News / USA

US Farmers Depend on Illegal Immigrants

Undocumented workers do the jobs Americans don't want

Most of the one million farm workers in America are immigrants, up to a half are thought to be in the United States illegally.
Most of the one million farm workers in America are immigrants, up to a half are thought to be in the United States illegally.

Multimedia

As summer fruits and vegetables ripen across U.S. farmland, the work of harvesting them depends on illegal immigrants.

Americans are sharply divided over what to do about illegal immigration in the United States. Conservatives have been harshly critical of the Obama administration for blocking a controversial Arizona law intended to identify and deport more illegal immigrants, who critics say are taking American jobs.

But farmers across the country have a different view. As Americans have moved away from agriculture, farm employers say they have come to rely on illegal immigrants to harvest the fresh fruits and vegetables on the nation's dinner tables.

Land of opportunity

The squash harvest is underway in the eastern state of Virginia. A crew of Hispanic workers are picking, washing, and packing the bright yellow vegetables destined for supermarkets across the East Coast.

Like generations of immigrants before them, they came to America seeking economic opportunities.

Many come illegally. One worker called simply Martinez to protect his identity says he paid a Mexican smuggler two thousand dollars to transport him across the U.S.- Mexico border. He walked across the desert for eight nights and slept by day before making his way here to Virginia.

"We come to advance ourselves, more than anything," Martinez says. "And in our country, we can't do anything. For a better future, I came to this side. And the truth is, we really suffer a lot to get across."

'They come for work'

Loreto Ventura first crossed the border illegally 30 years ago to work in the fields. He's a farm crew boss now, and a U.S. citizen.

"They come to work," he says. "They pay a lot of money to come here, and they risk [their] lives for work. And for work that's hard work."

Farm workers are up before dawn every morning and work all day in the hot sun. They spend the day stooping over picking vegetables and carrying heavy loads.

Of the roughly one million farm workers in the United States, most are immigrants, and an estimated one-quarter to one-half of them are illegal.

Farm work? No, thanks

With U.S. unemployment near 10 percent, many believe illegal immigrants are taking jobs from Americans. But when the United Farm Workers union launched a campaign offering to connect unemployed people to farm jobs, only three people accepted -- out of thousands of inquiries.

Union president Arturo Rodriguez says most balked at the difficult working conditions.

"They really don't have any idea what it is to work in agriculture today," he says. "We've just gotten so far away from that type of society that people have forgotten."

The United States has a guest worker program that would allow farm employers to hire immigrants legally. But farmers like this one who asked to remain anonymous describe it as a bureaucratic nightmare.

"Every farmer I know would gladly use the program and be legal," he says. "Every Hispanic would love to be legal. But the program is so onerous, it's so hard to use, and so expensive....And you don't necessarily get your people. [If] the crop is ready, [and] the people are not here, boom, it's a loss. Most growers will not take that chance."

He says he's tried to hire Americans, but he simply can't find enough able and willing do the work.

"The truth is, nobody is raising their kids to be farm workers," he says.

Lower wages?

But Jack Martin with the Federation for American Immigration Reform says that's not the whole story.

"I think it's true that parents have higher aspirations for their kids than agricultural labor," he says. "Nevertheless, there are a lot of unemployed people who, if they could make a living wage working in agriculture, I think, would do so."

Martin says wages, benefits and labor conditions for farm workers have remained relatively poor for decades because of the steady stream of illegal immigrant labor.

As for the guest worker program, he says, "It is true that it is more expensive than hiring the illegal immigrant that shows up with fake documents because of the fact that there are protections for the American workers they have to hire American workers if they are available first and there are protections for the foreign workers."

Without those protections, Martin says, illegal immigrants are at risk of exploitation.

A bill that would reform the immigration system is stuck in Congress. Meanwhile, farmers are increasingly concerned about losing their workforce to immigration crackdowns. They say without workers to pick the crops, fresh fruits and vegetables will rot in the fields of American farms.

And eventually, they say, those farms would wither away, too.

You May Like

China Investigates Former Powerful Security Chief

Former security chief and member of Politburo Standing Committee, Zhou Yongkang, under investigation for suspected 'serious disciplinary violation' More

India, US Look to Reset Ties During Kerry Visit

This week's talks will be first high level interaction between two countries since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took charge More

Video Young African Leadership Program Renamed to Honor Mandela

YALI program, launched by President Obama in 2010, aims to build skills in business, entrepreneurship, public management and civic leadership More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spati
X
Reasey Poch
July 28, 2014 7:18 PM
China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spat

China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video ESA Spacecraft to Land on a Comet

After a long flight through deep space, a European Space Agency probe is finally approaching its target -- a comet millions of kilometers away from earth. Scientists say the mission may lead to some startling discoveries about the origins of the water on earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Africans Arrive in US for Leadership Program

President Barack Obama's Young African Leadership Initiative has brought hundreds of young Africans to the United States for a six-week program aimed at building their knowledge and skills in fields such as public administration and business. Out of the 50,000 young Africans who applied for the program, just one percent was accepted. VOA's Laurel Bowman caught up with some of those who made the cut and has this report.
Video

Video In Honduras, Amnesty Rumors Fuel US Migration Surges

False rumors in Central America are fueling the current surge of undocumented young people being apprehended at the U.S. border. The inaccurate claims suggest the U.S. will give amnesty to young migrants from the region. As VOA's Brian Padden reports from Honduras, these rumors trace back to President Obama's 2012 executive order to halt deportations for some young undocumented immigrants already living in the United States.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid