2007 October 25 Thursday
Immigration Raids Cut Illegal Alien Use On American Farms

Businessweek, using the politically correct term "undocumented immigrant", reports on how recent raids have driven many illegal aliens out of farm work.

A climate of fear is spreading among undocumented immigrant workers, causing turmoil in industries dependent on their labor. In August the Homeland Security Dept. announced that employers would be required to terminate workers who fail to produce valid Social Security numbers. Implementation of the new rule is delayed pending the outcome of a lawsuit brought against the government by the umbrella labor union group, the AFL-CIO.

But while the new rule has yet to take effect, its impact is already being felt by farmers like Torrey. An estimated three-quarters of agricultural workers in the U.S. are undocumented, and growers are starting to feel the paralyzing effects of losing their workforce. They say that unless the government implements workable reforms, the future of the U.S. as a food-producing nation is in jeopardy.

This demonstrates how immigration law enforcement against fairly small numbers of illegal aliens can compel much larger numbers of them to leave. Raids conducted across many industries in an area could drive the bulk of the illegals from an area. This happened with Pakistani illegals in the New York City area when federal agents targeted them after 9/11. Most of them fled back to Pakistan before they were caught.

The farmers who want hordes of low paid and low skilled illegal immigrants use labor far in excess of the amount of economic value they produce. Farmers use 2% of the workers but produce less than 1% of the total economic value of the US economy. We shouldn't subsidize the farm corporations with Third World laborers. What is the point of having an industry in the United States that pays so poorly that Americans do not want to do the bulk of that industry's work?

Agriculture does not play the role it once did in the U.S. economy, of course. Though the amount of farmland used has remained fairly steady over the past century, changes to the structure of farms and improvements in productivity have cut the number of people involved dramatically. In 1900, for example, 41% of the U.S. population was employed in agriculture, while that number now stands at less than 2%. Farmers hire workers for about 3 million agricultural jobs each year, but only one-quarter of that workforce is legally authorized. Agriculture also makes up a lower share of the U.S. gross domestic product than ever, accounting for less than 1%.

The farmers enjoy big subsidies on their crops. Plus, they get ethanol subsidies. On top of all this, their illegal alien workers cost us far more (e.g. in education and health care for them and their kids) than they pay those workers in salaries. Enough already.

An end to the use of illegal alien workers would reduce the vegetable crops more than the grain crops since grain crops are less labor intensive. In time the vegetable and fruit crops would recover since an end to cheap illegal alien labor would spur more rapid development and deployment of innovations for automation of farm work.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2007 October 25 10:57 PM  Immigration Economics


Comments
Audacious Epigone said at October 26, 2007 2:50 AM:

In a report on anecdotal (I say this because the amount of fruits and vegetables being grown in the US is higher than it has ever been) production shifts from fruits and vegetables to more mechinization-friendly crops like wheat and corn, UC Davis Professor Philip Martin commented:

In the long-run, what makes American agriculture competitive internationally is that we have very high productivity, and that usually means substituting machines for people.
The idea of the US competing internationally on the cost of labor is absurd. If a farmer's focus is on obtaining the cheapest labor possible, he should consider moving his operations to Mexico. Of course, there are five billion people living in places less affluent than Mexico, so he has plenty of other options.

Kenelm Digby said at October 26, 2007 3:21 AM:

As I never tire of pointing out 'cheap' Mexican farm labor in the long-run is actually an economic liability, as the low tax-revenue garnered per Mexican is insufficient to cover his (and his chidren's) mandatory state entitlements.

m said at October 26, 2007 8:08 AM:

"As I never tire of pointing out 'cheap' Mexican farm labor in the long-run is actually an economic liability, as the low tax-revenue garnered per Mexican is insufficient to cover his (and his chidren's) mandatory state entitlements"

Japan is subsitituting machine labor for human labor,inventing,for exapmle,machines and technology to help care the elderly.We'll be importing this stuff in 15-20yrs.

Why?

Because we,on the other hand,subsidized "cheap" human labor rather than investing in mechanized labor.

In that 15-20yr time frame,Japan will become the world's most "robotized"?robotisized? society on the planet.

Imagine a "go dark" factory that is itself one giant machine,sucking in raw material,processing it into parts,assembling them and spitting out finished products at the other end.

Due the very bad decisions we've made over the last 20-40 yrs,nanotech is not merely a matter of staying competitive,we must become the world leader or decline to 3rd world status.

Not sound flip or hysterical,it's nanotech or death for us.

Randall Parker said at October 26, 2007 7:52 PM:

Audacious,

Yes, we can only win in farming by increasing labor productivity. We should use less labor to produce more crops. This is a technologically achievable goal and we will increase farm labor productivity much more rapidly if fewer laborers are available and their labor costs more.


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