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September is an important month for farmers and those who rely heavily on farm workers. For states such as California and Missouri where a large part of the population relies on agriculture, limitations on migrant workers who help get the crops in on time and run the farms could cause a shortage in food. With over 81,500 farms in California that rely on over 800,000 undocumented farm laborers, Sen. Dianne Feinstein is asking the government to grant them a deportation reprieve.
When immigration raids occur, the harvesting process is halted and this creates a ripple effect from the farm’s rotting crops to the consumer’s dinner table. Sen. Feinstein addressed a letter on Monday to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano requesting the government use prosecutorial discretion when deporting farm workers. Also she asked to stop the I-9 farm audits, which requires employers to verify the work authorization status of their employees. In the letter, Feinstein wrote, “…the agricultural industry faces an acute shortage of domestic workers. Therefore, I respectfully request that you redirect ICE’s enforcement efforts to focus on immigration law violations that involve serious violent crimes…” Furthermore, the I-9 enforcement only intensifies the crisis when they have to terminate large groups of employees once they realize that they have not provided the correct documentation. If the agricultural sector is deprived of the majority of their workers, farmers and related industries across the country will suffer from significant economic harm. This will in turn cause food prices to skyrocket for everyone. Under the I-9 audit procedures, employers must immediately fire workers whose identities do not match up to the government database. However, deporting such a large number of people would dramatically damage a $20 billion annually industry.
Because of the unequal balance of power between farmers and their undocumented workers exists, many times farmers may intimidate their workers with threats of fines, deportation and slave-like conditions. If Feinstein’s request is fulfilled, it could allow immigrants more freedom to report these incidences of abuse and wage theft. Unfortunately, even if the government does allow the temporary halt of deportations, this does not mean that work conditions will immediately improve. Migrant farm workers are still subject to issues such as pesticide poisoning, inadequate healthcare and the threat of being fired for too many sick days. As it stands, California lawmakers understand the need to address the undocumented population that is an important part of their state economy. Feinstein’s call for a deportation reprieve would allow ICE to focus on more serious offenders and help keep the agricultural industry stable. This deportation reprieve may make other agricultural heavy states reconsider their stance on migrant workers.
If you have questions regarding deportation, I-9 audits or temporary agricultural work visas, contact us at 314-961-8200 or visit our contact page.