Washington's Immigration Hangups Are Hurting America's Farmers

© Thomas Barwick / Getty Images

By Danica Lo Posted August 25, 2016

Delays due to bureaucracy, changing policies and red tape have cost our nation's farmers millions of dollars in lost crops.

According to some startling reports, delays in immigration policy reform—a hot-button issue in our current political climate—has prevented thousands of seasonal farm workers from legally entering the country, which means that many farmers, left without employees and help, have suffered irretrievable losses this year.

Carlos Castaneda lost 25 percent of his Napa cabbage crop because his guest farm worker program paperwork was stuck in an endless web of bureaucratic red tape; Fishkill Farms' Joshua Morgenthau's 100-acre fruit harvest was placed in jeopardy because his seasonal workers were stuck in Jamaica, unable to enter the U.S.; and Kevin Eason, a blueberry farmer in Georgia, estimates he's suffered more than $750,000 in losses since this year's H-2A visa paperwork was held up for months in Washington—and months can mean an entire season's loss in the farming industry.

By all accounts, this has not been a normal year—and farmers are placing the blame square on the shoulders of politicians and their failure to enact immigration reform easing the way for farms to employ guest farm workers on a seasonal basis. Some industry advocates, like Western Growers' President and CEO Tom Nassif, are even pushing for a more permanent solution: allowing some workers to stay in the country, even during the off-season.

"We want to take care of the workers who are with us," Nassif told the Huffington Post. "They have experience, families, and roots here. We want to keep those people [here] and protect them. We want some sort of legal status for them."

The problem, analysts say, is the current political climate—especially when it comes to the issue of immigration and immigration reform. "The atmosphere is so roiled with the presidential election," Craig Regelbrugge, co-chair of the Agricultural Coalition for Immigration Reform, told Bloomberg. "The angst, the anger, the whatever that is so resonant in a fairly broad swath of the electorate, it makes House members, especially Republicans, fear they'll be hurt in a primary if they work for reform."

In the end, it's up to our elected officials in Washington, DC, to decide whether or not to move forward with policies that will help (or hinder) American farmers. Analysts warn, however, that "an immigration policy focused on closing the border would shift up to 61 percent of U.S. fruit production to other countries due to domestic labor shortages, sending jobs to Mexico and other nearby competitors."

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