The way the 2016 Republican presidential candidates tell it, the nation’s biggest problem is illegal immigration. Billionaire Donald Trump, says that the only solution to this problem is that “They’ve got to go!”
“They,” noted conservative columnist George Will in late August, are “approximately 11.3 million illegal immigrants.” If all were gathered to be deported, he said of the Trump’s big-sweep plan, the group would be “94 times larger than the wartime internment of 117,000 persons of Japanese descent.”
Undocumented workers — including women and children — pick most of the nation’s fruit and vegetables, slaughter most of our livestock, milk a growing number of our cows, and mow millions of acres of our lawns. They are the key source of cheap American labor for our food system and losing any portion of it will cost us dearly.
Recent estimates suggest roughly 70 percent of the 1.2 million employed by American farms have no legal right be in the U.S. If accurate, estimated the American Farm Bureau Federation in 2012, the last time such a mass deportation strategy was discussed (and, not coincidentally, the last presidential election year), the exodus would bring “labor shortages that will result in losses of up to $9 billion” to American agriculture. According to USDA, if the U.S. cut the number of undocumented workers within our borders by half, or 5.8 million, “Fruit, tree nuts, vegetables, and nursery production [would experience] long-run relative declines of 2.0 to 5.4 percent in output and from 2.5 to 9.3 percent in exports ...”
According to a Feb. 2015, National Public Radio report by Dan Charles one grower told him, “They’re just trying to feed their families.” But, the grower added, “giving more legal rights to those workers is probably bad for his business. He believes that if some of the workers ... working in agriculture ... gain legal status then the pressure is off. Now they can go to the cities and look for construction jobs, or manufacturing jobs.’”
Rural America is “a good place to hide from the authorities.” The hiding, of course, carries a price; there is little job safety and even fewer job benefits for undocumented workers and their families.