SPECIAL REPORT: York Farmers Navigate Immigration Law

Growing a product with a short shelf life and facing potential employee shortages, York County farmers are adept at cultivating a diverse workforce.

And that entails making choices about how — and in some cases, if — they should invest in an immigrant workforce.

David Brown, president of Brown’s Orchards & Farm Market, takes the extra time to verify his Mexican farm workers’ immigration documents, but he doesn’t mind. It is worth it to have a steady workforce in his fields, he said.

Farmers need help when Americans aren’t willing to do the work, Brown and others say.

It’s been nearly 20 years since agricultural interests and congressional lawmakers were close to agreeing on policies that streamline legal entry of undocumented immigrants as well as address public safety concerns, Pennsylvania Farm Bureau spokesman Mark O’Neill said.

“Right before 9/11 was the closest we’ve come,” he explained, adding that lawmakers again have become involved — and more fully invested — in the process since that time.

H-2A Visa: Agricultural worker programs need to change to make them less confusing and less financially demanding, O’Neill said.

When a domestic workforce isn’t showing up, he said, farmers have the option of turning to the H-2A visa program. The temporary visa program helps farmers find guest workers, he said, but it’s complicated.

Dan and Karen Paulus, who own and operate Paulus Orchards in Dillsburg, are using the H-2A visa program for the first time this year. They began the process last fall, which Karen Paulus said was a “whole lot of back-and-forth paperwork” with a labor agency. The Pauluses didn’t hire an attorney.

Worker deportation could hurt livelihood of farmers

Their guest workers showed up two weeks later than they wanted them, Dan Paulus said. The house where the workers stay had to be renovated, and pass a house inspection, the 50-year-old farmer explained.

“Some of the hoops are a little silly,” Dan Paulus said. “We had to prove that there weren’t U.S. workers begging to come out to this heat and pick fruit.”

Karen Paulus, 48, said the agency recruited the workers, provided the Pauluses with their workers’ names and experience. H-2A requires the Pauluses to pay for their workers’ transportation, lodging and documentation to get them here, she said.

The cost of using the program is higher, Karen Paulus said, but the benefit of it far exceeds its cost.

By Jana Benscoter for YORK DISPATCH
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