Bitter harvest: U.S. farmers blame billion-dollar losses on immigration laws
Ralph and Cheryl Broetje rely on roughly 1,000 seasonal workers every year to grow and pack more than 6 million boxes of apples on their farm along the Snake River in eastern Washington. It’s a custom they’ve maintained for over two decades. Recently, though, their efforts to recruit skilled labor, mostly undocumented immigrants, have come up woefully short despite intensive recruitment efforts in an area with high rates of unemployment.
The Broetjes and an increasing number of farmers across the country say that a complex web of local and state anti-immigration laws account for acute labor shortages. With the harvest season in full bloom, stringent immigration laws have forced waves of undocumented immigrants to flee certain states for more-hospitable areas. In their wake, thousands of acres of crops have been left to rot in the fields, as farmers have struggled to compensate for labor shortages with domestic help.
“The enforcement of immigration policy has devastated the skilled-labor source that we’ve depended on for 20 or 30 years,” said Ralph Broetje during a recent teleconference organized by the National Immigration Forum, adding that last year Washington farmers — part of an $8 billion agriculture industry — were forced to leave 10% of their crops rotting on vines and trees. “It’s getting worse each year,” says Broetje, “and it’s going to end up putting some growers out of business if Congress doesn’t step up and do immigration reform.” Time Business
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