U.S. farms?

“Among all economic sectors, the U.S. agriculture sector is particularly reliant on foreign born workers,” according to the report. “Currently, the agriculture industry is hampered by a broken immigration system that fails to support a predictable and stable workforce. Moreover, there continue to be insufficient U.S. born workers to fill labor needs.”

Is the empirical evidence of a shortage as robust as the above claims? The authors of the White House report note “The most meaningful empirical indicator of labor scarcity is the coincidence of rising wages and falling levels of employment.” Citing a study published in the American Journal of Agricultural Economics, the White House finds “evidence of possible labor shortages in the production of fruit and vegetables and in support activities such as farm labor contractors and crew leaders, soil preparation, and planting and cultivating — particularly in counties in California, Michigan, and several other states.”

On Keith Good’s blog, he summarizes USDA Secretary Vilsack’s support of immigration reform. Make sure to scroll down to the bottom of the page at this link to find the section on immigration. Writing for the New York Times Caucus blog, Michael D. Shear offers the perspective of Steven Camarota, director of research for the Center for Immigration Studies, who thinks agriculture is not at the center of the immigration debate, but rather “It’s only at the center of a public-relations campaign.”

As a beginning farmer, what are your thoughts on immigration reform and its impact on agriculture? Have you experienced challenges related to meeting labor needs on your farm? Let us know in the comments section.

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