Two Stories, Two Thousand Miles, One Problem

immigrant farm workers

Over just a few days last week there were two major stories – one in Upstate New York, one in Texas – about immigrants and farming. Two completely different stories, same realities. The kind of realities that should give everyone in the United States pause.

Because it has to do with our food supply.

Story one is from New York, where ICE and the Border Patrol have been cracking down on undocumented immigrants in Upstate New York to the point where the Governor has demanded they back off. Why? Because Upstate New York is the land of dairy farms. For generations it’s been an open secret that the dairy farmers have relied on undocumented immigrants as a work force – there’s no significant work force in the area and even if there were, most (if not all) Americans are loathe to work what can be a grueling job over grueling hours.

The dairy farmers have always been in a bind, work force wise. Most farms in the U.S. are considered seasonal work and are eligible to hire temporary, legal, foreign workers. Dairy farmers, however, operate year round (to the relief of their cows) and aren’t eligible for the temporary help.

All efforts to change this have failed. The immigration hard-liners in Congress won’t allow it because they view it as a type of amnesty. Democrats want full immigration reform, not temporary measures. The dairy farmers are smack in the middle.

Suffice to say, the more they are affected, the more the consumer is going to feel it.

Farmers in Texas have the same problem for entirely different reasons. Since the 1930s Mexican towns throughout Mexico, “including the region in the central state of Guanajuato known as El Bajio, have emptied themselves out of their youths during what’s called the ‘winter blues.’ The young head north to seek out their own version of the American dream: jobs.”

For generations, migrant workers from Mexico worked the farms of North Texas, built the Dallas Fort Worth Airport, Texas Stadium, and most of the skyscrapers in downtown Dallas. Solid, dependable, cheap labor.

But no more. The once reliable pipeline of migrant workers from Mexico is running dry as the Mexican economy booms and there are jobs aplenty, and the Trump administration’s crackdowns have made it ‘going North’ too much of a hassle.

As a result, there’s a scarcity of low and mid-skilled workers in Texas. That has already impacted the region’s economic growth while increasing labor costs. This is not going to change anytime soon and, once again, American consumers will feel it.

Two thousand miles separate these stories but the effects are the same and they effect – or will soon effect – all of us.

Just a small piece of the many unintended consequences of our current immigration policies.