Tag Archives: Immigration

Timing is everything. As a parent, that means grabbing a non-washable magic marker from your toddler’s hands right before the tip touches the living room wall. As a commuter, it’s about rolling up to the bus stop so that you’re not waiting too long in the rain but you’re not cutting it so close that you’re running after the bus as it pulls away. Farmers, too, have tight timelines, set by Mother Nature. When their fruits and vegetables are ripe for picking, there’s no time to waste. And waste is exactly the outcome when farmers can’t get enough workers in their fields at just the right time.

A World Wildlife Fund analysis examined four crops during the 2017-2018 growing season at farms in Florida, New Jersey, Idaho and Arizona. The WWF report, funded by the Walmart Foundation and the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research, indicated that 40% of tomatoes, 39% of peaches, 56% of romaine lettuce and 2% percent of processing potatoes were left in the field. The report cited labor costs as a major driver of that waste, along with weather and market conditions.

But farmers like Burr and Rosella Mosby in Washington don’t need a report to tell them what happens when you have far too few hands in the field, despite higher wages, efforts to recruit U.S. workers and the timely filing of paperwork for the H-2A program, the federal government’s program to provide farmers with temporary foreign labor.

“It’s supposed to be that you work hard and produce something, and you’re getting paid at the end of the day,” Burr Mosby said in 2017 as he watched 20 acres of his zucchini squash being plowed under. “Here we produced something. We grew it, and I don’t have enough hands to pick it, put it in boxes, and sell it to the grocery store. That’s what hurts.”

At the time, the Mosbys estimated that their workforce shortage would cost them $100,000 in lost profits and productivity. But there’s also the cost to the greater good. Multiply the Mosbys’ 20 acres times an untold number of fields of all sizes, and the amount of food waste is unfathomable, especially because it doesn’t have to happen. There are enough skilled farm workers – or at least there are far more than farmers now have access to – to harvest perfectly ripe tomatoes, peaches, apples, lettuce, zucchini and much more. There are also workers who are ready, willing and very able to help care for farm animals year-round. Unfortunately, most of them live outside this country and the current guest worker visa program fails to meet many farmers’ basic employment needs to allow these workers to come to the United States.

Though the H-2A program is costly and burdensome in many other ways, it’s all farmers have, and many are trying to use it, as evidenced by the steady increase in the number of H-2A applications they’re submitting. The second quarter of 2019 marked the first time the number of H-2A applications exceeded 5,000 during the second quarter. At the same time the number of applications is rising, the rate at which the Department of Labor is processing the applications is slowing down, which is problematic for farmers with extremely tight harvesting windows.

Delays aside, the 243,000 H-2A workers who came to the U.S. in 2018 filled just a sliver of the more than 2.4 million farm jobs. To fill these major gaps and reduce the waste of perfectly good food, along with the water, fertilizer and other resources that went into growing it, farmers are calling on Congress to establish an agricultural guest worker program that is flexible and affordable for farmers and effective in meeting the needs of all producers. A revamped agricultural worker program should also provide current workers the opportunity to earn legal status.

To paraphrase another time-related adage: The best time to pass farm labor reform legislation was yesterday. The next best time is now.

While rural Nebraskans have mixed opinions about the impact of immigration on rural Nebraska, those more likely to have lived alongside recent immigrants have more positive views, according to the 2019 Nebraska Rural Poll.

Overall, 38% of respondents to the Rural Poll — the largest annual poll of rural Nebraskans’ perceptions on quality of life and policy issues — agree that immigrants strengthen rural Nebraska, while 30% disagree. One-third agree that on balance immigration has been good for rural Nebraska, while 27% disagree. At least one-third of rural Nebraskans neither agreed nor disagreed with both statements.

Experience with immigrants appears to be related to perceptions of immigration, a survey official said. Persons living in or near larger communities, who are more likely to be aware of recent immigrants in their community, are more likely than those living in or near smaller communities to agree that immigrants strengthen rural Nebraska. Similarly, the poll found that persons living in both the south-central and northeast regions, which are more likely to be aware of recent immigrants in their community, are more likely than those living in other regions to agree that immigrants strengthen rural Nebraska.

Younger persons are more likely than older persons to agree that immigrants strengthen rural Nebraska. Just over half of persons 19 to 29 agree with the statement, compared to 31% of those 65 and older. Looking at immigration trends, Nebraskans 29 and younger are likely to have grown up with more foreign-born immigrants.

“Overall, there is a consistent theme from the data,” said L.J. McElravy, associate professor of youth civic leadership at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. “Respondents believe immigrants strengthen rural Nebraska when they are more likely to interact with immigrants, whether that exposure is a result of where they live or their age.”

The poll also found that rural Nebraskans have concerns about language issues and the effect illegal immigration may have on wages. Eighty-four percent of rural Nebraskans surveyed agree that immigrants should learn to speak English within a reasonable amount of time. In addition, half of respondents disagree that communities should communicate important information in other languages as well as English. And 44% agree that undocumented immigrants drive down wages in rural Nebraska, while just under one-quarter disagree.

When asked about immigration policies, most rural Nebraskans surveyed agree with policies that try to prevent illegal immigration. Almost three-quarters agree that government should tighten borders to prevent illegal immigration, and about the same proportion agrees that businesses employing undocumented workers should be penalized. Almost two-thirds agree that undocumented immigrants should be deported. A similar percentage disagree that the government is too aggressive in deporting those who are in the United States illegally.

However, many respondents also support a pathway to citizenship for undocumented workers. Sixty-two percent agree that an undocumented immigrant who has been working and paying taxes for five years or more should be allowed to apply for citizenship, and slightly less agree that there should be a way for undocumented immigrants who meet certain requirements to stay in the country legally. Seventy percent agree that immigrants who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children should be allowed the chance to become U.S. citizens if they meet certain requirements over a period of time.

Many opinions about immigration policies remain about the same as they were in 2006, the last time immigration questions were asked in the Rural Poll. However, fewer rural Nebraskans today support the government tightening borders to prevent illegal immigration than did in 2006. Then, 83% of respondents agreed that the government should tighten borders. In 2019, this fell to 74%. And, the proportion who agree that an undocumented immigrant who has been working and paying taxes for five years or more should be allowed to apply for citizenship increased slightly, from 58% in 2006 to 62% this year.

“The poll results mirror the tensions we see across the country in terms of immigrants and immigration — respondents tended to be evenly split across a variety of the questions,” said Jason Weigle, associate extension educator with Nebraska Extension. “On the balance, though, respondents wished to see a pathway for undocumented migrants who have been trying to be productive members of American society to become residents. Focusing on opportunities for integration across the state can help Nebraska move forward positively.”

This year’s Rural Poll was mailed to 6,260 randomly selected households in nonmetropolitan counties in March and April. One-thousand-seven-hundred-seventy-six households responded, a rate of 28%. The margin of error is plus-or-minus 2%. Complete results are available at http://ruralpoll.unl.edu.

The university’s Department of Agricultural Economics conducts the poll with funding from Nebraska Extension and the Nebraska Rural Futures Institute.