Brent Bloser is a lifelong farmer who must hire 15 to 20 people every season to help him harvest his cotton, peanuts, cucumbers, and tomatoes. But it’s getting harder for him to employ the foreign workers he needs. Not only is the current U.S. guest worker program a bureaucratic hassle, it also adds thousands of dollars to his labor bill every year, an expense that’s difficult for a small farm like his to absorb. That’s why he supports immigration reform that would make it easier to hire migrant workers. “I need to be able to get up in the morning and know I’ve got good help in the fields,” says Bloser, who owns Evergreen Produce, in Adel, Georgia. “I need that labor security to run my business.”
The current system is a far cry from the days when Bloser could contract local Mexicans to work for him and hire a crew leader to handle payroll. When a 2013 Georgia law required private businesses with more than 10 employees to start verifying employees’ social security numbers, many undocumented workers stopped showing up. “All of a sudden my labor pool got smaller and smaller,” says Bloser.
I need to be able to get up in the morning and know I’ve got good help in the fields. I need that labor security to run my business.
With American-born workers rarely interested in the grueling field work, Bloser is left to rely on the federal agriculture guest worker program, which set the 2016 minimum wage for Georgia at $10.59 per hour, well above the state minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.
Bloser would like to see a system that caters to each state’s specific industries so farmers can be ensured that workers arrive in time to manage each particular crop. “Each state and industry has their own needs,” says Bloser. “They’re different from the West to East Coasts.” As a farmer in rural Georgia, Bloser says he doesn’t have access to a pool of locals who are interested in the seasonal work and who have the agricultural skills of the Mexican laborers he’s worked with for more than 20 years.
Bloser also believes that meaningful immigration reform is long overdue for humanitarian reasons: Workers who’ve been in the United States for years should be offered a pathway to gain legal residency status. “The ones who are already here should be able to stay here, especially when they have 20-year-old kids who were born here and are already American citizens,” Bloser says. “Most of them are good people just trying to make a better life for themselves.”