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

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Srebrenica Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs countermeasure at UN More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants 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.
Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prisoni
X
Heather Murdock
July 01, 2015 8:59 PM
As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Nubians in Kenya Face Land Challenges

East Africa's ethnic Nubians have a rich cultural history that dates back thousands of years, but in Kenya they are facing hardships, including the loss of lands they have lived on for generations. They say the government has reneged on its pledge to award them title deeds for the plots. VOA's Lenny Ruvaga reports.
Video

Video Military Experts Question New Russian Tank Capabilities

Russia has been showing off its new tank design – the Armata T-14. Designers claim it is 20 years ahead of current Western designs - and driving it feels like playing a computer game. But military analysts question those assertions, and warn the cost could be too heavy a burden for Russia’s struggling economy. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs