LONOKE, Ark. (KTHV) – Immigration reform is one of our nation’s most hotly debated topics, but this week, some Arkansas farmers have become more vocal about the issue. They said without reform, they are losing $320 million and 22 farming days.
Bob Barnhill at Barnhill Orchards has had some of the same workers for ten years. Each season, they come to Arkansas from Mexico. And every two weeks, he said they send money home. Barnhill added that getting them here is not easy and costs a lot of money.
“It is impossible to farm without migrant labor,” said Barnhill.
Barnhill would know. He has had this 300 acre farm for 34 years. They only farm about half. But, Barnhill says, he could not do it with just the help of his family alone
“We would have to change our operation dramatically,” he explained. “You cannot hire anyone here locally to come out and do it.”
Barnhill employs five seasonal workers through the H-2A program—temporary agricultural work. Employers of H-2A workers have to prove that they are unable to hire people locally before they are able to bring foreign nationals to the US to fill temporary jobs (See US Citizenship and Immigration Services: http://on.kthv.com/1tN6Q8d)
“Most everybody wants a job, but very few people want to work,” said Barnhill. “They need to make it easier for people who want to work to come up here.”
Barnhill said workers usually put in about 70 hours a week, and they are making $9.83 an hour. They stay for about 8 months and then go back to Mexico. Barnhill is for immigration reform and believes the way they have to go about getting migrant workers is time consuming and costs a lot of money.
“We need a good stable workforce,” said Arkansas Farm Bureau Vice President of Public Policy Stanley Hill, who backs reform. “We are looking for a program to allow the needed workers to be in place in a timelier manner.”