HOUSTON CHRONICLE

August 10, 2017

 

Undocumented immigrants were leaving America's farms long before Trump

 

By Lydia DePillis

 

Although the Trump administration has backed a plan to cut down on the number of "low-skilled" immigrants who come to the United States, America's farms have recruited more and more of them in recent years as the flow of undocumented workers from Mexico reversed course. 

That's the upshot of a report published today by the nonprofit, nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute, which traced the rise of workers brought in on H-2A visas for seasonal agricultural workers. Unlike the H-2B program for other types of seasonal workers, like the groundskeepers and hotel workers that Donald Trump has brought in to staff his resorts, the H-2A program has no cap. 

Accordingly, the number of visas granted to farms more than doubled from 2008 to 2015, to about 140,000 people, while the number of farm jobs overall has remained steady at 1.1 million to 1.4 million. 

For many years, undocumented workers had been plentiful and cheap, since employers did not have to provide them with housing, which is required for those on visas. But immigration raids and an economic downturn under President Barack Obama forced many to return home, and workers became harder to find. 

That's especially true in states like California, which produces most of America's delicate fruits and vegetables, which aren't easily picked by machine. But it's also very much true in Texas, which has about 5 percent of the nation's farmworkers. 

For that reason, the agriculture industry has pushed to make it easier and less expensive to bring in farmworkers, which Sen. Lamar Alexander has promised to work on later in the fall.