Pity the Farmers?

The media tend to echo the wails of farmers who claim they cannot find the workers to harvest their crops because of enhanced border enforcement and tougher state laws. An NBC news story from California says, “Get-tough immigration policies are certainly having an impact on the number of people crossing into the United States illegally. But for California’s vast agriculture business, the crackdowns may be bringing costly consequences.”

In this story, and in almost every other similar story, there is important information missing. The first piece of information that should be included on any story about agricultural labor is that there is a visa program (H-2A) that allows farmers to employ an unlimited number of foreign seasonal agricultural workers. The farmer has to pay for transportation and provide housing for these foreign workers and has to pay a fair wage, so it is more expensive than hiring illegal alien workers who are easily exploited. For that reason, employers prefer to not use this option, and in 2010 only about 56,000 of these workers came to the United States legally to work in agriculture.

The other key factor missing from these stories that lament the lot of the poor farmer who sees his crops rotting for lack of farmhands, is the fact that illegal aliens are less available to harvest crops because they have learned that they can do better working in construction and services. In effect, the agricultural producers have been so successful in holding down wages for their seasonal workers that they have contributed to the growing trend among illegal aliens to bypass farm jobs in favor of better paying jobs in other sectors.

About Author


Jack, who joined FAIR’s National Board of Advisors in 2017, is a retired U.S. diplomat with consular experience. He has testified before the U.S. Congress, U.S. Civil Rights Commission, and U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform and has authored studies of immigration issues. His national and international print, TV, and talk radio experience is extensive (including in Spanish).


  1. avatar
    larry boning on

    The reasoning used by the farmers, the construction, fast-food and hospitality industries to justify the hiring of illegals is the same is eerily similar to that used by American and British planters to justify slavery. Think about it. American employers take advantage of a people who have no bargaining position to rob them. Then, remarkably, political activists portray this criminal activity as a good thing, (along with most democrats). Was the Civil Rights movement of the sixties just so much fun that we have decided to create another slave class — just so we can repeat the process?!

  2. avatar
    Gloria Wedemeyer on

    I say all the people on welfare should pick the crops and then the farmers would never have to employ another illegal alien or guest worker.

  3. avatar

    ICE will not do thier jobs FBI will not do their jobs States will not dotheir jobs Local enforcement will not dotheir jobs WHO is left? Bring back the BOUNTY HUNTER

  4. avatar

    Same song, how many verses now?
    Apathy has downloaded the United States into the illegal alien crisis and until this attitude is rectified, there is no hope of abolishing the corruption and greed on Capitol Hill. America’s agriculture lobbyists and the Razaunida lobbyists control the ebb and flow of the illegal aliens within our nation’s boundaries. If there is an increase in the need for more construction workers, Razaunida moves the aliens from the rural farms and ranches to the appropriate cities and states and thus guarantees an increase in production and a decrease in payroll for the participating employers.
    Interesting conundrum, Razaunida and the agriculture lobbyists: your actions violate this nation’s federal laws. Your sponsorship of the illegal aliens is exactly what it appears to be, aiding people from another country to harm America and the American citizens’ way of life. This can only be described as treason.

    The empathy for the farmers is nothing more than a misplaced emotion for these same people were initially enjoying the profits by hiring the illegals. They now cry “foul” because yet another industry has jumped on the criminal bandwagon and stolen their law breaking workers.

    These employers should have enough patriotism to increase wages and hire American citizens, yet they repeat the mantra that Americans will not work the jobs that the illegal aliens are willing to do.
    Americans WILL work, however, we cannot work for the wages that they are willing to accept for we do not get a free ride in our country, nor do we expect it! We, as legal citizens, pay income tax; social security; healthcare; education and provide food for our families without assistance.
    The illegals can work for a mere pittance for they enjoy the benefits of our financial and welfare systems without paying a dime!
    One must question: If Razaunida and the other hispanic radicals are so determined to create a united mexican race, why will they not return to their country of origin and alter the path of destiny within Mexico’s borders?

    As for our country’s future: are we such a lazy and apathetic people that we are content to allow the best of America’s best to continue fighting for our freedom while Congress and the current administration hand this nation to Mexico without a single fight?
    We are losing our rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness due to the illegal alien crisis. We must not allow Mexico to continue to dictate our nation’s future or we may awaken one day to see the Mexican flag flying above the White House.
    Think about it.

  5. avatar

    It pretty much says it like it is, you are told they can’t get people you all know that’s crap they just have had it their way so long they won’t change and do it the right way. You won’t see any if at all going broke they will just pocket less.

  6. avatar
    John DiPaolo on

    Is an Arizona style immigration law coming to California?

    With a $16 billion budget shortfall, a US Supreme Court ruling favoring Arizona’s SB1070 could cause Californians to revisit the idea of a tough enforcement referendum. Polls show most California voters would support an Arizona style immigration law in the state.

    A previous attempt to crack down on illegal immigration, Proposition 187 (The 1994 “Save our State” referendum), passed by a two to one margin. But shortly thereafter that law was struck down by a federal judge. This discouraged further attempts at such ballot initiatives. If the Supreme Court does rule in favor of Arizona things would be different.

    There’s no doubt enforcement proponents in many jurisdictions will be emboldened by a decision favorable to SB1070. With federal lawmakers paralyzed by the unpopularity of pro-amnesty legislation the immigration issue will play out in the states.

    This court decision has the potential to be a real game changer.

    Please feel free to continue the discussion. Contact [email protected]

  7. avatar
    Steve Paramore on

    Get caught employing an illegal….deed for farm needs to be sacrificed, turn farm over to Federal Government….sell it and put towards the Federal debt! ….break the law…be punished!

  8. avatar

    SUSANM is right. They never leave. And the gov’t doesn’t keep track of them. They go on welfare and enroll their kids in school and have more kids and settle in permanently. And then start getting income tax credits. And if threatened with deportation, they get a lawyer at taxpayer expense and tie things up forever in the legal system. The only solution is to not let them in and force the farmers to adjust wages as needed to get workers. Farmers are already heavily subsidized by taxpayers. If they can’t compete, they should go into another line of business.

    • avatar


  9. avatar

    Not to mention, the low cost of labor inhibits the development of machines to do the picking. This country did not develop its standard of living by exploiting low-cost labor, but by developing machines to multiply the labor that we used. Make farm labor more expensive and it’s pretty obvious to me what will happen.

  10. avatar


    • avatar

      Not so, as explained, there is a Visa involved. In other words, a beginning and an end. Used successfully in the apple, pear, peaches growers. They bring the workers here, provide housing etc. and these workers provide revenue for the towns people as they purchase food etc while they are here. win/win for all

      • avatar

        There is a flaw with the H-2A Visa program and all guestworker programs. The aliens have a bunch of anchor baby children they cannot support with their earnings. Suck more from the US taxpayers and claim they have “roots” in the community and say deportation is breaking apart families.

      • avatar
        richard harris on

        Kay. How many people and 911 terrorists are and were in this country illegally on overstayed visas? win/win for who?

        • avatar

          I believe almost all of them, if not all, were here as visa overstays, but they weren’t on H-2A visas. I believe most were here on student visas (F-1’s?), learning to fly, etc. The H-2A program works pretty well; there are apple pickers, sugar cane cutters, etc., who come back year after year on H-2A visas. Growers don’t like it for reasons pointed out previously. There are places, such as North Carolina, where “ag” cooperatives have helped growers to hire H-2A’s and the program is working quite well. Until we (the voters) put enough pressure on our politicians to convince them that we want immigration enforcement, nothing will change. We also have to be willing to pay a few pennies more for our produce as long as it’s grown and picked by legal labor.