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

TEXT SIZE - +

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

Analysts Warn of Regional Proxy Conflict in Afghanistan

Analysts warn if Kabul’s neighbors do not start to cooperate, competing desires for influence could deteriorate into a bloody proxy war in the country More

Saudi Intelligence Chief Resigns

Bandar bin Sultan came under criticism for supporting al Qaida, prompting King Abdallah to wrest Syria operations away from him in February, handing them to Interior Minister Prince Mohammed bin Nayef More

Poetry Magazine editor Don Share talks what makes a good poem with VOA's David Byrd

What makes a good poem? And is poetry as viable an art form as it once was? To find out, VOA's David Byrd spoke to Don Share, the editor of Poetry Magazine. 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.
Google Buys Drone Companyi
|| 0:00:00
...
 
🔇
X
George Putic
April 15, 2014
In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Ray Bonneville Sings the Blues and More on New CD

Singer/songwriter Ray Bonneville has released a new CD called “Easy Gone” with music that reflects his musical and personal journey from French-speaking Canada to his current home in Austin,Texas. The eclectic artist’s fan base extends from Texas to various parts of North America and Europe. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin.
Video

Video Millions Labor in Pakistan's Informal Economy

The World Bank says that in Pakistan, roughly 70 percent work in the so-called informal sector, a part of the economy that is unregulated and untaxed. VOA's Sharon Behn reports from Islamabad on how the informal sector impact's the Pakistani economy.
Video

Video Passover Celebrates Liberation from Bondage

Jewish people around the world are celebrating Passover, a commemoration of their liberation from slavery in Egypt more than 3,300 years ago. According to scripture, God helped the Jews, led by Moses, escape bondage in Egypt and cross the Red Sea into the desert. Zlatica Hoke reports that the story of the Jewish Exodus resonates with other people trying to escape slave-like conditions.
Video

Video Police Pursue Hate Crime Charges Against Kansas Shooting Suspect

Prosecutors are sifting through the evidence in the wake of Sunday’s shootings in a suburb of Kansas City, Missouri that left three people dead. A suspect in the shootings taken into custody is a white supremacist. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, he was well-known to law enforcement agencies and human rights groups alike.
Video

Video In Eastern Ukraine, Pro-unity Activists Emerge from Shadows

Amid the pro-Russian uprisings in eastern Ukraine, there is a large body of activists who support Ukrainian unity and reject Russian intervention. Their activities have remained largely underground, but they are preparing to take on their pro-Moscow opponents, as Henry Ridgwell reports from the eastern city of Donetsk.
Video

Video Basket Maker’s Skills Have World Reach

A prestigious craft show in the U.S. capital offers one-of-a-kind creations by more than 120 artists working in a variety of media. As VOA’s Julie Taboh reports from Washington, one artist lucky enough to be selected says sharing her skills with women overseas is just as significant.
Video

Video UN Report Urges Speedier Action to Avoid Climate Disaster

A new United Nations report says the world must switch from fossil fuels to cleaner energy sources to control the effects of climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released the report (Sunday) following a meeting of scientists and government representatives in Berlin. The comprehensive review follows two recent IPCC reports that detail the certainty of climate change, its impacts and in this most recent report what to do about it. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble has the details.
AppleAndroid