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A new study argues that immigration reform is crucial to the operation of American argiculture. 

April 05, 2017

All the way back in December, experts predicted that Donald Trump’s plan for mass deportations of undocumented immigrants would threaten America’s food supply. On Monday, John Hopkins University’s Center for a Livable Future released a study condemning the current lack of protections for undocumented immigrant workers, arguing that “both public health and national food security” are being endangered by unfair labor practices.

Undocumented immigrants who are not protected by labor laws face many health risks in agricultural work, including “pesticide exposure, injuries, poor air quality, contact with animal waste, exposure to antibiotic resistant bacteria, and exposure to novel strains of the flu virus.” They remain the most vulnerable group of workers because of poor housing conditions and little or no access to reliable healthcare.

The food industry relies on immigrant labor to operate: According to the report, anywhere from 50 – 75 percent of the United States’ 2 million farmworkers are undocumented. Even more work at slaughter houses and other food processing facilities. Workers who are not protected under the law end up harming farmers in the long run: Work shortages caused by at-risk agricultural laborers cost American farms around 300 million dollars in 2010. 

The report specifically cites “fear of deportation” as a key reason why some laborers may stop showing up to work, and if they don’t work we don’t eat. The food industry in the U.S. “would collapse without the immigrant and migratory workforce,” the report reads.

The report’s researchers called for “comprehensive immigration reform,” which includes making them eligible for health insurance coverage, protections for workers who report unsafe working conditions, and an increase in the minimum wage.

Bob Martin, co-author of the report and director of CLF’s Food System Policy Program, called out the current administration’s attitude toward immigrants as part of the problem.

In a statement put out along with the study he said, “Vilifying political rhetoric and enforcement actions that aim to punish undocumented immigrants fail to confront Americans’ reliance on these workers for the food they eat.”