Why Farmers Are Worried About Trump's Immigration Plans

February 10th 2017

Lucy Tiven

Two-weeks into President Donald Trump's first term, the agricultural industry is wrestling with the feared impact of his deportation plans.


The prospect of an immigration crackdown is putting pressure on undocumented farm workers and the bosses who rely on their labor.

In a Thursday New York Times piece, several central California farm workers said they believe Trump's immigration policy could devastate their workforce, at least 50 to 70 percent of which comprises undocumented workers, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation.

Wheat Field at Sunset

“If we sent all these people back, it would be a total disaster,” Kingsburg farm operator Harold McClarty told the Times.

Undocumented workers take labor jobs most U.S. workers are not willing to fill, requiring grueling labor in intense weather conditions, as the AFBF reports.

"If we were to deport any significant number of farmworkers , it would have a tremendous impact on agriculture," President of national advocacy group Farmworker Justice Bruce Goldstein told ATTN:. "Because the majority of farmworkers are undocumented, mass deportations would be lead to the removal a significant percentage of the farm labor force. That would have a devastating impact on our ability to grow and harvest our fruits and vegetables."

Farmers Market

"Many fruits and vegetables are harvested by hand, by farmworkers, and we depend on them for our food," Goldstein continued. "The basic law of supply and demand means that the price of fruits and vegetables would increase because they would be in short supply."

Trump's pledge to modify visa programs could also have significant impact on the industry, as many farm operators rely on the H-2A visa program to bring farm workers into the country for seasonal jobs.

CA Farm

Some farmers remain confident Trump's immigration policy will keep the H-2A program in tact — or modify it to further benefit employers.

"Of course you heard about him saying 'build a wall,'" dairy farmer Tom Barcellos, who met with Trump, told NPR in a January 21 piece. "Well, what he told us is that wall is going to have a door in it, and we're going to talk to the right people that want to come in and work, and they're going to have an opportunity to do that."

But these farm operators hopes for Trump to maintain the status quo beg a question: what about the farmers?

"The current H-2 program, which provides temporary farmworkers and non-farm laborers for a variety of U.S. industries, is rife with labor and human rights violations committed by employers who prey on a highly vulnerable workforce," the Southern Poverty Law Center wrote in a damning 2013 report.

Advocates say the U.S. agriculture industry need not rely on a system of low-wage, below board, and temporary work. Instead, they advocate for a path to citizenship for undocumented farm workers.

"There’s a solution to this," Goldstein said. "What congress should do is create a program to allow the current undocumented farmworkers to earn legal immigration status and a path to citizenship. That would ensure that we have a lot of good workers, that we harvest our fruits and vegetables, and it would also be fair to the people who've been working years in agriculture very hard at very low wages."

pair of fruit on tree

Adrienne DerVartanian, director of immigration and labor fights for Farmworker Justice, argues creating a path to citizenship would also benefit farm operators.

"An above board agricultural labor relations system will lead to better working conditions, less employee turnover and higher productivity, all of which will help ensure a prosperous agricultural sector and improved food security," she writes in a 2015 blog post for advocacy group the American Immigration Council.