While the drought is a big worry for California farmers – bringing in the harvest is right up there too in the scheme of things. That takes labor and plenty of it.
So it is not surprising that leading GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump’s call to deport all illegal immigrants might raise a few questions considering something like 50% of the state’s farm labor force is undocumented.
So we asked a dozen valley farm leaders what they thought of his plan that could deport 11.1 million people – perhaps 2.6 million of them from California including whole families.
“They’d all have to go” Trump has vowed.
There were several schools of thought although most seem to part ways with Mr Trump.
Wreck The Economy?
Trump’s deportation plan “would wreck our economy” worries Kings County farmer Ceil Howe. “Not just farmers but it would mean the collapse of a number of other industries here. It’s not just Hispanics but Asians too who work in San Francisco and Silicon Valley too.”
Howe says labor is needed because” Americans do not want to do the hard work.”
If Trump became president and ordered mass deportation it would be Trump who would have to go, vows the outspoken leader of Fresno’s Nisei Farmers League,Manuel Cunha.”I think that would be impeachable.”
Cunha, who has worked with congressional leaders for years on comprehensive immigration reform, adds he is at least happy that Trump’s pronouncements has brought the issue back to the public eye.
Cunha who represents small growers around the Fresno area suggests ”my ag guys could not work with Trump as president.” Trump’s plan would wreck havoc both here and in Mexico, he adds.
Adding a more conciliatory note citrus industry representative Joel Nelsen says farmers definitely need the workers but thinks Trump, as a successful businessman, would understand.
Agreeing with Howe that farmers would be impacted by such a deportation plan Adin Hester of Visalia’s Olive Growers Council says ”I think the apparel, hotel /restaurant and construction industries would feel a bigger impact than we would.”
Stronger Border Control
Still, Hester agrees with Trump that “our borders are leaking like a sponge” and we need to get better control. “Look at what is happening in Hungry and Germany right now.” Hester favors some sort of immigration plan that will work for farmers.
Along those lines Lindsay orange farmer and member of the Tulare County Board of Supervisors Allen Ishida says “my understanding is Trump is on board with some sort of guest worker plan.” While Ishida does not comment on any wholesale deportation of families back to Mexico he is ready “to put all the felons on a one-way bus.”
But what about people who have lived here and worked here for years and are clearly not criminals?
Tulare cattle auctioneer David Macedo,also the mayor of that city, says Trump is “way off-base” and argues while he can see the need for strong enforcement on new arrivals ”those that have been successfully employed here for years seem to me to have earned a chance to stay.”
Trump has not backpedaled on his plan to send those without papers back to where they were – but he has said he would find a way to bring some back says Tulare county dairyman Tom Barcellos.He likes ”Trumps plan to provide a path back” if they can prove they have a permanent job.
Grape industry representative Nat DiBuduo expresses doubt that Trump can “pull this off” and while he agrees workers “ought to be here legally” he favors California farm industry efforts in the past to put together an immigration reform package that “allows those who have long worked here to remain.”
Asked what would happen if Trump deports all undocumented people – Kings County dairyman Joaquin Contente remarks “can you imagine what would happen to the California economy?” Pew Research says illegals make up about 9% of the state’s overall workforce, who would suddenly be gone.
Trump has stated he also wants to change “birthright citizenship,” granted to any child born in the United States under the 14th Amendment, requiring the constitution be amended.
Visalia produce broker and mayor of that city – Steve Nelsen says Trump’s plan”to put people on buses and send them back is unrealistic.”
“For those who have been working here 5 to 10 years we need to come up with a simple,non-bureaucratic way for them to gain citizenship.”
Over on the Central Coast – contractor Carlos Castaneda has said Trumps volatile rhetoric is already making it harder for farmers to find pickers for vegetables.
“There are growers out there screaming for labor,” said Castañeda, a farm labor contractor in San Luis Obispo County in central California. “The people who are coming in are doing the work that not a single American would like to do.”
Despite this view Trump has told audiences that “They are taking your jobs. And you better be careful.”
While Trump believes US voters are fed up and overwhelmingly in support of more harsh immigration controls, a Pew Research Center survey conducted in May showed a solid majority (72%) of Americans – including 80% of Democrats, 76% of independents and 56% of Republicans – say undocumented immigrants currently living in the U.S. should be allowed to stay in this country legally if they meet certain requirements.
Last year,Pew asked a follow-up question of those who opposed granting legal status to undocumented immigrants: Should there be a “national law enforcement effort to deport” all immigrants here illegally? Just 17% of the public overall favored such an effort, including about a quarter (27%) of Republicans.
California Farm Bureau View
Asked what approach they favor California Farm Bureau spokesman Bryan Little, director, employment policy, says ”we support a balanced approach that would allow people who have lived here for years to stay and continue to work in agriculture.” The program Farm Bureau favors “would allow the existing farm worker to also gain legal status.” Secondly, Farm Bureau wants “to create a guest worker program that is both flexible and responsive,unlike the current H2A program that is neither ”adds Little. The statewide organization has some 57,000 members.