California Agriculture Suffering Without Immigrant Labor

While get-tough immigration policies have done a lot to limit illegal immigration, they are also costing California farmers significant amounts of labor and money, a Pew Hispanic Center study suggests.

For the past several years, immigration has been a hot button issue in American politics. As far back as the 2004 election, immigration has played an important part in the American political debate. President George W. Bush, for example, supported measures that would offer illegal immigrants a path to legalization. However, Bush’s proposed amnesty created a rift in the GOP whose legacy has been a gradual embrace of tougher and tougher immigration policies.

According to the Pew Center, these tough new policies are having harmful repercussions on California agriculture. For generations, Mexican workers would illegally cross the border in the spring and work on California farms until they returned to Mexico in the fall. In 2005, one million immigrants illegally crossed the border. In 2011, fewer than 300,000 did. This significant drop, while not solely in the agriculture sectir, represents a major decline in potential labor.

About $3 billion worth of California’s $40 billion agriculture sector requires hand picking. Given the difficulty that states like Arizona, Alabama, and Georgia have had luring American citizens into grueling agricultural jobs, many California farmers worry that a drop in available labor could mean a significant drop in profits. While it’s still too early to determine the full economic costs of tougher immigration policies nationwide, it is likely that the loss of labor could be a major blow to California farm production.

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Written by: Justin Ellison / Farm Plus Staff Writer