Contact: Dennis Rudat, 517-420-0123
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Trump Administration orders for stricter immigration enforcement, unsupported by substantial Congressional reform, means anxiety among workers and farmers across rural America, with Michigan farmers potentially suffering the biggest impact.
Briefing more than 130 Michigan farmers today during Michigan Farm Bureau’s (MFB) Washington Legislative Seminar, Kristi Boswell, director of congressional relations for the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF), said increased enforcement and rhetoric about immigration reform doesn’t bode well for farmers.
“The anxiety of reluctant seasonal workers is particularly important for Michigan as a northern state, which is typically later in the harvest season,” said Boswell. “We fear the executive orders could be very disruptive.”
Boswell stressed that Farm Bureau policy supports border security as a part of a responsible immigration system, and also supports enforcing the law, but executive orders fail to address an undeniable need for seasonal workers or means for providing a legal and stable workforce.
“With over half of our workforce unauthorized to work in the United States and gaining employment through the use of fraudulent documents, we are watching the impact of the executive orders very closely,” Boswell said.
Mandatory electronic verification (“e-verify”), although assumed to be more efficient in verifying work authorization for employees and employers, is problematic Boswell said, adding that AFBF policy opposes mandatory e-verify without provisions for a new flexible visa program and stabilization of the current work force.
“We want to play by the rules and we want to use all of the tools that the government can provide to us to make sure we have a legal workforce,” she said. “But until we have a program that ensures we have legal workers, we can’t be forced to use e-verify and risk losing 50 to 70 percent of our workforce and have no safety net to turn to.”
There may be a silver lining in the immigration executive orders, Boswell suggested.
“They may finally get us off the hamster-wheel in Congress, and get them to finally take the steps to pass substantive immigration reform and agricultural labor reform,” she said. “It’s time for them to act.”
Boswell also encouraged MFB members to challenge the public perception that farmers could attract domestic workers if they simply paid better wages.
“The fact of the matter is, our average wages are typically much higher than many local retail or fast food restaurants for example,” she said. “It isn’t about the wages. It’s about the fact that Americans aren’t willing to do this work. It’s arduous, it’s in the elements, and it’s seasonal.
“So when a blueberry grower in Michigan, for example, needs a couple hundred workers for a few weeks, it isn’t attractive for someone in Detroit to go pick up that work in rural Michigan.”
“While immigration reform has always been challenging and political,” Boswell said, she’s cautiously optimistic. “With the President taking action, Congress now has the political cover to focus on substantive reform. But don’t let agricultural labor reform get lost in all of this immigration enforcement action.”