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Upstate, a Fourth Generation Farmer Makes Passionate Plea for Immigration Reform

Brian Reeves has a hiring problem. Before the fourth-generation farmer can hire seasonal employees from abroad, he must first advertise the job openings in the local media. But Reeves, who sells his produce to both national chains and mom and pop groceries, says he almost never gets any takers. Employees start picking at 6 a.m. and the labor is physical and hard. It is also seasonal, so he can’t promise year-round employment. “When [local New York residents] have expressed interest,” he says, “it’s with these conditions. Like they will have to leave the job by July to go to lacrosse camp.” As a result, foreign workers are the only people who will commit.

The U.S. has zero population growth, and we are aging out. We need immigrants.

As Reeves points out, there’s already a lot of uncertainty in the agricultural sector. “You are at the mercy of Mother Nature,” he says. Add to this the stress of navigating a Byzantine and arduous visa program, and Reeves is constantly worried that his berries, peppers, organic broccoli, and the other vegetables that he supplies to major stores like Walmart, will rot in the fields. To ensure a full harvest, he needs approval to bring approximately 50 workers from Mexico. But doing so requires Reeves to seek approvals from from federal and state labor departments as well as the Department of Homeland Security and to coordinate consular interviews for his applicants.

He says a guest worker program that didn’t require so much red tape could cut down on his costs and introduce more certainty to his business. But beyond his own financial well-being, Reeves is also concerned about his community. He’s in his late 50s, and has lived in upstate New York almost all of his life. He sometimes hears people asking, “Is that guy here legally? Is he one of us?” By bringing people out of the shadows, Reeves believes much of that speculation would be eliminated and help engender more support for newcomers. “The U.S. has zero population growth, and we are aging out,” he points out. “We need immigrants.”

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