EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Opinion

August 18, 2013

Column: Farmers grow impatient for immigration reform

The soybean and corn fields in Clark County, Ohio, are lush and green, ready for harvesting. But the pool of migrant workers in this agricultural county is declining. And farmers are worried about a shortage of workers for picking tomatoes and cucumbers as well.

The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services claims the number of migrant workers in the state has dropped every year since 2007, when the economy began to sour.

Farmers around the nation share the concern about a shortage of farm workers, made worse by the failure of Congress to pass immigration reform thus far this year.

With the Obama administration deporting record numbers of people illegally working in the country, farmers say they are desperately short of qualified, hard-working, experienced workers just as the height of the harvest season approaches.

Looking at Labor Department records, The Wall Street Journal figured out that the average age of farm workers is going up dramatically — 37 years old, up from 31 in 2000. The last time the federal government legalized (gave amnesty to) undocumented workers was 27 years ago, when 2.7 million were given legal status.

Today, with increased border patrols, drug violence and electric fences, fewer migrants are coming north from Mexico to work in the fields. And more farmers are being forced by government raids to use the E-Verify system to ascertain if their workers are in the country legally.

Net migration from Mexico actually has stagnated because of the weak U.S. economy — people who need good jobs to feed their families are staying put in Mexico, where the economy has improved.

Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., who helped push a bill through the Senate earlier this summer to provide a path to legal residency for farm workers, says he is convinced the House will also do something this year. (Nothing will happen next year because it’s a congressional election year.)

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