$2.25 Million Fine Underscores Importance of Immigration Reform
One of the nation’s largest apple growers, family-run Broetje Orchards, has agreed to pay a $2.25 million dollar fine for employing illegal immigrants. The fine -- the largest ever levied against an agricultural operation -- highlights the importance of immigration reform to the agricultural sector, which for decades has depended on migrant labor and is currently undergoing a labor shortage crisis.
In a twist of Kafkaesque irony, many of the illegal immigrants Broetje employs would likely have benefited from the Obama administration’s plan to allow more than four million immigrants to apply for deferred deportation and work authorization, but the plan was blocked by a federal judge earlier this year.
While the Obama administration has largely eased up on enforcement against immigrants themselves, it hasn’t ceased prosecuting employers. The fate of the unauthorized workers in the case remains uncertain, with many workers paying taxes, having U.S.-born children, and no criminal record.
The administration's continued crack-down on employers and the inability of the House to come to a consensus on immigration reform puts agriculture, an industry that is widely recognized to depend on migrant labor, in a difficult position.
Last spring, the New York Times documented the growing impatience of California farmers who are fed up with labor shortages. Jennifer Medina explains, “In dozens of interviews, farmers and owners of related businesses said that even the current system of tacitly using illegal labor was failing to sustain them. A work force that arrived in the 1990s is aging out of heavy labor, Americans do not want the jobs, and tightened security at the border is discouraging new immigrants from arriving, they say, leaving them to struggle amid the paralysis on immigration policy.”
A report released by the Partnership for a New American Economy and the Agriculture Coalition for Immigration Reform attributes a $1.4 billion annual loss in farm income to the lack of labor.
“We need these people to get our food to market,” stressed Mr. Herrin, a lifelong Republican who thinks immigration policy should be focused on getting workers into the United States.
Congressman Denham (R) explained the enormity of the problem: “These are not just seasonal workers. These are people who have almost become part of the same family. It’s a problem that has grown so big and so multigenerational, we can no longer ignore it.”
Many agricultural employers and businesses are pushing for agricultural visas to create a more stable and reliable labor supply. It’s clear current immigration laws are grossly insufficient. A healthy and smooth-functioning agricultural sector and food system in the United States necessitates immigration reform.