Scott Smith, Yahoo! News, December 28, 2014
Farmers already scrambling to find workers in California–the nation’s leading grower of fruits, vegetables and nuts–fear an even greater labor shortage under President Barack Obama’s executive action to block some 5 million people from deportation.
Thousands of the state’s farmworkers, who make up a significant portion of those who will benefit, may choose to leave the uncertainty of their seasonal jobs for steady, year-around work building homes, cooking in restaurants and cleaning hotel rooms.
“This action isn’t going to bring new workers to agriculture,” said Jason Resnick, vice president and general counsel of the powerful trade association Western Growers. “It’s possible that because of this action, agriculture will lose workers without any mechanism to bring in new workers.”
Although details of the president’s immigration policy have yet to be worked out, Resnick said the agricultural workforce has been declining for a decade. Today, the association estimates there is a 15 to 20 percent shortage of farmworkers, which is driving the industry to call for substantial immigration reform from Congress, such as a sound guest worker program.
“Hopefully there will be the opportunity for comprehensive immigration reform,” said Karen Ross, secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture. “That’s the right thing to do for this country.”
California’s 330,000 farmworkers account for the largest share of the 2.1 million nationwide, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Texas comes in a distant second with less than half of California’s farmworkers.
Manuel Cunha, president of the Fresno-based Nisei Farmers League, estimates that 85 percent of California’s agricultural workers are using false documents to obtain work.
Cunha, who has advised the Obama administration on immigration policy, figures that 50,000 of the state’s farmworkers who may benefit from the president’s executive action could leave the fields and packing houses in California’s $46.4 billion agricultural industry.