Why Can't Americans Work the Fields?

By Ivone Guillen 10-05-2011

How ironic that for all the protests going on about unemployment these days there is a parallel, if less shrill, debate happening in our agricultural sector involving what to do about a shortage of workers to pick crops and care for livestock on U.S. farms.

In most immigration debates we hear the familiar refrain: "Illegal immigrants are taking Americans jobs." But the reality seems to be quite the opposite, at least according to the farmers who rely on migrant labor.

Their high dependency on immigrant workers, who often are undocumented, comes from the fact that there are not enough"documented" Americans willing to do the labor-intensive farm work.

A recent New York Times article profiling several farmers in rural Olathe, Colo., reported:

Mr. Harold, a 71-year-old Vietnam War veteran who drifted here in the late '60s, has participated for about a decade in a federal program called H-2A that allows seasonal foreign workers into the country to make up the gap where willing and able American workers are few in number. He typically has brought in about 90 people from Mexico each year from July through October.

This year, though, with tough times lingering and a big jump in the minimum wage under the program, to nearly $10.50 an hour, Mr. Harold brought in only two-thirds of his usual contingent. The other positions, he figured, would be snapped up by jobless local residents wanting some extra summer cash.

"It didn't take me six hours to realize I'd made a heck of a mistake," Mr. Harold said, standing in his onion field on a recent afternoon as a crew of workers from Mexico cut the tops off yellow onions and bagged them.

Six hours was enough, between the 6 a.m. start time and noon lunch break, for the first wave of local workers to quit. Some simply never came back and gave no reason.

Twenty-five of them said specifically, according to farm records, that the work was too hard. Read full article here???On a lighter note, check out this Daily Show video that shows what effects anti-immigrant legislation is having on the country.

On a much lighter note...

Check out this Daily Show segment by "correspondent" Jason Jones documenting (pun intended) the effects of anti-immigrant legislation:

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Ivone Guillen is Sojourners' Immigration Campaigns Fellow. A native of Washington State, where she lived and worked amongst immigrant communities, Ivone graduated from Gonzaga University in Spokane, Wash., in 2009 with a degree in international studies and Spanish, and worked with Tierra Vida (Land of Life) as program coordinator for C.A.S.A. and was a immigration policy fellow at Bread For The World before joining Sojourners in September.

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