This month’s post is on President Trump’s Executive Order signed in January 2017, which outlines some of his immigration policies that were an integral piece to his campaign platform. While it appears the new immigration policies are merely focused on increasing border control and protection, expanding the physical barrier along the border with Mexico, and deporting individuals that have entered the United States without authorization, there are underlying consequences that extend beyond the obvious. For example, the impact of the policies on agriculture.
According to data compiled by the U.S. Department of Labor’s National Agricultural Workers Survey, between 2007 and 2009, 71 percent of farmworkers were immigrants, and of the 71 percent, 48 percent were not legally authorized to work in the United States.
This data shows just how big of a role immigrants, and especially undocumented immigrants, play in agriculture. This often is due to the fact that farmers cannot fill farm positions with American-born workers. For example, Labor-intensive farm positions are especially hard to fill despite farmers paying, on average, $1-$3 above minimum wage with hourly wages as high as $17 in some parts of the country.
Even though there are programs like the H-2A Temporary Agricultural Program, which allows foreign, nonimmigrant farmworkers to work domestically short term and seasonally to supplement the shortage of domestic workers, they are often unable to completely fulfill the demand needed to maintain U.S. agriculture. Furthermore, H-2A is not widely used because it is expensive and involves a long application process for farmers. These factors have lead to the number of farmworkers participating in the program to make up less than 10 percent of workers in agriculture. Therefore, foreign-born individuals are more likely to fill these positions, leaving the United State’s agriculture industry in a precarious place should farmworkers be increasingly deported.
Trump’s approach to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) departs from the previous administration’s approach, which focused on high-priority categories, namely undocumented immigrants with a criminal record. The current administration focuses not only undocumented immigrants with a criminal record, but those that have committed minor offenses, including traffic offenses, or no offense at all.
ICE released a statement after Trump’s 100th day in office that there has been a 37.6 percent increase in arrests of known or suspected undocumented immigrants between January 22nd and April 29th since the same time period last year. That number equates to more than 41,000 arrests in that timeframe. And arrests of individuals with no criminal offenses increased nearly 39 percent compared to this time last year.
So how do the new policies affect agriculture?
A report published by the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) found our agriculture industry needs between 1.5 and 2 million workers to maintain productivity levels. Using the statistics published by the National Agricultural Workers Survey, 71 percent of 1.5 million means that a likely 1.065 million farm workers that are foreign-born, and of that number, 511,200, or 48 percent, are working without authorization in the United States. If more than half a million farmworkers went missing from the agriculture industry, and American workers did not fill those positions, the effects could be devastating. This labor shortage would predominantly, but not exclusively, affect crops that rely on labor-intensive work, like fruits, vegetables, and tree nuts. Labor has been decreasing over the years, but with the Executive Order and proposed immigration policies, the labor shortage is only going to continuously decline.
A comprehensive study by Partnership for a New American Economy (PNAE) found that the farm labor shortage in 2012 led to a $3.3 billion loss in GDP growth and a $1.3 billion farm income loss. With recent and continuing enforcement of arrests and deportation of undocumented farmworkers, the agriculture industry is facing a $30 to $60 billion output loss. With this loss, Americans could see food prices increase 5 to 6 percent, making it even harder for low-income households to provide food for their families.
The new Immigration policies will also affect more than specialty crop farmers. The dairy industry is facing a devastating loss with the decline in immigrant dairy workers. In the U.S., 62 percent of milk is produced by immigrant workers, and the complete loss of this workforce could lead to one in six dairy farms closing. Moreover, milk prices could increase as much as 90 percent. In April 2017, the average price for a gallon of milk in was $3.25. A 90 percent increase in milk prices could lead to milk costing more than $6 per gallon, a crippling fact for an industry that already has low profit margins.
Additionally, Dairy farmers may find it even more difficult than speciality crop farmers to find workers to supplement the immigrant loss. Dairy farmers are unable to utilize the H-2A program because dairy workers are needed year-round, not just seasonally. With few options to supplement the loss of immigrant workers, the impact of the new immigration policies on dairy farmers could be huge.
The impact of the immigration policies on agriculture show that the consequences go even further than deporting undocumented immigrants and the important role immigrants play in our economy. With the increasing number of ICE raids and arrests, the future of agriculture and dairy is unclear, but one guarantee is that food prices will increase if farmers are unable to hire additional farm and dairy workers to meet America’s demand.