‘Our agricultural system would collapse’ if Trump starts mass deportations, says farm worker advocate

Leanna Garfield
Business Insider
February 3, 2017

The Trump administration is considering plans to deport immigrants who rely on public assistance and restrict the flow of foreign-born workers, according to drafts of potential executive orders obtained by the Washington Post.

Though the plans are merely under discussion, they reinforce Trump's commitment to anti-immigration policies — an agenda that also includes his proposed wall along the US-Mexico border and the deportation of undocumented immigrants.

At a February 2 summit hosted by Food Tank, a nonprofit think tank focused on food policy, researchers, chefs, and policy makers expressed concern over the effects Trump's potential immigration restrictions could have on American farms.

"If we were to engage in massive deportations, our agricultural system would collapse," said Bruce Goldstein, the president of Farmworker Justice, a nonprofit that aims to improve farmers' living and working conditions.

Of the 1.5 to 2 million people working in agriculture today, at least 50% to 70% of farm workers are undocumented immigrants, according to a recent report  by the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF).  If the US were to deport a significant portion of them, the move could result in labor and food production shortages, Goldstein said. 

The Trump administration's draft plans follow up on his campaign promises to crack down on immigration as a way to protect and create jobs for American workers — Trump has suggested that low-skilled immigration has reduced wages and job availability for US citizens, and that current immigration policies to not sufficiently prioritize American jobs. (Studies have generally found that not to be true, however.)

The AFBF report suggests that agricultural laborers would be hard to replace because of how grueling the work is —12-hour shifts in 100-degree weather (without overtime pay) are common. And relying on automated systems over human workers would be expensive for farm owners, especially on smaller farms, Goldstein says.

A large-scale labor shortage could therefore lead to a 5% to 6% jump in food prices for consumers, the report says.

"The majority of farm workers in this country are undocumented. We need them, we should respect them, and we should grant them the chance to have an immigration status and a path to citizenship," Goldstein said. "If we don't figure that out, agriculture is in trouble."