California Farmers Short of Labor, and Patience

HURON, Calif. — When Chuck Herrin, who runs a large farm labor contracting company, looks out at the hundreds of workers he hires each year to tend to the countless rows of asparagus, grapes, tomatoes, peaches and plums, he often seethes in frustration.

It is not that he has any trouble with the laborers. It is that he, like many others in agriculture here, is increasingly fed up with immigration laws that he says prevent him from fielding a steady, reliable work force.

“What we have going on now is a farce — a waste of time and money,” said Mr. Herrin, a lifelong Republican who grew up in central California, adding that the country should be considering ways to bring workers in, not keep them out. “We need these people to get our food to market.”

California is home to an estimated 2.5 million illegal immigrants, more than in any other state. Perhaps nowhere else captures the contradictions and complications of immigration policy better than California’s Central Valley, where nearly all farmworkers are immigrants, roughly half of them living here illegally, according to estimates from agricultural economists at the University of California, Davis…

report released this month by the Partnership for a New American Economy and the Agriculture Coalition for Immigration Reform, two business-oriented groups that are lobbying Congress, said foreign-grown produce consumed in the United States had increased by nearly 80 percent since the late 1990s. The report argues that the labor shortages make it impossible for American farmers to increase production and compete effectively with foreign importers. While the amount of fresh produce consumed by Americans has increased, domestic production has not kept pace, and the report attributes a $1.4 billion annual loss in farm income to the lack of labor.

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About NAE

New American Economy is a bipartisan research and advocacy organization fighting for smart federal, state, and local immigration policies that help grow our economy and create jobs for all Americans. More…