President Donald Trump’s tough new immigration measures are sending shudders through the US farming industry, which largely employs a low-wage foreign workforce.
Since taking office on a “America first” agenda, Trump has made immigration a policy cornerstone. Among other measures, he has broadened authorities’ powers to detain and deport unauthorised immigrants.
In a tight labour market, this could leave farms with few options when looking for workers to pick the vegetables and tend to the animals that feed the country.
Eric Ooms, who runs a 450-head dairy operation in Valatie, a village about two hours north of New York City, said many people were unwilling to do the messy work of milking cows. And in a region where unemployment hovers under five per cent, the US$10.50 he pays for an hour’s work attracts few US citizens.
“We just cannot find local people who want to get dirty and milk cows,” Ooms said. “I have been doing it all the time so I am used to it. It does not mean I like it but it is how it is.”
As a result, in addition to five members of his own family, Ooms employs a Mexican immigrant hired by word of mouth to get his milk past the farm gate and out to market.
The US agricultural sector relies on cheap immigrant labour to keep costs down. In all, about 70 per cent of farmhands were born outside the United States, the majority of them in Mexico.
The industry acknowledges that most of these workers are not legal residents in the United States, so Trump’s aggressive stance on immigration could threaten American farms.
Industry representatives nevertheless choose their words carefully.
“Increased rhetoric about enforcement is challenging,” said Kristi Boswell, a lobbyist for the American Farm Bureau, a group representing the industry.
By Agence France-Presse for SCMP.COM
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