KXTV (Sacramento, California)

August 16, 2017

 

Are half of California farmworkers undocumented?

 

By Barbara Harvey

 


Lawmakers are searching for solutions amid an agricultural labor shortage crippling California farms.  A bill titled the Agricultural Worker Program Act, introduced by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, among others, would seek to curtail deportations of undocumented farm workers by granting them a path to citizenship.

“Nine of 10 California farmworkers are immigrants. At least five in 10 are undocumented,” Feinstein tweeted when discussing the bill.  But is this true?

According to 2016 statistics from a Department of Labor National Agricultural Workers Survey (NAWS) survey, over 90 percent of California crop workers are immigrants, and half are unauthorized.

However, Egan Reich, a Department of Labor spokesman, said the NAWS statistics do not track “farm workers." Instead, they examine crop workers, an important distinction.

The NAWS survey only tracks workers employed in crop-related facilities classified in the North American Industrial Classification System as Crop Production or as Support Activities for Crop Production — this includes farms, orchards, groves, greenhouses, and nurseries that are primarily engaged in growing crops, plants, vines, or trees and their seeds.

Excluded from these statistics are “persons employed at eligible establishments who do not perform crop-related work, such as secretaries or mechanics,” the report states. The NAWS survey does not keep statistics on “farm workers” as a whole, Reich said.

Reich said the Department of Labor was unable to confirm the validity of Feinstein’s statement due to this distinction.

Adam Russell, a spokesman for Sen. Feinstein, sourced the claim to statistics from a Department of Labor presentation on California agriculture, which in turn used NAWS statistics on crop workers.

While it may be a matter of semantics, it’s an important distinction. Philip Martin, a professor emeritus of agricultural and resource economics at UC Davis, highlighted the difference, pointing out that livestock workers could also fall under the broad definition of “farm worker.”

Regardless of the specifics, however, Feinstein’s assessment that the majority of California agricultural workers are immigrants is accurate.