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1 June 2012 - Congress, We Need Your Action!

So the question is “Who will harvest the crops this year?” I am not talking about corn, wheat, soybeans, cotton or rice; I am talking about those specialty crops, the fruits and the vegetables that end up on our dinner table; crops that need to be harvested, not by machine, but by hand. That takes people, hand labor.

Over the years, much of that labor has been provided by seasonal workers coming across the border from Mexico, and that is not happening that much this year. The impact is being felt first in California where they produce more than 240 different kinds of crops and many of those crops are harvested by hand. According to the San Joaquin County Farm Bureau, their number of seasonal workers is down 20 to 30% this
year.

That means those crops that are ripe and ready for harvest may end up rotting in the field. As one farm manager said, “We have to have an adequate supply of employees to pick the fruit; if not, it gets overripe”. Another land owner, a vineyard operator said, “Right now we are having to make decisions in our vineyards about which vineyards we leave untouched and don’t have any labor inputs in them at all.”

There are several reasons why the number of seasonal workers is down. According to the Pew Hispanic Center, the shortage is likely related to a more than 60% reduction in the number of people leaving Mexico compared to years past. The center said the reduction in migrant workers is related in part to increasing immigration crackdowns and border drug wars making travel unsafe.

But the real problem here is the refusal of Congress to take action on immigration laws that would establish a ‘guest worker’ program. I am tired of hearing people here in the U.S. who say ‘the migrant workers take jobs that Americans should be doing’ because farmers tell me that Americans will not do the hard, back breaking labor. Teenagers will go to work for a fast food franchise rather than spend eight hours in the
field picking strawberries. So, as far as I’m concerned, they are not taking jobs from American workers, they are doing jobs American workers just won’t do.

Congress must stop passing the buck and write immigration legislation to establish a workable ‘guest worker’ program that will allow more people to move in and out of the country for seasonal work, safely. That will assure that these crops will get to our dinner table and not be left to rot in the fields.

My thoughts on Samuelson Sez.