Taste

From Farm To Table: The Lives Of The Immigrants Who Grow Your Food

The majority of Americans refuse to work in these conditions.

It’s not my kind of job. It’s just messy. I’m surprised that they don’t get a shitload of Mexicans willing to do that. They ship them all back to Mexico? These were the responses of four unemployed Americans in search of work when asked if they would consider working on a dairy farm. In the same area, when asking a Puerto Rican if he would do the work, he said “Yeah, if there’s work to do, I’ll start right now.” The average pay for one of these immigrant workers is $12 per hour from 2 a.m. to 12 p.m., with additional compensation of a living area on the farm. Simply put, the majority of Americans refuse to work in those conditions, and with 78 percent of farm workers in the United States foreign-born and 60 percent of farm workers in the United States undocumented, it’s no wonder why farm owners across the U.S. are panicking at the thought of immigration reform. Chances are the food you ate today was planted, plucked, and packed by workers who were born in Mexico or central America.

In the United States, facilities known as immigrant detention centers are required to fill their beds with illegal immigrants every night. Even workers who have been employed at these farms for years and whose employers consider family can end up in one of these facilities. As more and more immigrants are deported, we lose labor in a market that Americans won’t fill. “They’re good at their jobs,” said an anonymous farm owner, referring to immigrant workers, and when they get deported farm owners are left without a source of labor. Many of the owners feel as though there is no reason to even grow their business if at any second their workers can be deported by the government. A dairy farmer in New York said that, “day to day, we’re caught in between the crosshairs of the government that makes the laws and the agencies that enforce the laws”. While everyone is just doing their jobs, the disconnect seems to lie between those who are making the decisions in the government.

Our current legal immigration system does not meet the needs of the farm workers in the United States. Currently, workers “have to hide their faces like hardened criminals,” and tax payers have to pay billions of dollars to deport “peaceful people doing a job even unemployed Americans don’t want to do.” The only program in place to help immigrants to stay and work in the United States is the H-2A visa program which allows qualifying agribusinesses to hire foreign workers to fill temporary workloads. Most analysts, however, argue that it’s a broken system, riddled with bureaucratical inefficiencies, especially since this program only applies to seasonal workers. This means that for all other laborers, it’s a matter of when—not if—they’ll be picked up and placed in a bed of a detention center to be deported, all paid for by tax dollars. And once they’ve been deported, the workers come right back because they’ve been away from their original home so long that the United States has become their home. This cycle is not only a waste of taxpayers’ money but is also extremely hard on the agricultural economy.

As the demand for food products grows along with the population, farmers will increasingly struggle to keep up with demand, leading to the United States developing a reliance on foreign countries to produce our food. The Director of Congressional Relations at the American Farm Bureau Federation said that “If nothing changes, we’re going to continue to see more shortages and more instability in the markets… We can’t sustain in that environment, and we will get to the point where instead of importing our labor, we’re importing our food.” Solutions have been proposed, such as to create a “blue card” program to allow those who have proven their value as workers to stay, or to revise the H-2A program to make it easier for farmers to gain laborers as quickly as they need them. Almost all the ideas lead back to one answer, which is that we need to allow immigrants to come into this country to work the jobs Americans don’t want.

As said by Martin Herron, who worked at the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement from 1998-2011, “Immigration is a battle that cannot be won.” Martin suggests that we create an amnesty to allow immigrants into the country because we need them. For the Hispanics who come to the United States, it’s a matter of migration north for them. Herron stated, “If you’re standing on one side of the street and you’ve got nothing, and you look over to the other side of the street and they have everything, to me it’s just common sense, why can’t I cross the street?”

Instead of trying to find a way without immigrants, why don’t we find a way to keep them and continue to allow them to be a part of the American story of agriculture?

Works Cited:

  • CNNMoney. “Trump’s Immigration Policy Could Hurt U.S. Farmers.” YouTube. YouTube, 30 Aug. 2016. Web. 11 Dec. 2016.
  • “Immigration and the Rural Workforce.” USDA ERS - Immigration and the Rural Workforce. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Dec. 2016.
  • “Immigration and Labor.” Immigration and Labor | Farmworker Justice. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Dec. 2016.
  • Maly, Brandon. “Immigration Reform and Agriculture: What Are the Options?” AgWeb - The Home Page of Agriculture. N.p., 14 July 2015. Web. 11 Dec. 2016.
  • Ministry, National Farm Worker. “Farm Workers & Immigration.” National Farm Worker Ministry. N.p., 23 Mar. 2012. Web. 11 Dec. 2016.
  • Reform, Federation For American Immigration. Illegal Immigration’s Effect On The Agriculture Industry | FAIRUS (n.d.): n. pag. Web.
  • Vicenews. “The Worst Job In New York: Immigrant America.” YouTube. YouTube, 23 July 2014. Web. 11 Dec. 2016.
  • Thank you so much to Mary Claire Kruberg for the inspiration!