Undocumented farmworkers are the backbone of the United States’ agriculture industry, a situation that has long posed numerous challenges for these workers, their families, and employers. But the Trump administration’s immigration enforcement policies and aggressive Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) action—which has detained farm workers in New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and elsewhere—has created a climate of fear among workers. And that’s already resulting in labor shortages that are prompting some growers to curtail harvest plans.
On call with reporters, Monterey Mushrooms president and owner Shah Kazemi confirmed the labor situation. “We’re currently short hundreds of workers,” he said. “We have been forced to cut back our production because people are not showing up to work out of fear. “If we don’t have a way to fix our broken immigration system, I don’t think agriculture can survive in this country,” said Kazemi.
To help protect these farmworkers, Democratic Senators Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris of California, Michael Bennet of Colorado, Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, and Patrick Leahy of Vermont have introduced the Agricultural Worker Program Act of 2017 (S. 1034). The bill would protect undocumented immigrants with a history of work in U.S. agriculture from deportation and provide them with a path to long-term legal residence and citizenship.
“Wherever I go in California,” and talk to famers, said Senator Feinstein on a call with reporters, “they tell me they can’t find workers—that workers are scared, afraid they will be picked up and deported. They have disappeared.”
“The people who feed us should have an opportunity to work here legally,” she continued. “That’s what we do in this bill we are proposing.”