Common Sense On Immigration [Opinion: One Grower’s Take]

Common Sense On Immigration [Opinion: One Grower’s Take]

A lot of publicity and emotion surround U.S. immigration policy. It has certainly become a highly controversial topic during the presidential campaign. However, it’s clear that when people hear about immigration, they quickly formulate differing images about the issue, especially when the topic is only driven by the rhetoric of political candidates.

Typically, our perspectives depend upon our occupation, where we live, and our personal experiences with other cultures. If you live on the border in Arizona or Texas, your vision of immigration is likely quite different from folks who live farther north.

And if you’re not directly involved in agricultural production — or the myriad of other businesses that hire immigrant labor — immigrants may be seen as an unwanted but growing segment of the community. In this case, it is very easy to succumb to the hyped-up media coverage of the negative aspects of immigration and how “those people” are destroying our nation, stealing U.S. jobs, and costing U.S. citizens millions of dollars in social services.


As is the case with most issues, a narrow perspective generally fails to denote the complete — and truthful — picture of reality.

There is little question that there are many illegal immigrants in the U.S. and that some undocumented immigrants cost taxpayers money, engage in illegal activity, and create language challenges for our school systems. However, that’s only a small part of the tale even if it’s the only part of the story that the anti-immigration folks want you to hear.

Strong Work Ethic
If we focus on the agricultural labor component of immigration, we can also tell the success stories of thousands of immigrants who have integrated into our society in a productive and lawful manner. They have a work ethic that is reminiscent of the hard-working Americans from our past. They pay taxes and mortgages, have strong family values, go to church, and otherwise fit the very mold of the classic American family.

The workers at Hollabaugh Bros., Inc. Fruit Farms & Market in Biglerville, PA take a well-deserved break. (Photo credit: Bruce Hollabaugh)

The workers at Hollabaugh Bros., Inc. Fruit Farms & Market in Biglerville, PA take a well-deserved break. (Photo credit: Bruce Hollabaugh)

Also, from an agricultural perspective, there really is no direct relationship between the rising rate of unemployment in our nation and the number of available workers willing and able to do the work. Even with high unemployment, American job seekers avoid agricultural work like the plague. The work is perceived as too hard and the pay may be deemed to be too little, even if job seekers might otherwise be willing or qualified to try.

Realistically, qualifications for jobs on the farm are not as basic as some folks like to believe. Farm work requires a body that is fit enough to work out in the elements. Picking fruit, training or pruning trees, and working with farm equipment — among many other tasks — require a set of skills relatively few Americans can put on their résumés. For farmers, the costs of training unskilled workers can be very high, not unlike many other businesses.

Today there is a huge disconnect between our farms and the origins of our food supply. But the fact remains that immigrant labor fills the gap to do the work that feeds our nation. Consequently, U.S. citizens have enjoyed safe, plentiful, and inexpensive food for generations.

In 1986, Congress created the H-2A visa program which, by design, was a highly bureaucratic system that imposed strict regulations, substantial fees, and extensive guidelines. As many growers discovered, the H-2A program created enormous liabilities for employers who were attacked relentlessly by legal advocacy groups.

H-2A Can Cause Headaches
The use of the H-2A program has never fully blossomed due to the strict regulations and costs of a system that is inherently difficult to navigate. Applications must pass a tedious process with an agency that admits it has far too little capacity to handle the total number of agricultural workers currently required in our country.

How does this discussion connect to the immigration issue at hand today? It may be easy to stipulate that someone who entered the U.S. illegally simply broke the law and is a criminal. But who can debate that few legal issues are resolved so simplistically?

For example, under Congress’ own dictates, employers have followed the law of the land and hired under the I-9 regulations. And so, decades of employment have evolved under those rules. And despite the claims of naysayers, U.S. citizens are not the folks who have filled the employment void in agriculture, hospitality, construction, landscaping, etc. When our economy weakened, Americans did not fill those positions.