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May 11, 2018

ICE Raids on Farmworkers Are Untenable

“California fruit will die on the vine after ICE raids.”

“Immigration raids scare California farmers, not just their workers.”

“Farm leaders say California’s sanctuary status makes them a target for ICE raids.”

These are just a few of the headlines that have splashed across regional and national news outlets in recent months.

They remind us of the years of inaction by our lawmakers, despite overwhelming voter support for immigration reform for agriculture.

We have made our case. Americans will not do the hard labor required to pick our fruits and vegetables. To anyone who disputes this, I simply ask of them: “Are you or anyone you know raising your kids to be farmworkers?” The inevitable conclusion is that foreign hands will harvest our food.

This light bulb moment leads to a logical next question: “Do we want our food harvested by foreign hands here in our own country, in fields under our direct control, or on distant farms unregulated by the food safety and labor regimes that govern our farmers, and subject to the whims of foreign governments that may not always have our best interests at heart?”

For those of us old enough to remember the Arab oil embargo in 1973—a crisis that prompted President Nixon to promise energy independence to the American people “within 10 years,” —we understand the consequences of ceding jurisdiction of our vital needs to others abroad. While it took a bit longer than 10 years, the United States has relentlessly pursued—and has now essentially achieved—energy independence.

Why, as a matter of public policy, are we not similarly focused on maintaining American food independence?

American agricultural production is being siphoned off to other countries at an alarming rate, as evidenced by the growing balance of trade deficit in fruits and vegetables, which now stands at many billions of dollars a year.

For this reason, news of the recent round of ICE raids in California’s Central Valley is incredibly concerning. To be clear, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement was active [perhaps even more active] during the Obama administration, but the recent crackdown on undocumented agricultural workers under the Trump administration is jarring given the overwhelming support he has enjoyed from rural communities across the country.

While we fully support the administration’s effort to dislodge criminal aliens from our country, our farmworkers are, almost without exception, not felons. In fact, the agricultural workforce is almost uniformly stable with historic presence where they live, generating economic activity in their regions and giving back to their neighborhoods and communities. The ill-conceived concept of rooting out these men and women and sending them to their home countries is destructive on many fronts.

Furthermore, stripping farm businesses of our essential labor force is tantamount to an act of financial sabotage, with these ICE raids making the U.S. government a complicit agent in the crippling of its own citizens’ livelihoods. Compounding an already acute labor crisis, these ICE raids run counter to President Trump’s drive to bring jobs back to America.

Our industry is not unwilling to find solutions. We are not deaf to public misgivings and anger regarding illegal immigration or workers who have lived in America without citizenship. We join in agreeing that we can work to find answers and are determined to be positive partners in that process. We can accept ICE raids, E-verify and other interior enforcement (and border security) measures. But first, we need workable solutions to our chronic labor shortages.

Undeniably, the answer begins and ends with Congressional action, a candle of hope that has dimmed since the introduction of the Goodlatte bill. Absent a workable legislative fix for the agricultural labor force, the Trump administration must strive to minimize the impact of its immigration policies on our industry. To achieve this objective, the agriculture community must leverage the collective influence it has with this President.

I have spoken with Congressional leaders and fellow members of the President’s Ag Advisory group about the need for this administration to publicly assure farmers that the ICE raids are not going to target agriculture. Workers who are in fear of a raid are not showing up at their place of employment exacerbating the devastating labor shortage that already exists. Concerted action by agriculture is very important in order to achieve these objectives.