Cornucopia’s Take: With more than half of all U.S. farmworkers being undocumented immigrants, a new report suggests over 1,000 farms in New York could close or significantly reduce operations if deportations continue. Farmers across the country are concerned about their shrinking workforce and consumers should be similarly concerned about what this means for their food supply.
Report: immigrant deportations could devastate North Country farm economy
North Country Public Radio
by David Sommerstein
One of the state’s top agricultural lenders is warning President Trump’s crackdown on undocumented immigrants could cost New York’s economy billions of dollars.
A report from Farm Credit East estimates 1,080 farms in New York could go out of business or significantly reduce operations if federal agents continue to step up deportations of farm workers in the country illegally.
Immigration police have arrested hundreds of people in Upstate New York since Donald Trump became president, according to federal figures. Many were working on farms illegally. That’s sending a chill through farmer and farmworker communities.
“Word gets out,” says Tom Cosgrove, spokesman with Farm Credit East, “and so I think it creates a little bit of a nervousness out there in terms of what might happen.” Farm Credit East is a farm lending cooperative with about 9,000 members in New York State.
It’s well known agriculture relies heavily on mostly Latino workers in the country illegally – more than half of all farm workers, according to many estimates. Farm Credit East wanted to get a handle on what would happen if they were rounded up and deported from Upstate New York’s farms.
Deportations could devastate more than a thousand farms in New York
“Farmworkers have worked with families for generations. They’re close with them. So there’s that personal aspect that shouldn’t be discounted, but we were really trying to look at it to see, ok, let’s see if we can get our arms around, what would the economic impact be if something like this happened?”
Cosgrove says the most vulnerable farms to immigration raids are the very large ones with labor intensive crops, like dairy, fruit and vegetable production, greenhouses and nurseries.
The report, which is based on state farm census figures, estimates widespread deportations could cost more than 21,000 farm jobs statewide, and another 23,000 non-farm jobs related to agriculture. That could ripple through the economy to the tune of a $8.5 billion loss, says Cosgrove. “And so that’s a high degree of economic activity that’s at risk, and so this is one of the potential consequences of these policies.”
A “guest worker” program that has its critics
The report comes with two big caveats. Deportations and farm raids were already stepped up under President Barack Obama’s administration. Also, the Farm Credit East report outlines a worst case scenario. The report argues for a better legal path for farm workers.
The Trump Administration is sending mixed messages on that front. Last month, President Trump outlined plans for a sharply reduced legal immigration program. He also ordered this week an end to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA.
But speaking to farmers in Connecticut last week, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue sounded a more hopeful note for the agriculture industry. He said an improved agricultural guest worker program could become a centerpiece for broader immigration reform.
However, farmworker advocates remain skeptical of such programs. They say the programs leave workers vulnerable to abuses regarding their pay and health care because their employment hinges on fair treatment from the farm that secured their guest worker visa. Advocates say the real reform would be to find a legal path to citizenship for the thousands of undocumented workers who are already working on farms across the U.S.