The Independence Day holiday is the day we wave the flag, play marches, celebrate the birth of our country with fireworks, watch or march in parades, and generally feel good about the USA. Yet, this 4th of July finds our national deeply divided over an issue tied inextricably to our history: immigration. The issue of fixing our immigration policy, dealing with millions of undocumented workers already in our nation, and the treatment of children and refugees crossing our borders dominates the media and exacerbates the already polarized political atmosphere that exists today. This is a situation that is having and will continue to have an impact on agriculture.
The crackdown on immigration and the roundup of undocumented workers that has intensified under the Trump administration has had a very real and immediate impact on farming operations. Many farming operations can no longer get the seasonal or permanent immigrant labor they need to produce and harvest a crop. Recent raids on packing plants have removed hundreds of workers both legal and non-legal and has shut down the facilities. Landscaping companies are shutting down because they cannot get workers. Idaho hops growers report a large part of the hops harvest may rot in the fields because they cannot get the workers to harvest the crop so essential to the beer industry.
Yet, when an agriculture immigration bill comes in Congress, it is rejected or ignored. The USDA and the Labor Department have had a joint task force working on this issue for months; but, so far, no solution or leadership has come from the Trump administration. The “build a wall” and “send the illegals home” rhetoric that helped Mr. Trump get votes in the last election is not providing guidance on a workable immigration policy.
For far too many people, “America First” means America only. This xenophobic worldview does not work in our global economy today and, in fact, has never worked in all of U.S. history. The American Revolution would have not succeeded if not for the support, military, and financial aid from many other nations. In fact, the U.S. never even had an official immigration policy or documentation process until after WWI. It is a fact of economic life that our nation needs immigrant labor — all developed nations do. If we don’t want that labor to be undocumented, then establish a workable system to make a documented workforce available and a reasonable pathway to allow undocumented workers here to become documented.
The bigger immigration issues of border security, treatment of children, welfare and healthcare for immigrants, and education of immigrant children are all issues not directly related to a workable agriculture immigration policy. Yet, the caustic nature of the debate on these issues is preventing any progress on the farm labor issue.
So, this Independence Day, wave the flag and celebrate the greatest country on the planet, but keep in mind that we are not the only country on the planet. And remember, there are people in those countries who want to come to ours and to work in our fields and our packing plants — and who we need to do so. We must provide a workable program that allows farmers to hire a legal labor force.
By Gary Truitt