Farm Workers and Immigration Policy

December 1, 2011

For more than a century, agriculture has been an entry point into the labor market for immigrants in the United States. Presently, close to three-fourths of all U.S. hired farm workers are immigrants, most of them unauthorized. Their unauthorized legal status, low wages, and an inconsistent work schedule contribute to a precarious economic state. Immigrant farm workers fill low-wage jobs that citizens are reluctant to take. Attempts to recruit citizens for farm worker jobs have failed. Domestic production of fruits and vegetables could decrease without immigrant farm workers. 

In spite of the role they play in U.S. agriculture, unauthorized immigrant farm workers labor under increasingly hostile conditions. The Agricultural Job Opportunity, B enefits and Security bill (AgJOBS)  as developed by farmers and farmworker advocates to regularize the status of workers in the agriculture sector. Public concern about unauthorized immigration has held up prospects of enacting the bill into law. Farm workers should be legalized so they can work without fear of deportation and so that farmers have access to workers they need. Immigrant agricultural workers can also support human capital renewal on farms struggling to recruit the next generation of farm operators. Rural communities in Mexico — where immigrant farm workers originate — should be integrated into a U.S. agricultural guest worker program that benefits U.S. and Mexican farmers.

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