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

Tired of Waiting, South Africans Demand Change ‘Now’

With chronic poverty and lack of basic services largely fueling recent xenophobic attacks, many in Rainbow Nation say it’s time for government to act More

Challenges Ahead for China's Development Plans in Pakistan

Planned $46 billion in energy and infrastructure investments in Pakistan are aimed at transforming the country into a regional hub for trade and investment More

Audio 'Forbidden City' Revisits Little Known Era of Asian-American Entertainment

Little-known chapter of entertainment history captured in 80s documentary is revisited in new digitally remastered format and book 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.
Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populationsi
X
April 24, 2015 10:13 PM
A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populations

A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Data Servers Could Heat Private Homes

As every computer owner knows, when their machines run a complex program they get pretty hot. In fact, cooling the processors can be expensive, especially when you're dealing with huge banks of computer servers. But what if that energy could heat private homes? VOA’s George Putic reports that a Dutch energy firm aims to do just that.
Video

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.
Video

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.
Video

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.
Video

Video TIME Magazine Honors Activists, Pioneers Seen as Influential

TIME Magazine has released its list of celebrities, leaders and activists, whom it deems the world’s “most influential” in 2015. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports from New York.
Video

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.
Video

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.
Video

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.
Video

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'

A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten.
Video

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.
Video

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.

VOA Blogs