UPDATE: Bush Reverses Raids, Migrant Workers Needed On Farms

By Jonathan Adams Oct 11, 2007

I wrote a story recently about the government’ attempt to get free labor off the backs of immigrants and prisoners. The Los Angeles Times reports that newly rewritten regulations will allow more immigrants to enter the country to bolster the lagging labor missing from the nation’s farms for fear of raids. While Bush scrambles to answer farmer’s need for cheap labor, he is still being criticized by conservatives who see this as a step back from the ‘crackdown’ that has led to raids deporting tens of thousands of immigrants. Farmers argue that the new regulations don’t go far enough, and “changes will not happen soon enough for the 2008 growing season.” While I agree that America’s farmers need more resources, that should never come in the form of cheap or free labor, by any means. Coming from a family of farmers though admittedly never fond of fieldwork, I have been curiously watching this debate around the immigration policies and their effect on agriculture. Called an ‘immigration crackdown’ by the Bush administration, these stringent rules are leading to the deportation of thousands of immigrant workers, and these policies are crippling the American agricultural industry. Migrant workers are being deported or,for fear of raids, are staying away from farms. All over the country, farmers and their harvests are being affected by their dwindling to nonexistent labor. A New York Times article about apple farmers feeling the strain says:

“We have three billion apples to pick this fall and every single one of them has to be picked by hand. It’s a very labor-intensive industry, and there is no local labor supply that we can draw from, as much as we try. No one locally really wants to pick apples for six weeks in the fall.”

The Chicago Tribune points out other industries that will also suffer with all the workers being deported:

Michigan farmers say they lost 20 percent of this spring’s asparagus crop because they lacked enough workers to pick it on time. It’s the same story for oranges and grapes in California, potatoes in Idaho, apples in Wisconsin. Some California growers are renting land south of the border to plant — outsource? — their lettuce and tomatoes. Others say they’ll be forced to switch to crops harvested by machine, meaning that labor-intensive crops such as strawberries and peaches will increasingly come from South America. The bottom line is produce could be harder to come by, and quite likely will be more expensive. Other industries are feeling the squeeze. There aren’t enough crab pickers in Maryland or horse walkers in Saratoga. Tourism bureaus all over the country are fretting about understaffing. Fewer immigrants will mean fewer landscapers, construction workers, dishwashers and pizza delivery drivers. Americans who want to hire a housekeeper or nanny might have to search harder, and pay more.

But as PBS’s NewsHour reports on farmers in Colorado, many farmers are finding creative solutions to their manpower problems. They have employed a prison labor force to make sure that they can gather all the grapes, and many farmers there hope the prison labor program will be expanded. The trajectory of that plan will place the agricultural economy on the backs of enslaved Black people again. We know that these workers are crucial to the economy, yet they are ignored by the government’s policies. Denying people of color access to adequate resources while perpetuating this forced labor system for private companies’ profits is unequivocally racist.