Long Island Agriculture Complicates Immigration Narrative

Agricultural production in Long Island, New York is complicating longstanding narratives of illegal immigration, some reports say, leading many farmers and agricultural advocates to question the usefulness of tough immigration laws.

Over the past few years, several states have passed tough new immigration laws designed to curb the employment of illegal immigrants and undocumented workers. States like Arizona, Georgia, and Alabama recently passed legislation that would require all employers to verify the immigration status of their workers and would empower law enforcement to ascertain the immigration status of individuals they detain.

These laws, farmers say, have had a disastrous impact on local agricultural. Georgia and Alabama have suffered millions of dollars in lost farm revenue due to critical labor shortages. Efforts to employ convicts, parolees, and ordinary citizens have proved largely fruitless, with many farmers still worried about labor shortages during the upcoming spring harvest.

Far removed from the South and Southwest, the situation in Long Island, along with the realities in Georgia and Alabama, has complicated a longstanding narrative of illegal immigrants stealing jobs from American citizens.

According to the head of the Long Island Farm Bureau, illegal immigrants make up about 60 percent of the Long Island farm labor population. Contrary to popular belief, these workers are not employed because they can be paid well below minimum wage. The standard rate for farm workers, according to the Long Island Farm Bureau, is $10 an hour.

A major cause of the high wages is fierce competition for limited labor. A solution that would benefit both agricultural producers and undocumented workers would be an overhaul of work visa policy, something that the national Farm Bureau has been pushing for months.

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Written by: Justin Ellison / Farm Plus Staff Writer