Thanks to increased border security, and competition from other industries offering better pay and working conditions, Southwestern farmers are facing a severe shortage of workers this winter. It’s so bad that some political leaders — including President George W. Bush — are beginning to talk beyond party lines and look at immigration reform.
Western Growers Association says its 3,000 member farmers need
another 20,000 workers in southwestern Arizona and
California’s Imperial Valley to pick this winter’s
crops. Without those workers, the association warns, unpicked
vegetables may be left to rot in the fields. More than 90 percent
of the country’s winter vegetables are grown in the
Southwest, and the work force that harvests them consists mostly of
migrants, most of them illegal (HCN, 9/19/05: In the orchards,
questions about immigration reform).
On a swing through
the Southwest in late November, and again during his State of the
Union address at the end of January, President Bush urged stronger
border security, but also defied some in his own party by calling
on Congress to pass a guest-worker program that would allow migrant
laborers to work in the United States for a renewable three-year
period before they are forced to return to their home countries.
Critics of the idea say a guest-worker program would take jobs away
from Americans and open the door to amnesty.
dispute the notion that relying on cheap illegal labor takes jobs
away from Americans. "I could advertise until I’m blue in the
face; I don’t get any Americans," says Ed Curry, a chile
farmer in southeastern Arizona.