Ag businesses fear labor loss if Trump prioritizes visas


Barbara Soderlin, Omaha World-Herald

via Norfolk Daily News (NE) - Mar 19, 2017


Some of the peppers youíll see this summer at farmers markets and grocery stores got their start last week with Felipe de Jesus Aldais Ruiz and his pair of tweezers.


Aldais Ruiz is part of a crew of foreign workers on a Platte County family farm who perform the intensive hands-on labor that makes it possible for the farm to raise vegetables for sale across Nebraska and beyond. Their employer, Daniels Produce, is one of many Midlands agriculture businesses worried that workers might become harder to find, as President Donald Trump looks to crack down on illegal immigration and suspend refugee resettlement programs.


Aldais Ruiz, a 27-year-old Mexican, and the men he works alongside are in the country legally through a visa program for seasonal agricultural workers called H2-A.


Daniels farm manager Kelly Jackson has criticized the H2-A program for what she says is its cost and inefficiencies ó reasons other farmers avoid the program in favor of undocumented workers.


But she worries a crackdown on illegal immigration could create a flood of employers applying to use the visa program and make it less likely her application will be processed on time. (Employers using the H2-A visas file the initial applications on behalf of their seasonal workers.) Sheís also concerned by Trumpís recent comments about prioritizing visas for highly skilled workers, wondering if that might mean fewer farm laborers allowed into the country.


That wouldnít be a bad thing, in some economistsí and votersí view: They say that if fewer foreign workers come to the U.S. to do the unskilled labor of agricultural work, wages will rise and opportunities will open for American workers. Thatís also the Trump administrationís view.


Still, Daniels and others in agriculture ó from on-the-ground farms to industry lobby groups ó said they still donít have a good sense of how Trumpís immigration policy will shape up or how exactly it will affect them. Many say the policies could disrupt the supply of workers they canít run their businesses without.


At Daniels, for example, growing kitchen-table produce is more labor-intensive than the type of work most other farms in the county undertake: planting commodity-type corn and soybeans with huge machines.


One morning this month the H2-A workers formed a pepper-planting assembly line: