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Long Island Farmer: Without Migrant Labor, I’d Be Out of Business

Whenever Bob Nolan wants to hire a migrant worker for his family farm in Brookhaven, New York, he is required by law to also advertise the position for a week in publications in three U.S. states.

“Usually nobody ever responds, and if they do respond they last a day or two,” says Nolan. He recently spent $1,687 to advertise a job opening for Deer Run Farms, his 30-acre vegetable farm on Long Island.

The government thinks they are protecting jobs, but they are protecting them from nobody. The domestic people are not going to do the work. It has been proven time and time again, regardless of what you pay them.

The immigration law is designed to protect Americans from having jobs taken from them by migrant laborers, but Nolan says he hires guest workers from Mexico because Americans don’t want to do the work needed to plant and harvest his crops.

“The government thinks they are protecting jobs, but they are protecting them from nobody. The domestic people are not going to do the work. It has been proven time and time again, regardless of what you pay them,” he says.

U.S. farmers like Nolan have seen a substantial drop in the number of available field hands. From 2002 to 2014, the number of fulltime crop and field workers dropped by more than 20 percent, causing significant labor shortages on U.S farms.

Since 1898, Deer Run has been a family operation. Nolan’s great-grandfather started the farm with a few acres in Middle Village, New York, after immigrating to the United States from Germany. After moving a couple more times, the family settled in Brookhaven in 1953. “We’ve been here ever since,” he says.

Today, Nolan tends to the farm with his wife, Janet, and their two adult children, Samuel and Valerie. From April to November, the family hires six migrant workers from Mexico through a guest worker visa program. The workers live on site and help the family plant and harvest vegetables and herbs that include lettuce, carrots, beets, spinach, basil, and dill.

“They are good, hardworking people who just want to support their families back home. I’m happy to have them, because frankly I’d be out of business without them,” he says.

Nolan says he and fellow farmers are advocating for immigration reform that would simplify the guest worker program and eliminate overly burdensome regulations and costs. “There is a lot of red tape that is involved, and it’s really unnecessary,” he says.

In order to comply with the current program, Nolan says he must pay all of the guest workers’ travel costs and guarantee 75 percent of wages for a full season, even if weather events prevent them from working. Nolan thinks that’s excessive. He also opposes a rule that requires him to hire any qualified U.S. worker who wants a job, even if he doesn’t have vacancies; it means he has to either fire a current employee or pay a superfluous worker he doesn’t have the room to house.

Nolan says that those who believe the regulations protect American jobs don’t understand the business. “Why would we go through all the hassle if the domestic workforce would do the work?” he asks. “I think the government is resisting acknowledging that we need immigrants to do the work, and we need a simple guest worker program that enables them to come, get a visa, and go home at the end of the year without all the rigmarole.”

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