Immigrant Workers: Will Trump Give Farmers a Break?

The Shapiro Law Group

A recent softening of the Trump administration’s stance on undocumented migrant workers may signal some relief for the nation’s farming industry. From dairy farms to vineyards, the agricultural industry in the U.S. largely relies on the labor of migrants who settled in the country and those who cross the border temporarily for work each season. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, approximately half of the country’s crop farmworkers do not have legal work status.

Taking a Hardline on Migrant Workers

An over-arching theme of his campaign, President Trump’s tightened immigration enforcement policies have hit the nation’s farmworkers hard. Regular stops, roadside checkpoints, and raids have created fear among workers and employers alike. Due to the increased scrutiny, fewer undocumented workers are crossing into the country for seasonal or permanent jobs.

Compounding this issue, many long-term resident workers are aging out of the workforce. The USDA reports that between 2011 and 2017, the average age of immigrant workers in the U.S. rose from 37.3 to 41.6 years.

Effects on the Agricultural Industry

The Trump administration’s immigration crackdown caused a labor shortage for U.S. farms, impeding some farmers’ ability to harvest their fruit and crops. There are not enough American-born workers to fill the void. Without enough workers, a number of the nation’s smaller farms, some of which have been family-owned for multiple generations, are faced with reducing their acreages or selling their properties altogether. Some farms have also turned to higher-value crops to help offset their losses. Consumers may eventually see the effects of the shortage as well, through higher prices or product shortages.

Softening the Stance

In recent months, President Trump’s stance on work status verification has softened, perhaps signaling some relief for farmers who rely on undocumented workers. Although official steps have not yet been taken, the president has acknowledged that using the E-Verify system may not work for employers in all industries and there may be a need for other processes.

Some lawmakers, as well as the president, have suggested options such as work visas to help combat the issue of undocumented workers, while not disrupting the farming workforce. Through the H-2A program, qualifying U.S. employers or agents can hire foreign workers and bring them to the country to fill temporary agricultural positions. The period of stay for workers in the U.S. on H-2A visas is limited and cannot exceed three years, which creates an issue for farms that require year-round labor.