All Fruits and Vegetables Harvested by Foreign Hands
By Cory Lunde, Western Growers Assoc. Director of Strategic Initiatives and Communications
Recently, Western Growers President and CEO Tom Nassif detailed the critical labor shortages facing American agriculture and laid out the case for agricultural immigration reform before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship.
In his testimony, Nassif stated that experienced workers are aging out of the agricultural workforce, with few Americans lining up to take their place, despite wages well above state and federal minimums. Farmers in all sectors of U.S. agriculture, especially in the labor-intensive fruit and vegetable industries, are experiencing chronic labor shortages, which have been exacerbated by recent interior immigration enforcement and tighter border security policies.
As a result of the uncertain agricultural labor market, Nassif explained, many American farmers are either shifting toward more mechanized crops or moving their operations to other countries.
“The simple fact is this,” Nassif said, “fruits and vegetables that are eaten in the United States will be harvested by foreign hands.”
He continued: “The simple question for you, as members of Congress, is do you want those foreign hands harvesting your fruits and vegetables to be on farms here in the United States or do you want to see production continue to shift to farms in foreign countries?”
After touching on the existing, flawed H-2A agricultural guest worker program, rife with burdensome regulatory red tape, Nassif outlined a two-pronged proposal for agricultural immigration reform that jointly provides a pathway to legalization for existing farmworkers and their immediate families and creates a more flexible, efficient and market-based agricultural worker visa program to ensure a sufficient future flow of labor.
Nassif concluded that while “immigration can be among the most divisive and difficult to resolve in Washington,” this issue is decidedly non-partisan, as agricultural immigration reform is really about securing the future of American agriculture and, by extension, long-term U.S. food security.
Western Growers appreciates the efforts of Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren and Ranking Member Ken Buck to elevate the dialogue around this vital issue, and we look forward to working across the aisle to advance bipartisan legislation that provides our country and farmers with a legal, stable and reliable source of agricultural labor.
The California Fresh Fruit Association (CFFA) recently announced their Top Issues for 2019. Members were surveyed in December 2018 and ranked the top issues for CFFA to concentrate on in 2019.
President of the California Fresh Fruit Association, George Radanovich, stated “As in years past, our membership has given us strong direction in identifying their top priorities for 2019. The issues of labor, water, and food safety, will lead our list of issues. CFFA will continue to serve as the primary liaison between regulatory and legislative authorities by acting as the unified voice for our members on these and many other issues.”
Here are the results:
1) Federal Immigration Policies Addressing Current and Future Labor Force
In this last round of elections, Democrats ignored the ugly and nationalistic demagoguery of immigrants from Central America that the 45th President pursued relentlessly before Election Day. They allowed the President to continue building a false narrative around immigration. In spite of many Republicans supporting some of the most offensive and verbal racial profiling by a sitting President, our Democratic response was, “vote for me, I am not Republican.”
This President was not only focused on mid-term elections but laying the foundation for his 2020 re-election. He spared no lie to whip up his base.
We heard no substance from Democrats except outrage and sharp criticism of Republicans. Liberal groups like the Center for American Progress and the Third Way noted that running on immigration would not be helpful in securing votes in states and Congressional districts won by the President in 2016. Democrats seemed paralyzed with political fear that they could not capitalize on the anger and growing rejection of Trumpism if they addressed the immigration issue.
Democrats aggressively postured when Republicans followed their script of scapegoating and demagoguing immigrants. They hid behind their words of outrage, old proposals about legalizing Dreamers and no border wall and “abolishing” ICE. They offered no new vision for re-calibrating the policies and discussions that were needed to effectively and honestly deal with the pressures of desperate mass movements of people.
Democrats allowed this President to continue reinforcing a false, ignorant, and racist nationalism about Latino immigrants. The so-called “caravan of invaders” is being “pushed” from sending countries for the same reasons that pushed the ships that sailed with many European refugees/migrants that arrived on U.S. shores in the 1800s and early 1900s.
Latino “leaders” in the national immigration struggle and Latino elected officials in Congress have contributed mightily to the behavior of both parties. It really makes more sense if these Latino “leaders” would stop demanding specific action that has not come about even under President Obama. We must offer viable and balanced policies. The mass movement of people is originating in this hemisphere, and so it MUST fall to us to develop solutions, not ideology.
Due to the inaction of both parties, our community must develop the political agenda for immigration reform that will benefit our nation. Our vision must be specific and comprehensive. The narrative must be honest, factual, balanced and practical and we must begin working with various members of the California Congressional delegation from agricultural producing districts, such as ours. The Trump narrative does nothing more than to pollute the disposition of the U.S. public to push for effective and balanced immigration reform.
There is public support for reasonable reform; the Trump narrative has created a caustic image of immigrants that has become the default position of his base, which is infecting others. The time to act is now. We must realistically address the labor shortages in the agricultural and service industries in California and their dependency on unauthorized labor. We have to frame the issue in economic terms since humanitarian concerns clearly have not been enough.
Our policy outline must offer a constructive and practical new vision. It must include smart enforcement at ports of entry, increased resources for the Coast Guard, increased resources for detection of opioid trafficking from China and India via the internet, and increased resources for local law enforcement in cities located along drug corridors in the U.S. only for enforcement activities related to drug interdiction. Our immigration reform package must include enforcement of existing immigration laws. The GOP narrative is that Democrats are for open borders. Our new agenda must address the issue that drugs from Mexico significantly enter through ports of entry and via the internet from countries outside the hemisphere.
Our agenda must utilize evaluation analyses and propose no private sector detention centers—a vigorous oversight—and accountability mechanism outside of the Department of Homeland Security of these centers and ICE, Border Patrol agents, and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service.
Enforcement must be balanced with permanent legal status for all “Dreamers” who meet the original criteria, temporary legal status for the parents of “Dreamers” who have a history of employment, especially in states that had labor shortages in agriculture, construction, and service sectors. We have to include a pilot temporary worker program with Mexico in U.S. states that have documented labor shortages in the above industries to begin to test new ideas. All federal and state labor laws would apply to these workers along with an increase in funding to monitor their treatment, working and living conditions, and employer compliance.
A critical component that we must explore is the creation of working groups between the U.S. and essential sending countries such as Mexico and those in Central America to discuss how to create a stable economic and security environment in their countries and specific regions that are the source of population movements to the U.S. We must not repeat the mistakes our economic and political policies have committed in these countries that are the foundation of the “push” factors, while not losing sight of the “pull” factors that exist within the U.S. serving as magnets for undocumented workers.
Lastly, we must evaluate and provide for a phased-in mechanism of these policy initiatives and include a legalization process, for the undocumented persons currently in the U.S., in the last phase of this process.
We know that Congressman Panetta and his colleagues from the Central Valley have acknowledged the ugly narrative but have taken no decisive action to date. It is important to note that two of his colleagues lost re-election. Was their loss due in part to the failure to move concretely on immigration, especially in the agricultural sector? It is essential that there be transparency around what Mr. Panetta and the Democrat majority in the House of Representatives will do to begin resolving the growing complexities around immigration. Let’s begin our discussion with a town hall meeting to take place in Salinas that allows an open dialogue concerning our proposal and what our new Congress intends to do.
Arnoldo S. Torres is a journalist, consultant, partner in the Sacramento, California based public policy consulting firm Torres & Torres, and the executive director for the California Hispanic Health Care Association.
Mexico Has a Responsibility Regarding Immigration, Expert Says
By Mikenzi Meyers, Associate Editor
With immigration becoming a hot-button issue within the political arena, those in agriculture have a deeper insight into this controversial topic. Arnoldo Torres, of the National Institute for Latino Policies out of Sacramento and partner with the public policy consulting firm Torres & Torres, has long been a leading voice for immigration within the ag sector—while realizing both countries (America and Mexico) need to do their part.
“Mexico has a responsibility to its people. The Central American countries have a responsibility. We’ve got to make sure that those countries are doing what they have to do to keep people from having to go elsewhere to make a living and to live,” Torres explained.
He knows this from personal experience, when his grandfather made a move to America from Mexico, with no opportunity to go back.
“They realized that if they had gone back, there was never going to be a life for them back home,” he said.
Torres further added that the desire for immigrant workers purely correlates with their unique work ethic.
“There’s that saying that necessity is the mother of invention. Well, necessity is the mother of work. I mean, we work to address a necessity.”
Commentary on Latinos and Immigration Reform – 2 of 4 Parts
Latinos Have a Unique Challenge
By Arnoldo S. Torres with the National Institute for Latino Policy
We have a unique challenge as Latinos. We must provide a path to solving this public policy puzzle of immigration reform while avoiding the ugly attitudes and behavior that are rampant today. We must undertake a critical assessment of our tactics, strategies, activities, and words we use because words are essential not only on one side but all.
This self-critique is hard to undertake; it’s always easier to point the finger. Latinos have played a key role in not achieving what we say we seek: a practical, humane, efficient and fair immigration reform. There are aspects of this long and ugly road traveled that we must understand (from more than one point of view and experiences), discuss, dissect and correct if we are to bring about what we say we seek.
How I Learned About Immigration
My perspectives, ideas, and vision for humane, practical, fair and just immigration policy for this nation began to be developed 39 years ago in 1979. I had the honor of serving as the legislative director for the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) in Washington, D.C. I had the privilege of working with a group of people from other nationally known organizations on the recommendations of the Select Commission on Immigration and Refugee Policy (SCIRP) for comprehensively reforming U.S. immigration policy. Law created the Commission in 1978, making it bi-partisan, and included four public members representing labor unions, local and state government, and the judicial branch.
It could not have been created nor efficiently functioning today because there is a dangerous lack of courage and leadership in Congress on both sides of the aisle. It appears, by their statements and actions, that the majority of Congressional members are incredibly ignorant of the dynamics surrounding U.S. immigration policy, the “push” and “pull” factors that cause people to take phenomenal risks. They have intentionally failed to read and comprehend the history of these factors that virtually color all immigrants to the U.S. with the same desperation, survival instincts, desires, and dreams.
These members have not elevated the tone of the emotionally-charged rhetoric or imagery, but intentionally over-simplified the complexities and motives of immigration movements. There are too many “aggrieved parties” who lack the desire to solve problems facing the nation unless they can satisfy the growing ideology and political silos on the right AND left! They follow a very narrow and faulty narrative on immigration.
I learned first-hand the many facets, difficult choices, and responsibilities associated with the realities surrounding immigration policy many years before my experience in D.C. I began working in the tomato fields of California agriculture at the age of ten. It was not a summer outing but a necessity. I had the responsibility of having to pay for my school clothes for the year, which was referred to as “la cosa Christiana” as my grandfather put it. My mother and uncles began work at an earlier age in Texas, younger than ten years old, while going to school.
Beginning at five years old, and every other year after until I was 28, I would visit relatives in Ciudad Delicias, Chihuahua, Mexico. I came to recognize early the sacrifices my grandfather made to cross the border at the age of 12 to work as a water boy on the railroads of Texas. At 17, he was able to bring his mother, brother, and sister to the U.S. Two generations of my family experienced a great deal of discrimination before I began to see and feel it when I was very young.
Political Parties and Media
Elected officials, from both political colors, express their concerns about the immigration polemic, defending or attacking one another, insisting that their positions are true and pure. Posturing for their ideological fan base is primary while facts and knowledge play a secondary role. There is a prevalent attitude of “don’t confuse me with the facts” because my base only wants “red meat” regardless of its quality. Both parties have made this issue so toxic by having it be more about politics than about policy, fairness and economic reality.
At such a crucial time for Latinos and the nation, we have two ill-prepared political parties who cannot rise to the challenge of what the world sees is the demise of the shining country on the hill. Liberals believe Democrats are better for us, but that is because Republicans care so little about us.
Making a significant contribution to this dynamic has been a President that began his campaign by revving up the deepest-seeded xenophobic characteristics of American nationalism. He has made it so much easier for this ugly side of nationalism to be manifested in the style of a Tucker Carlson show or commentary by the mean and hypocritical Ann Coulter or Laura Ingraham—all in the name of Making America Great Again.
Fox News churns out the type of stereotypes Hollywood used decades ago and even to this day about Latinos; they ignore facts and make sure that the Latino immigrant profile never deviates from the criminal, drug dealer, and threat to U.S. security and motherhood. The very people whose history in this nation includes organized crime, criminals in their countries of origin, and enemies against the U.S. in TWO world wars now sit in harsh judgment of us.
On the other side of the spectrum, we have Jorge Ramos of Univision forgetting that he is the journalist but behaves like a one-dimensional advocate. He is well intended and has become the darling of the political left in journalism.
You want a Latino to talk about immigration; the English media selects Jorge, who provides no real insight but ticks off the usual talking points. Then we have CNN, whose hosts and panels/guests discussing immigration are primarily non-immigrants and non-Latinos. The guests representing the left and the right say all the typical things but in a very chaotic format. They exhibit such intolerance for one another that it turns off the viewer and furthers the divide and ignorance.
Congressional Failure on Agriculture Requires Deliberate and Decisive Democracy
By Arnoldo Torres
Farmworkers in California agriculture have always been hard working and very productive. This has been the history of the Mexican farmworker since World War I and II, when they were brought in to compensate for the labor shortage. Regardless of immigration status, this undocumented workforce has contributed mightily (and beyond any dispute) to the phenomenal production and riches California agriculture has come to be known for throughout the world.
Manuel Cunha, Jr., the President of the Nisei Farmers League expressed, with eloquence, this reality of “our agricultural workers” in his letter to California Agriculture Today on December 15, 2017. He points out how these workers pay taxes, (state, federal income and sales), into the social security fund and serve as the “backbone” of the state’s $50 billion-dollar agriculture industry. He is also on target when he speaks of how Congress has failed agricultural workers not only in our state but throughout the nation.
Mr. Cunha’s should be joined by all in the agricultural industry of California. While we see signs throughout the Central Valley clamoring for more water and criticizing Governor Brown for his policy on water, we do not see any signs calling for immigration reform that recognize s the contributions of farmworkers. The agricultural industry needs to stand up and state the obvious — without water AND a qualified workforce, agriculture will crumble.
The failure of Congress on agricultural workers has been a constant for many decades now. This failure has already had serious and structural repercussions for California ag. Republicans and Democrats in Congress who represent the Valley – who are either married to Latinas, own dairies, are part of “chain migration” of Portuguese families operating businesses dependent on Mexican farm workers, who have several Mexicans as their “best friends,” represent districts with high concentration of Latinos, etc. – have been irresponsible.
The Majority Leader of the US House is from the Central Valley and others from this region are key members of the majority party. How is it that they have not been able to move any legislation on this MOST important issue? I firmly believe they have been reluctant to do what is necessary to move the needle forward on this issue.
These politicians have all made their convenient and annual statements of respecting the work ethic of farm workers and their economic contributions. All have spoken about the urgency and importance of resolving the status of DACA individuals but have not even made the serious and concrete attempt to include their parents and the adults who have been harvesting their businesses for decades and generations.
Democracy works best when the people take decisive and deliberate action. It is time that voters of the central valley take deliberate and decisive action and replace these incumbents regardless of party. Until they are held accountable in this manner farm workers, the ag economy and real people will suffer consequences that will not be able to be corrected anytime soon.
Arnoldo S. Torres of Torres2 Policy Consultants works on policy issues impacting the Latino community and has worked on the immigration issue for more than 30 years having testified on the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) of 1985 extensively before both chambers of Congress.
Disconnect Exists with Urban Politicians, Ruben Navarrette says
By Joanne Lui, Associate Editor
Ruben Navarrette grew up in the Central Valley and is a syndicated columnist for the Washington Post Writers Group. California Ag Today caught up with him recently at an event in Fresno called the The Latino Paradox: Immigration Forum. He spoke about the RAISE Act S.354, which severely limits immigration into the U.S. because it would be based on education and skills.
“There’s this disconnect in Washington and New York … mostly urban areas where politicians don’t think much about agriculture, agribusiness,” Navarrette said. “They have no clue about where this fruit is coming from when they walk down the street in New York and they see an orange. They don’t understand how dangerous something like the RAISE Act would be if you ultimately limit the amount of people who come here based on education and skills.”
The RAISE Act will limit immigration from Latin American countries. Meanwhile, U.S.-born citizens don’t go out to work in the fields.
“I think there’s a lot of people who wrongly believe that American workers will do those jobs if the wages are high enough, and the way they tell the story [is] to make the agribusiness and the farmers into the bad guy,” Navarrette said. “If you know enough farmers and you go out into enough fields and you interview enough farmers and enough workers, you know that’s completely false. Farmers could be in business for 30 years and never in 30 years have they ever had an American come to them and say, ‘Can I pick peaches?’ ”
With the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals act (DACA), if dreamers are sent back, there are questions about what may happen with their parents.
“If they go back, the parents may ultimately self-deport as well and that’s going to be disruptive,” Navarrette said. “Clearly it’s a mistake for us to believe that sort of agriculture and DACA, they’re all separate from each other. The issues are all intertwined. When a farm worker is working in a field, he cares about whether the local police have the authority to detain him, if he’s pulled over. He cares because he has kids who are in the DACA Program, so farming isn’t necessarily segregated. The farm workers are piped into all these different issues.”
The Agriculture Workforce Coalition, Western United Dairymen, the American Farm Bureau Federation, and more than 70 of the largest American agriculture groups this week joined with the Partnership for a New American Economy to launch #ifarmimmigration, an agriculture campaign to support renewed efforts to enact immigration reform this year.
Farmers across the country depend on temporary labor to help grow their crops and their business. Immigrants help fill those vital positions, creating additional 2-3 jobs for domestic-born workers up and down the economy in food packaging, shipping or farming supplies. For many farms across the country, there are simply not enough native-born workers to work their fields.
The agriculture campaign will stress the agriculture sector’s critical need for immigration reform with activities online and on the ground, in Washington D.C. and in key Congressional districts. The month started with a Capitol Hill briefing on Feb 5, where Congressional staff heard from farmers and ranchers about the need for immigration reform. Throughout the month, the campaign will release new research on labor shortages while farmers and ranchers will be on the ground telling their stories through farm tours, social and traditional media, videos, and community events for members of Congress in their districts.
American Farm Bureau’s Bob Stallman commented, “Unfortunately, because of a labor shortage in our farm fields, there’s a growing crisis about the future of our food supply.”
“In that spirit, throughout the month of February, farmers across the country, in conjunction with the Partnership for the New American Economy, will be using a slightly different spin to show consumers and lawmakers just how important immigration reform is to our food system. The truth is, we either import our labor or we import our food.”
“America’s farmers and ranchers need a balanced immigration reform bill that includes a fair and workable farm labor provision. We are encouraged by the House Republican Conference’s commitment to moving forward on immigration reform this year with the release of their immigration ‘standards.’ The American Farm Bureau Federation supports the House using these principles as guideposts and, specifically, we appreciate the recognition that agriculture’s need for a legal and stable workforce must be addressed.”
“But much work remains and farmers will continue to work toward passage of responsible immigration reform legislation that includes an earned adjustment for experienced, undocumented agricultural workers and a new, flexible guest worker program.”
This effort joins The Partnership for a New American Economy, which brought together more than 500 Republican, Democratic, and Independent mayors and business leaders who support immigration reform as a way of creating jobs for Americans today.