In California Farm Country, Trump’s Deportation Threat Looms Large

Yves here. This article seeks to give a sympathetic picture of illegal farm workers who have lived in the US so long as to be de facto natives.

One thing I wish I had a better grip on is precisely what drives the fact that these jobs are not done by Americans. The article points out that some of the people they interviewed have “decent” housing and could afford to have kids and even put a little money aside. So if the workers are able to live adequately at US expense levels, what is the arbitrage? Is it just that the employers are not paying what amounts to the 15% FICA between employer and employee share? That would also imply they aren’t deducting the expenses against their income taxes either (if you pay someone more than $650 a year, you need to issue a 1099). Is it simply that what the “undocumented” workers regard as acceptable housing and cars is something native Americans would not tolerate, as in despite living here, they really do have a vastly lower cost base? That is certainly true for some of the sweatshops caught in crackdowns, where workers were being paid below minimum wage and were also living in illegally overcrowded apartments.

And how much of it is due to the fact that the workplace conditions are illegal, as in the employers have serious workplace safety risks or are engaged in illegal activities (as in violating environmental or product safety regs), and “illegal” workers are preferred because they’d never rat them out?

It is true that farmers can’t quickly find substitutes for “illegal” resident and migrant workers. A few years ago, Alabama passed a law that cracked down on employers who used undocumented workers. The peach harvest rotted on the trees and the law was rescinded. But no one has a good idea of what it might take to get native workers to fill these jobs in terms of pay and work conditions. The story points out that barring or developing a program to phase out illegal farm workers might result in more automation rather than replacement by American laborers.

That is a long-winded way of saying that I wish there were better information, but by nature, you aren’t going to have great information about people who need to stay under the radar for their own protection.

To its credit, this article does have a critical bit of information:

The recent “immigration enforcement surge” has gotten a lot of media attention, but even if the government manages to deport everyone who was rounded up over the weekend, it would need to more than triple its pace just to match the Obama administration, which deported 409,849 people in 2012.

By Nathanael Johnson, Grist’s food writer and the author of All Natural: A Skeptic’s Quest to Discover If the Natural Approach to Diet, Childbirth, Healing, and the Environment Really Keeps Us Healthier and Happier. Follow him on Twitter at @savortooth. Originally published at Grist

You can chart Amadeo’s life journey by his clothes. He grew up poor in rural Mexico — “I couldn’t even afford to buy pants,” he says. He got a job in the city, but was making so little that he lived in terror of ripping his only pair of trousers. He migrated north to the factories at the U.S. border, and then into the United States, each time taking jobs that made it a little easier to buy the basics — a jacket, work boots, socks.

His journey seemed at an end when he reached California. By working in the fields there, he was able to make enough to afford not just clothes, but also decent housing, with some extra to send home. One day, he struck up a conversation with a pretty girl in a strawberry field, and then they were exchanging vows, and then buying onesies and diapers.

Today, Amadeo is an athletic man on the brink of middle age, his hair buzzed down to his scalp. His boys bounced in and out of frame of our video call, lunging at the camera and waving, then just as quickly going shy. He has two kids: a cute 2-year-old who wore a green hoodie, and a pudgy 5-year-old with a thick halo of black hair sticking straight out of his head; both of them U.S. citizens, unlike their father. The older boy carried a football, catching his own passes and evading his brother as his father told me his story.

For the past decade, Amadeo felt more and more comfortable in the United States. But that’s changed since President Trump’s election. After all, Trump said he was going to deport everyone in the country without legal documentation, and he hasn’t hesitated to issue orders to carry out other campaign promises. Last week, immigration officers initiated that crackdown, arresting some 680 people.

The farmworkers I talked to are wrestling with two conflicting feelings: They feel anxiety — sometimes verging on panic — but they also don’t fully believe they will be deported. Some of them may be right. The recent “immigration enforcement surge” has gotten a lot of media attention, but even if the government manages to deport everyone who was rounded up over the weekend, it would need to more than triple its pace just to match the Obama administration, which deported 409,849 people in 2012.

There are some 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country. In California’s farmland, the sheer ubiquity of people without official papers makes mass deportation of millions seem improbable, and yet people are afraid, Amadeo says.

“It feels like …” he turns to the man translating his Spanish to English. “What do you call what the government is doing? Is it violence? Is it discrimination?” He shrugs, bewildered. “Well, it affects us a lot.”

Trump tapped into a fear that immigrants were streaming into the United States and changing the fundamental nature of the country. There are hundreds of thousands of farmworkers like Amadeo living in the United States without papers. They came, mostly, from Mexico.

But most of these farmworkers have been here for over a decade. That’s long enough for them to integrate into a community and begin to see their American children living out the American dream. But now many immigrants worry that dream is slipping away.

The Predictably Unpredictable President

Early in his campaign, President Trump said that he would deport all 11 million people living in the United States without papers. No one knows if he will try to deport them all, but Trump’s actions and his cabinet picks suggest he intends to push a lot of people out.

As the famous Reagan administration saying goes, “personnel is policy,” says Giev Kashkooli, legislative director for the United Farm Workers. Kashkooli has some hope for Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, because he acknowledged, during confirmation hearings, that most people coming to the United States from Central America today are fleeing violence. But he’s dismayed by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who fiercely opposes amnesty for people like Amadeo. Kelly is in charge of arresting undocumented immigrants, while Sessions controls the immigration courts.

Still, pure logistics could prevent mass deportations. The Department of Homeland Security would have to hire thousands more immigration officers to force out all undocumented immigrants — it would be a massively expensive undertaking and require years to ramp up, Kashkooli says.

It would also cause chaos for U.S. agriculture. No other sector of the economy is more dependent on undocumented employees, who make up between 50 and 70 percent of hired farmworkers. Farmers are worried about Trump’s promise to deport their workers. Mass deportations could trigger farm foreclosures and speed the replacement of workers with machines. Some are buying new machines to replace laborers in case Trump keeps his promise.

But, perversely, Trump’s policies could also have the opposite effect: a new influx of undocumented workers. Trump has said he’d tear up the North American Free Trade Agreement, and suggested imposing a tax on Mexican imports.

“There could be such disastrous consequences for the Mexican economy that it may lead to a surge in immigration,” says Daniel Sumner, director of the University of California Agricultural Issues Center. The value of the peso has already tumbled, which makes the prospect of earning money in dollars more attractive.

Over the last three decades, however, Mexico’s economy has seen solid growth, shrinking the flow of immigration to the United States. The country has undergone what economists call a structural transformation: Rural farmers moved to cities, factories sprang up, incomes rose, and population growth leveled off. As a result, there are no longer many Mexicans who want to cross the border. “Immigration from Mexico has slowed to a trickle,” Sumner says. Now, there are more Mexican citizens leaving than coming.

Because of this, the average undocumented farmworker is a lot like Amadeo — they’ve been here for years and put down roots. Another farmworker I talked to, Oscar, had a similar life story. He was set into motion by poverty, but also by tragedy: His mother died when he was young, and he began working on farms in Mexico at the age of 10. He’s been in the United States 11 years. He met his wife here. They settled in California and have two daughters. When we spoke, he’d just been laid off, but he wasn’t worried.

“Fortunately I don’t have any vices — I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, I’ve been good about saving money — eventually work will start again,” he says. “But I’m very worried about Trump.”

Oscar recently applied for his daughters to become Mexican citizens, in case he and his wife are deported. But his older daughter was adamant: She would not leave. Oscar has always imagined her going to school and making a career in California — even becoming a U.S. senator. But now that vision is wavering.

“We hear the message loud and clear from the government: ‘We don’t want you here,’” Oscar says.

Kashkooli of United Farm Workers tells me that rather than initiating mass deportations of 3 million to 11 million people, the government may be hammering home that message with a few high-profile raids. “What [Trump] can do is create mass fear with raids,” he says.

California politicians have vowed to fight mass deportations, and the public has grown increasingly friendly to immigrants. In 1998, Californians voted to ban conducting school in both Spanish and English, but last year, 73 percent of voters cast ballots to reverse that proposition. The state legislature is considering bills to pay for lawyers to represent undocumented immigrants.

The struggle for a better life

On the day I talked to Amadeo, his clothes were decidedly Californian. It’s clear he can afford to buy pants now. His outfit was clean and functional, but not fancy: a black, long-sleeved shirt and a puffy red vest.

The threat of deportation amounts to a constant rasp of stress for Amadeo, yet at the same time he can’t imagine a future for his family in Mexico.

“We are really tired of the poverty in Oaxaca,” he says.

Amadeo was born in rural Oaxaca to parents who fished for shrimp and burned sections of forest to grow corn. It was a humble life, he says, without money to buy the basics. So he moved to the city at the age of 15, where there was work to be had, but wages were still pitifully low.

“I was working so hard just for these meager things you need to survive,” he says. At 19, he found higher-paying work near Ciudad Juarez, a short walk from Texas.

When he first crossed the U.S. border, it was just to go shopping for clothes. He and some coworkers from a factory in Ciudad Juarez walked through an old canal into El Paso. They made the trip a few times, wandering around the city, marveling at the novelty of the United States, and then they’d return the way they came when darkness fell.

When he decided to take work in the United States, he planned to return to Mexico after a few months. But there was always another job washing dishes or harvesting crops. All the jobs paid much better than work in Mexico, and he began saving up enough to send money home to his parents. In California, he was able to build a decent life for his young family.

That’s not to say it was ever easy. He’s often up at 4:30 a.m. to take his kids to the babysitter. Then he works in the field — in sun or rain and mud — often until 6 p.m. During harvest, he sometimes works seven days a week and hardly sees his family. But because of this work, he’s been able to watch his boys grow up and play American football and also take for granted a far more prosperous life than he had ever hoped for himself.

The argument for limiting immigration rests on the conviction that a country must put its citizens’ needs first, rather than trying to embrace the whole of humanity, and that a country cannot survive too rapid a pace of cultural change. But the things that worry immigration-hawks don’t apply to the bulk of farmworkers, like Amadeo and Oscar.

These farmworkers are no longer outsiders — they’ve become our neighbors, they’ve assimilated into communities. They aren’t a drain on scarce resources — they support themselves. And, as Oscar pointed out, they support us, too.

“I wish people would realize that it’s because of us,” he says, “that the rest of America eats this beautiful harvest.”

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  1. Sam

    Years ago I operated a home service company in Alabama. I hired local rednecks, paid wages well above minimum wage, and provided health insurance. They were worthless, lazy, used drugs and abused alcohol. I often lost money on jobs because actual manhours exceeded budgeted manhours. I hired Mexican immigrants via a Hispanic employment agency that assured me they checked to ensure the workers were legal. The immigrants were model employees, conscientious, hard working, dependable and devoted to their families. We stopped losing money on jobs. I later discovered the employment agency lied to me; the workers I had hired were undocumented. I was faced with the choice of once again relying on worthless rednecks (and going broke) or or keeping the immigrants. I kept the immigrants. Farmers in Alabama discovered, when Alabama chased out immigrants, that they couldn’t find local rednecks willing or able to do the back-breaking work required for harvest. “The American work ethic” applies, in my experience, to immigrants.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      My sample is limited, but the “rednecks” in low-end service jobs I’ve run across in Alabama (as in white yardmen, cleaning women, busboys, janitors) are very conscientious and hardworking. But that’s Birmingham. There may be adverse selection in who is willing to do agricultural labor in the ‘boonies.

      1. cocomaan

        I’m reading Hillbilly Elegy by JD Vance at the moment. he talks at length about the despair of the white working class in Kentucky and Ohio. That’s my experience living in a rural area as well. A few generations of economic degradation has obliterated work ethic for many. Not all, of course, but many. A friend of mine, at least a third generation farmer, says that he can’t get people to work in the fields even though he pays in cash and often pays well above minimum wage. Same with the landscaper down the street. A white woman, she categorically selects against hiring white guys. “White guy syndrome”, she calls it. At the same time, she’s an immigration hawk, because she sees what her competition does with illegal immigrants.

        my guess is that the attitude comes from repeated betrayal of extractive industries (timber, coal, oil, whatever), the slow conglomeration and “techno revolution” of agriculture that eliminated anything easygoing in ag, a litigious society where training seems necessary for every stinking job, combined with crushing economic crashes. There’s likely no one answer to why culture changed, but I think a culture change happened and we’re still adjusting.

        The odd thing about this phenomenon of despair/workethic is that nobody measures it. Nobody can pin down what’s going on. The only discipline able to do that academically is sociology and cultural anthropology, using anecdote as a method of study, and nobody takes them seriously.

        1. nobody

          When it comes to this phenomenon of despair, American sociologists and cultural anthropologists have little hardly any awareness of the situation and have next to nothing to contribute. Nobody should take them seriously:

          The currently dominant theories, methods, and social positioning of US anthropologists all come into question—also, their political stances. Echo-chamber anthropology is not anthropology. And there is no way anyone can look at US anthropology journals and go to US anthropology conferences, and escape the fact that it is a giant echo-chamber. They know it is, because they consciously invest themselves in maintaining the echo-chamber, by shunning, scorning, and diminishing all serious challengers, local and foreign…

          That something is very wrong with US anthropology is evidenced by the unjustifiable and unreasonable expressions of “shock” that have been made public. For example, in a series of articles presented by Dominic Boyer for Cultural Anthropology online, titled “Crisis of Liberalism,” it is easy to encounter these expressions of shock, while they take comfort in contempt and mockery in an all too familiar, liberal manner… What the contributors did not reflect on, among many things, is that these repeated invocations of terror, fright, threat, fear, danger, and monsters, also suggests that they are too emotionally frail to be relied upon to produce sober analysis, let alone a fair analysis. The degree of personalization, where Trump is magnified to the point where he stands in for all those who supported him, is also a major analytical failing. The Cultural Anthropology articles thus constitute a grand act of auto-disqualification…

          Crisis? A crisis of what? A crisis for whom? Why not include the “economic crisis” that has shut down tens of thousands of factories and removed tens of millions of workers from participation in the labour force? Why not the crisis that sees many unemployed men ending their lives with drugs, alcohol, and suicide? Why was no emergency session called when it was revealed that life expectancy—of all things, in a “developed” US—has gone in reverse and is declining among non-college educated whites? The only “crisis” these anthropologists are really concerned about is their own nervous crisis… The points being made here are of the most serious kind: they are about academic incompetence and professional malpractice. Having demonstrated their uselessness in anticipating and fairly interpreting the nationalist working class political insurgency, and engaging in ever louder screams of terror, US anthropologists betray the fact that they (currently) have little in the way of an important contribution to make…

          Anthropology needs to be reconceived as something that needs to be first done at home before it can be done abroad; that we need to be able to understand our own society, if we can ever pretend to understand, let alone explain, another. We can no longer get away with affirming that we study others to better understand ourselves, if we then show such a failure to understand ourselves that we resort to fear-mongering and insults… Canadian anthropologists…need to be more wary of US anthropology, because the latter is clearly failing.

          We also need to apply at home what we have learned abroad. This “shock” over Brexit and Trump seems to be totally naïve and ignorant about the brutalities of neoliberal globalization, that were first visited upon nations such as Jamaica and Haiti, among other early laboratories.

          That’s Max Forte (whose essay “Immigration and Capital” was the must read a few weeks ago) in “Trump and Anthropology.”

          1. cocomaan

            I’ve read Zero Anthropology and agree with the critiques. That’s an anthropologist worth following. So is David Graeber, who I have immense respect for and was exiled from US academia. There are anthropologists doing great work just like there are economists doing great work. You just have to find them.

            But their discipline and participants, like others, follow the 80/20 rule. Most of it is rubbish.

            So I’ll stand by what I say about this: there are cultural anthropologists who have something interesting to say about the white working class. But anthropology isn’t easily quantifiable, so instead we’ll have to listen to economists blather about the crisis.

          2. PKMKII

            A big problem there, and I saw it all the time during the primary, is the tendency to monolith the “redneck” demographic, especially on the basis of superficial aesthetics. You’d see these articles talking about what the rural, white working class Trump supporter is like, and then they’d be interviewing a guy who owns his own contracting business. So the opinions and perspective of the rural petty bougies, the big fish in small ponds, and the actual rural working class get blended together because, hey, they both wear camo-print and drive pickup trucks! Nevermind that the former’s clothing is clean and drives a brand-new F-150, and not the base model, one of the special editions, while the later’s clothing bears the signs of actually having been hunted in, and the pickup-truck is a mid-90’s v6 chevy. So we get no meaningful observations because they can’t properly suss out the demos.

            Which is sort of understandable if you’ve got some reporter out of the DC/NYC-based national press, for whom people from the hinterlands may as well be aboriginals from Namibia or Papa New Guinea. By anthropologists are academics, which means professors, which means teaching at universities. And a lot of universities are in college towns that are nestled in the heart of said hinterlands. How difficult is it for them to drive a half-hour outside of State-U-ville, and sit down with some of these people?

            1. Ivy

              Here is the anthro/reporter analog in the ag lending biz: the city bank lender newbie got driven around to all four sides of the field so he could count all of the livestock. He didn’t recognize that he was seeing the same animals from different angles.

      2. Katharine

        I suspect the jobs you mention are much less grueling than field work. All the descriptions I’ve ever read of picking anything sounded horrible, often bent double for most of the day, pushed to move faster, paid on a piecework basis. And there is skill involved at least in picking fruit, as damage can make it virtually worthless. To develop that skill and speed surely takes time, and in the interim a person might well be appalled. What you can take depends on what you’re comparing it to.

        1. Ivy

          I did enough field work while young to know that I didn’t want to do it long-term. Nonetheless, there was a socialization aspect that was beneficial. Friends worked together, met others from different schools, got a lot of exercise (even to get in shape for fall sports), listened to new music on transistor radios (remember when those were a novelty) and earned money for new clothes, bikes or Christmas presents. The pay wasn’t great but that was in an era before monetization of everything. Parents quietly encouraged the work for many reasons.

        2. sj

          I suspect the jobs you mention are much less grueling than field work.

          I think you’re right. My parents met in the potato fields. The made a point of making sure that we (me and siblings and cousins and younger aunts and uncles) spent some time doing either field or orchard work. I wish I had done the same with my son. He takes too much for granted.

          For the record, I am Spanish on both sides, but have been in what is now the US for 5 generations on my mother’s side and about 8 on my father’s side. But apparently all that history is trumped (pardon the pun) by the fact that my fathers’ generation first language is Spanish.

      3. Dave

        With no personal criticism of you, your narrative says a lot about your business. Was the only choice “Rednecks?” No black people applied for jobs? That “budgeted hours” line sounds a warning bell to me. Why not institute E-Verify on your employees. That way they are “hard working reliable” LEGAL immigrants.

        There are two classes here, Legal and illegal.
        Some people like to pretend that there is only one class of immigrant. Shortened to “migrant” by the promoters of open borders. Critics of the current situation shorten it even further to “ant”, as in “ant-line of illegals”.

        The nation’s biggest garlic farmer went from shortage of illegal labor to waiting lists of want to be legal employees by the unheard of in business school strategy of raising wages!

        Employers’ profit needs for low labor costs are no excuse to modify the composition of our nation.

        4% of illegals work in agriculture. The rest compete with your teenagers for summer jobs, compete with your children for entry level jobs and remain a permanent lead anchor holding down the ability of our workers to demand higher wages and get a larger share of national income.

        1. Dave

          Forgot to add, why not reinstate the Bracero Program to replace the 4% of illegals who work in agriculture? They would get decent housing here, worker protections, do the ag work and then go home to collect their pay.
          No imported families.
          It’s a guest worker program.
          The other 96% of illegals are not part of that.
          Keep the other 96% in their home countries through a wall, deportation, cancelling NAFTA, whatever. This would lead to a revolution that would overthrow their feudal governments and make their countries better places and thus obviate the need to come to the U.S. and be abused slaves. The benefit to Americans and legal immigrants would be the ability to demand and get higher wages in the trades, retail, office work, all the other jobs taken by illegals.

          1. Anon

            The Bracero program still allowed growers to mis-treat, mis-house the migrant farmworkers. Ever hear of Cesar Chavez? He spent much of his life demanding decent working and living conditions for migrant farm workers.

            It’s important to understand that California growers are not struggling financially. Many are corporate owned. They have, until Chavez, refused to provide a fair wage and livable housing (not to mention any health care for workers exposed to carcinogenic chemicals).

            People migrate to the US seeking a better life; something many US citizens may seek to do to some other country, as retirement nears.

            1. different clue

              He also spent much of his working life condemning bracero-ism and illegal immigrationism . . . not condemning the braceros and then illegals themselves, but definitely condemning their importation into this country so as to break all the UFW strikes and prevent unionization and labor-price up-bidding and conditions-upgrading.

          2. that guy

            That’s the theory, but every time they try that back home, CIA/JSOC pushes back. I don’t disagree with you at all, rather I entirely agree with you, but we need to do that while also understanding that our own foreign policy has consequences.

            1. sierra7

              “That Guy”…
              Your comment is one that is so far from the reality of the average American as to seem absurd….but too true.
              The US has a dark and sordid, if not murderous, history of political interventions in Latin and South America. It is virtually unknown history in this country.
              Today if Mexican immigration into the US is down, that of countries like Honduras, one of the latest “interventions” with elections and their government, is way up.
              Our system is to destroy their economies and social structures and lock them in if possible so that they can’t emigrate. Horrible policies that have been carried out by successive US administrations all the way back to before WW2.
              The US really needs a “truth commission” to try and change our horrible foreign policies; shut down the National Security State; NAFTA destroyed the Mexican campesino economy with our dumping of all of our surplus ag products like corn into Mexico driving the poor subsistence farmers into the cities where there were not nearly enough jobs for them.
              As to why not enough “whites” don’t work the farms, try doing the jobs required, besides sitting in a tractor….pick strawberries, tomatoes, squash, cucumbers etc; all the back breaking jobs. Try it and see if you stay.
              (Caveat; was a row crop farmer way back in the late 1940’s thru the mid 1960’s until the emergence of the major grocery chains destroyed the small farm industry)
              I have enormous respect for the “immigrants” who do all the dirty jobs that “white” folk refuse to do… will that change? Not.

        2. Sam

          I had two black employees. One was extraordinarily conscientious although his skill set needed work. However, I fail to see how that matters. I didn’t discriminate for any reason. “Budgeted hours” were based on a detailed and all-inclusive estimate prepared for each job: Specific items, manhours and materials required for each task. Additional time was included for things like “setup” and “cleanup”. When I did the work, I was always able to complete it in less than budgeted hours. Only the rednecks couldn’t. Two rednecks came to work for me and worked one day. At the end of they day they asked for a pay advance (utility bill overdue, no groceries, etc.). I gave them 3 days pay–one day worked and two days in advance. I never saw them again. Another stole over $500 worth of equipment from me. One redneck was kicked off the job by a customer who had watched him work and was dissatisfied with what he was doing. I sent him for a drug test and he failed. I learned he was taking Oxycodone. Another was recently released from prison (drugs) but he swore to me he was clean, was attending Narcotics Anonymous, and promised he wouldn’t do drugs again. A week later I got a call telling me he was falling down in a customer’s front yard — high on drugs.

          The wages in the segment in which I worked were generally in the range of $9 to $12 per hour, with job supervisors paid maybe $15 per hour. No benefits. New employees (no experience) started at $10 per hour. My experienced workers got $12 to $15 per hour, my supervisors got at least $18 to $20 per hour. And I provided health insurance. I tried offering bonuses based on job profitability (it didn’t matter). My hourly rates and the health insurance were intended as an incentive to attract skilled, qualified, motivated employees. It didn’t work.

          I’ve lived the experience. Some people simply lack the proper attitude, motivation, or work ethic. Increasing wages will never inspire those missing traits. At least not, in my experience, in Alabama. How does the work ethic get inculcated? Can it be?

      4. Raymond Sim

        Please forgive me if I’m commenting in the wrong place. I had a stroke and letters and numbers still give me some trouble.

        However I have no trouble whatsoever remembering my adolescence in Southeast Pennsylvania. I did all the sorts of jobs white people supposedly won’t do. I shoveled horse manure, shoveled cow manure, drove tractor (18 hrs, your ass welded to the fucking thing} milked cows and baled hay. In those days we mowed the hay by hand. Stoop labor. Btw “mowed” here means “stacked” city boys.

        I did these sorts of jobs, and so did all my teenaged acquaintances who weren’t rich – because we wanted to have a girlfriend.

        For us roofing was a dream job, now I hear only Mexicans or Guatemalans will do it.

        I’ve maintained for ten years or so, and I bet it’s still true: If you offered $10.00 an hour plus full medical and dental for stoop labor, or shit shoveling, you’d need crowd control to handle all the white applicants.

        1. Outis Philalithopoulos

          This is a perfectly good place to comment, thanks for telling people about your experiences. Somehow multiple versions of your comment ended up floating around, but that has since been sorted out.

    2. Larry

      Ah yes, the mythical employer who pays great wages with magnificent benefits and yet just can’t seem to find good labor. These anectdotal stories are so unbelievable. I don’t doubt that many immigrants are hard working, but much of this has to do with their unprotected legal status in this country. I would wager that your job has very undesirable working conditions for the pay and benefits being offered.

      1. Colonel Smithers

        Thank you, Larry.

        Sam’s comment is often made in the UK and Mauritius, too. There is some truth in that, rightly or wrongly. I can attest.

        1. Code Name D

          I have also run into them in the computer and computer repair field. Not being able to find local workers who will regular show up, stay current on new technologies, and other deficiencies. In this case however, hiring illegal workers isn’t an option. And as a small “mom&pop” shop do not qualify for HB1. So they have permeate openings and continue to work through the applicants.

          I don’t know if stories like this are accurate, but I don’t think they can be dismissed either.

        1. Colonel Smithers

          Thank you, Vlade.

          Do you remember the BBC’s programme a couple of years ago, “When The Foreigners Go Home”? It featured Wisbech.

          I need to send Yves my contact details (e-mail and mobile) for you. Speak / meet you soon.

        2. jrs

          work ethic almost seems to not be one thing as common prejudice would have it, but to require very different skill sets depending on the job. Boring white collar job, skill set is paying attention to detail despite boredom and keeping focused (but if people can’t – not just would prefer not to – do this, is it lack of “work ethic” or is it A.D.D.? Obviously they are in the wrong field, but externally it’s probably perceived as lack of work ethic).

          Keeping current in latest developments (ie academic orientation in a way) useful for some jobs, pretty useless in others. Many a person with a really strong work ethic at a desk job might be pretty lazy at physical labor and having not to focus but to move muscles. And so on.

      2. JohnnyGL

        Your point is a welcome one, but I’m going to grant Sam a comment made in good faith.

        What Sam complains about, inability to find good help, even at ‘reasonable’ wages and benefits is kind of the point. What it means is that he and his business are going to have to show some HR skills and do a better job screening candidates and they’re going to need to work to keep the good ones they find. This is the difficulty that small businesses face. It takes time and patience to get better at HR and just because a business owner flops at it the first time that they actually have to try, doesn’t mean the whole thing is a failure and the legions of illegals should immediately be brought back. I’m sure at least some % of the ‘rednecks’ that Sam hired were acceptable. The good ones should be retained and they will improve over time with more experience.

        Also, cocomaan’s comment is a valid point, too. You can’t expect to suddenly undo decades of being treated like garbage with one decent job offer. It’s a slow process and expectations should be tempered appropriately.

        Also, the business model of agriculture may need to change more than those who are in that business currently understand or are willing to admit.

      3. jrs

        I don’t suspect that is all that is going on with CA farmworkers either, but maybe something subtle is, maybe a Mexican farmworker just has things to offer and American doesn’t like a whole family willing to work for them, another generation that will do the same, a whole village, a likelihood of being back next year. But I’m not actually sure what it is either, but I do think there are often a whole network of connections involved of workers that they have now come to depend on. Occasionally the pay advertised is actually not particularly low. Not just more than minimum but pretty decent.

        However farmwork though repetitive it is NOT actually unskilled labor is another thing – you CAN’T just take someone off the street and have them do it well. So you can say woah they are offering multiples of minimum wage and you don’t need a bunch of credentials, but it’s not flipping burgers or being a clerk, it’s labor that needs to be done just so, and carefully and very fast and efficient, and that needs to be learned and maybe is as kids by the kids of migrants. So just hiring anyone would result in a really steep learning curve.

        1. Mel

          I could imagine that someone coming from deep, honest, poverty in Mexico would be very aware that things can be hard. I, born up here, was always told that things were supposed to be easy — that I’m meant to live what was the middle-class life, and my shame if I don’t. Looking back, I’ve probably acted exactly this way.

      4. karma fubar

        Something that I saw regarding immigration and work conditions in the last day or so on the forums here at NC has really started to sink in. Someone (forget both poster and thread) identified that the opportunity to live in the United States is a huge worker benefit that goes unacknowledged. A driving desire for millions around the world, but a prize already claimed by all American citizens.

        Prospective employee #1 – “I would do anything to live in America”
        Prospective employee #2 – “I already live in America”

        This seems to go a long way to describe and explain the (generalized) description of the hard working and dependable immigrant versus the lazy and unreliable American for jobs at the lowest rung on the economic ladder. The immigrant gets far more out of the job than just the low wage paycheck, and is more willing to withstand abuse and exploitation. Employers are more than willing to take advantage of this situation, because markets.

        Citizenship is just gravy. Living here is the prize.

    3. Scrooge McDuck

      For those of you who don’t understand why American citizens do not want to work in the fields I suggest making a trip to the Central Coast and taking up a job picking strawberries. Everything will make sense to you double quick.

        1. Anon

          Well, since I’m a California native and currently live on the Central Coast between the agricultural fields of Santa Maria and Oxnard, CA, let me help.

          These two coastal cities have large agricultural areas surrounding them. Both grow multiple crops, but strawberries are a persistent annual crop.. The fields are readily viewable from the windshields of most commuters (traveling to work in the morning and home in the evening). The workers are bent over at the waist most of the time these commuters were sitting at their day jobs. Strawberries are picked at a particular state of growth (and more urgently when rain is forthcoming) and the picking has to be done quickly (usually from sun-up to sun-down) and is usually paid by quantity (piece work). The workers are accompanied by noisy, foul smelling, diesel farm equipment and they come in contact with plants and soil that have been fumigated/sprayed with chemicals that are known carcinogens. In short, difficult and dangerous working conditions.

          Few, if any, of the workers are white.

          1. Scrooge McDuck

            Anon – Thank you.

            And Code Name D, in case you missed it, you get paid by the box. For a skilled picker that works out to be about $7.50 per hour. Annually that’s about $13,000 to $18,000. If not for the cheap labor most Americans could not afford to buy strawberries. In fact, the price of food would surely skyrocket if farmers paid living wages and benefits. But given our obesity problem that might actually be a good thing.

            As a kid my parents made me work in the strawberry fields, to help me learn the value of education, and it worked.

            1. Code Name D

              Every little bit of observational evidence helps. All thought it still looks like we have a lot to sort through. We have more questions than answers at this point.

    4. TG

      If an abundant supply of cheap and docile labor is what you truly crave, then instead of remaking the United States into a third-world economy, why don’t you move to Bangladesh or some other garden spot where people have no alternative but to work for 50 cents an hour, and the standard of living is lower than medieval europe?

      The only reason that hard-working Americans can make more than a sub-poverty wage is that when employers advertise for high-quality labor at those rates, they get no takers. Eliminate a ‘shortage’ of quality workers who have no alternative but to work for low wages, and you eliminate prosperity.

      The people in places like Mexico who work hard for low wages do not do so because they have a work ethic. I mean, if you offered them high wages would they turn you down? They are under duress, and while we may respect people who endure hardship, let us not forget that Mexican society is responsible for that hardship. When a person burns his own house down and then stoically endures being wet and cold, there is perhaps little credit there…

    5. Brian M

      Sam: I think you exemplify one of the themes of this blog:

      ….Americans celebrating their own progressive softening, their own inability to run their own society, is an ominous sign of national decadence and decline. But it’s not entirely what’s happening. Much of it is the haute bourgeoisie and its lesser hangers-on celebrating the national weakness on behalf of their entire country, including dispossessed lower-class Americans who desperately want to be gainfully employed doing something tangibly productive. The latter never asked management to fire them and give their jobs to a foreign peasantry, and they never asked to be silenced. They aren’t the ones who rolled into workaday towns on the prairie, beat the meatcutters’ unions into bloodied submission, flooded the zone with Mexicans, seeded an epidemic of methamphetamine abuse by forcing line speed-ups and pay cuts, and then spent decades sanctimoniously intoning that Americans no longer have the mettle to do an honest day’s work.

      What’s really driving the White llies of the Day Without Immigrants is the fear that, without immigrants, they’ll lose access to their servant class. They’ll either be deprived of creature comforts or have to provide for them with their own personal labor. The news reports focused on restaurants that closed or went short staffed. How much of the sanctimony came from White Allies who have $20,000 home kitchens? How much of it came from people who could perfectly well do their own cooking, cleaning, and yard work but would rather have compliant campesinos do it for them on demand?

      1. Brian M

        Also: Would the blog comment policy allow use of the “N Word” or “Spic” in a comment? Why is the white working class uniquely the subject of permitted derision on a class and, yes, racial, basis?

  2. Tim Reynolds

    On the one hand, you guys claim to be for the American worker. On the other, every time the interests of the American worker conflicts with those of foreign or immigrant workers, you side with the non-Americans.

    The right can speak more clearly, and thus more convincingly, on this issue. And people will (probably rightly) side with them because of it. As long as you all hem and haw whenever the interests of non-Americans conflict with those of Americans, most people won’t trust you as leaders.

    American leaders need to put Americans first, because they are American leaders.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      That is nonsense. Go look at yesterday’s Water Cooler for starters. There are tons of other examples, for instance, our long-standing opposition to H-1B visas and outsourcing.

      You appear to be confusing us with Democratic party sites. Misrepresenting what we say is a violation of our written Policies and earns you troll points.

      1. Joey

        IMHO, the current globalized economic model has been put in place largely by the US. Not from a position of weakness but from a position of strength. In the final summary, the benefits to the US is greater with USD as reserve currency rather than a purely bilateral trade model. To maintain USD reserve currency status, the US has to run sustained trade deficits. Else the ROW will be forced to revert to bilateral trade which will remove the US from an intermediary role. H1B, outsourcing, large imports, etc. are all symptoms of this tradeoff that the US had to make to retain reserve currency status. How else is the ROW going to earn USD to buy oil and other resources denominated in USD from the Middle East and elsewhere?

        It is true, the benefits of globalization while greater to the US, the distribution of those gains is very uneven. Most of the benefits are accruing to the super wealthy. This is a distribution problem that the US has to resolve on it’s own.

        So, to make out that the immigration, H1B, outsourcing and other issues have been perpetrated by ROW is false.

    2. oh

      You’re talking about the “liberals” who champion marches to “help” undocumented latinos from being deported (only if it’s not done by beloved Barry). These guys use undocumented workers to clean their house, do yard work so they can pay less, that’s all. But when it comes to really helping them (such as in giving them shelter or living close to them, forget about it. Luckily, those latte liberals don;t frequent NC.

        1. Brian M

          And conservatives have been, of course, LEADERS, LEADERS I tell you, in desegregation of communities across these fine United States!

    3. John Wright

      If the right were concerned about American workers it would push for mandatory E-verify of employment status AND collect employer fines when illegal workers are detected at a workplace.

      These fines range from $539 to $21,563 for each unauthorized alien per

      Here’s is an old link

      This is when Bush was President.

      “Between 1999 and 2003, work-site enforcement operations were scaled back 95 percent by the Immigration and Naturalization Service, which subsequently was merged into the Homeland Security Department. The number of employers prosecuted for unlawfully employing immigrants dropped from 182 in 1999 to four in 2003, and fines collected declined from $3.6 million to $212,000, according to federal statistics.”

      I can’t find it now, but as I remember, the employer fines collected recently average about $1 per illegal worker per year during the Obama administration.

      As a co-worker states, “The Republicans like the cheap labor, the Democrats like the new future voters.” when it comes to illegal immigration.

      They right may speak more clearly, but it is usually only talk. One needs to see what elected officials actually DO.

      I agree it would be good if American leaders put Americans first, but American leaders (left and right) seem to put the interests of themselves and their class first.

    4. jrs

      So what has the right actually done for you lately? They have nice sounding verbiage do they? Yea I know Trump is going to work miracles. We shall see.

    5. jrs

      Basically of course, if for some reason (what is trying to be explored here), Mexican labor was deemed desirable to pick crops there are of course ways to do this without open (or porous) borders, via guest workers etc.. So one doesn’t necessarily imply the other.

      And the right is not going to deliver like I say, and you may curse what they do deliver (jobs under ever worse conditions, because remember the right DOES NOT BELIEVE in overtime or minimum wage or regulations (including safety?) etc.). But maybe the right is better because it provides an intellectual framework for understanding people’s problems (blame the immigrant for taking jobs) more than actual solutions to people’s problems? May as well suggest Marxists philosophers are the solution to everyone’s problems :)

    6. Lee

      Tim, you are mistaken about the editorial orientation of this site on immigration. From yesterday’s Water Cooler.

      Lambert here: My views are conflicted. First, good numbers, i.e. the photograph is not a tight shot, as are so many photos of protests; I tend to think it’s good to see people in motion. Second, “Yes we can!” is particularly vacuous, given that Obama deported “undocumented” immigrants in record numbers. Third, is this just preaching to the choir? Will marches like this expand what has proved to be an inadequate Democrat base? Fourth, deputizing cops as immigration agents is a terrible idea. Fifth, if I’m visiting another country, and I overstay my visa I would expect, if caught, to pay a fine and be forced to leave, and that’s the best case scenario; anyone who has a passport knows this. It is utterly unclear to me why matters in this country are or should be any different. Finally, the reason illegal immigration is an intractable problem is that it lowers wages, which the 1% likes, as do the 10%-ers who need yard work, maid work, and other personal services performed. Therefore, illegal immigration is one aspect of the larger problem with globalization: That those forced to bear globalization’s burdens — for example, the communities in the Rust Belt destroyed by deindustrialization — aren’t compensated for it; even mainstream economists now recognize this. So, to me, “hard working” is just a synonym for “undercutting the local minimum wage” (and making working conditions even worse). I wish this weren’t so — “give me your tired, your poor,” and “workers of the world, unite!” — and I’d love to be argued out of it, but I think it is so.

  3. PlutoniumKun

    One comment I’d make about the use of workers in agriculture is that frequently analysts assume that the nature of agriculture in an area is driven entirely by local climate and soil – and so the demand for labour is somehow ‘fixed’. In reality, the situation can be entirely the opposite – a flow of labour can determine what is economically viable to grow within a wide context set by climate. To give one example, if you visited much of Ireland in the late 18th century you would not have seen expanses of green fields (well, not in mid summer anyway). You would have seen open expanses of wheat and barley and oats, interspersed with root vegetables on wetter, poorer soils. While if you went at the same time to one of the wheat breadbaskets of Europe, the light soil region around Paris, you would have seen just grass and cows. The reason was simple – wars in Europe had pulled labour into the great armies leaving landowners no choice but to turn their fertile soils into low intensity uses, while Ireland, with its burgeoning population, was able to support high labour intensive agriculture and intensive arable agriculture despite its heavy and low fertility soils. When Waterloo led to a century of relative European peace, and US imports drove down grain prices, this led to a reversion in Ireland to low intensity grazing, and a return to more labour intensive agriculture systems in France and Britain.

    The overall point is that the cost of labour is not just a fixed input cost into producing food – it also determines the nature of the agriculture itself. I suspect one reason why California is famed for its variety of produce is its accessibility to cheap labour as much as its temperate climate.

    A problem of course is that long term investments can ‘lock’ farmers into agricultural systems. Its much easier to turn grassland into grain and vice versa than it is to turn a vineyard into a dairy farm, especially if all your physical plant investment is in grape harvesting and production.

    As for the ‘savings’ from hiring illegals over legals, I don’t think there is any mystery to it, even if there is no obvious cost difference. First generation immigrants from poorer countries have a far higher tolerance for rough conditions, long hours, and so on. In Australia, much farm labour comes as a result of visa requirements so the workers are often well educated immigrants. My niece did a stint on a remote farm under those arrangements – and she loved it. It was a temporary thing, so shared bunkhouses and long hours in the sun were something of an adventure. But then she could look forward to moving on to follow her career in social work in a big city. For someone from an impoverished country its a distinct step up from wondering when your next meal is coming from. For a ‘native’, the idea of a lifetime of that is something to be avoided at all cost – even living on welfare in a city seems a better alternative. So they would only do that job on sufference, and no boss wants workers like that.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Yes, it’s funny how expectations and an idea of what you are entitled to leads to inner dissatisfaction. That can also be called “ambition,” in many ways they are the flip side of the same coin.

      Nigerians regularly survey as the happiest people in the world, yet most of them live in material circumstances that would make Europeans and Americans recoil.

      A famous saying is that a Zen monk said, “Before I was enlightened, I chopped wood and hauled water. Now that I am enlightened, I haul water and chop wood.”

      Having said that, I wish I had a better picture of how much less “illegal” farm workers (since they are a big group and it ought to be possible to get a crude idea) are typically paid, and what that means in terms of lifestyle v. how other low end jobs pay, like Wal-Mart. And even though farm work is hard on your body, so is standing all day. And as the article reminds readers, Americans are farm laborers too.

      But Wal-Mart is still indoor work, so it is higher status even if it were to turn out that it’s not all that much better paid.

      1. Colonel Smithers

        Thank you, Yves.

        It’s often the case in the (mainly African / Creole) fishing villages of Mauritius. Foreign (usually well to do as it’s expensive to fly / holiday there / home :-) ) often take pity on these locals. The islanders don’t have the education and material wealth that the visitors do, but are not stressed out and trying to keep up appearances, with the Joneses etc.

      2. visitor

        what that means in terms of lifestyle v. how other low end jobs pay

        1) Agricultural work is back-breaking.
        2) Often must be done under harsh weather conditions.
        3) In today’s large farm operations, implies prolonged contact with highly toxic substances (pesticides of all kinds — rates of cancer, including some that are generally rare, are exceedingly high amongst farmers).
        4) Almost by definition, means you live out of cities, in places often difficult or costly to reach, thus severely limiting opportunities for leisure, education and socialization.

        So even a Walmart back-breaking work is not performed under a scorching sun or a drenching autumn rain, does not result in being sprayed with chemicals, and does not take place as far from downtown as toiling in the large scale tomato farm or apple orchard.

        From what I have heard, being an agricultural engineer on the other hand seems like quite an interesting and pleasing job.

        1. Old Microbiologist

          There are several aspects here not addressed. I am a native Californian but live in Europe and the work here is done by majority of Europeans not illegal immigrants. Minimum wage laws are in place and include benefits by law. Costs are lower in general than in the US so it isn’t a matter of labor costs. Therefore there must be something wrong with the US cost basis. The other big factor is the increasing use of automation and also reducing crops to a specific small variety of strains for given produce. Here in Hungary most produce, and it is exceptionally good, is grown without any GMO seeds (which are illegal here) and only using short term pesticides. Most animals are grown free range and the types of high throughput production methods (high crowding of animals, enhanced growth using growth hormones and antibiotics) used in the US are not used here by law. Yet, produce costs are low and of high quality. People here still own farms and consider it an adequate career. In fact after re-privatization from the collectives in the post-Soviet era, people here value their farms even more than usual. In the US I recall reading that less than 5% of farm lands are now privately owned which might be another major factor. If you own it you take care of it and are proud to do so. If you are a hired worker it is less so. Couple that with the methods for production used in the US and the problems are obvious.

          The other big problem is the societal issues in America. In the US it is pushed hard that a college education is the goal and worth every penny the universities are charging. This is a big lie and Americans have bought into it lock stock and barrel. But, the reality is that in the rapid rise of automation in industry some jobs will continue to be manual labor and farming will always remain so. This is particularly true for things like vineyards, almond trees, avocado, etc. I am sure that at some point robots will be designed and built for these jobs but the manual aspect is important to ensure quality. Other jobs will also remain in demand including plumbing, electrical work, maintenance, etc. and are important. These do not require a college education yet are necessary and if the US were finally to establish required minimum wages with benefits then we would see a normalization process. Of course, the 0.1% would make less profits but these idiots fail to realize people need money to buy the stuff they produce and sell. To get money means having an adequate income. So, the US economic model is in a death spiral because of increased pressure for profits, executive bonuses, and dividends to investors.

        2. jrs

          #3 thanks no kidding, if it was all organic, it would be a better job. Meanwhile cancer clusters

          #4 yea and most people live in cities, so where the unemployed Americans are (cities) and where the jobs are aren’t the same places.

        3. Arthur J


          Farm work is physically demanding, nothing like standing all day. I’ve picked cherries, primed tobacco, done other farm work when I was in my twenties. Tobacco especially was a real back breaker. There is no chance that today’s snowflakes are going to do that.

          Trades in general are looked down on and farm work is about the bottom. It’s smelly and it requires both physical strength and mental determination, which seem to be in short supply these days.

          1. Raymond Sim

            “Snowflake” JFC I swear I’m gonna puke I hear that one more time. Son you and I done the same kinda work. Why? I’m gonna say because we saw some sort of way forward through it. You think mamas are pushin out some different sort of babies nowadays? Hell.

        4. vegeholic

          Our approach has been to hire low cost, mostly undocumented immigrants for the agricultural grunt work, while pursuing a high tech strategy which more likely employs some locals. Robotic grain and produce harvesters require lots of contributions from many areas of engineering as well as robotics, artificial intelligence, machine vision, etc. It becomes an IT exercise and has greater probability of employing domestic people (it is not guaranteed again because of the H1B issue). The problem with this approach is that we are implicitly opting for a high (fossil fuel) energy solution versus a low (FF) energy solution. We have been making decisions like this for many decades. It seemed at first like a good trade-off. Lose low wage jobs but replace them with high wage jobs. Unfortunately the trade-off never really worked that way (I was a believer for a while). Then on top of that, the high surplus energy fuels are rapidly disappearing. Fracked petroleum, tar sands, and biofuels have much lower surplus energy. So here are two compelling reasons to rethink our misguided denigration of manual labor. We need to encourage our own people to become skilled laborers, and quit chasing the hopeless chimera of high tech, and high energy wizardry to answer every problem.

        5. ChrisPacific

          I worked in an apple orchard for a few months as a summer job when I was a student. As agricultural work goes it’s probably at the easy end of the scale. I wouldn’t describe it as back-breaking (#1) although I can see how jobs where you have to bend down all the time could be.

          Point #2 is accurate, and depending on the nature of the work you may not be able to work at all in certain weather conditions. Typically this means you don’t get paid.

          Point #3 is consistent with my experience as well. My employer was fairly conscientious and would keep the workers clear of any areas where the toxic sprays (usually pesticides) were being applied. However the plants end up coated with them and if you are working in the rain (for example) you get covered in all kinds of things. My shirt sleeves used to turn interesting colours up to the elbow. For the employees actually doing the spraying, the protective gear is often not up to the task. It’s like being in the middle of a constant rainstorm, so anything short of space suit/hazmat suit level of protection is going to let some stuff through.

          Point #4 was definitely a concern. Agricultural workers generally can’t afford to own or maintain cars, and even if you could, the gasoline and running costs are expensive. Smoking weed was the entertainment of choice where I worked (many people grew their own).

          Depending on the job, there can be an element of physical hazard as well. On apple orchards you are often working high up on a ladder, sometimes on a hillside and/or in wet slippery conditions. I didn’t suffer any accidents, but if I had been doing the job for 20 years then there is a pretty high chance that I would have at some point.

      3. PlutoniumKun

        For so many people, wealth and working conditions are relative, not absolute. So many people from Baltic States moved to western Europe and the UK to work on farms that they are short of labour in those countries, with many Ukranians and Belorussians now doing farm work in Latvia and Estonia. And in turn those countries bring in labour from Africa or parts of Asia. Each one is seen as a ‘step up’ by the workers. And no doubt in each case the employers are full of praise for how the immigrants work so much harder than the locals.

        We shouldn’t forget that from the persepective of billions of people around the world, even to be an unskilled worker in a dead end decaying town in the US or Europe can seem like a pretty good deal. ‘You have a car and a TV! You get to eat 3 times a day and drink coca cola! You have constant electricity! And yet you complain!’

        1. jrs

          “For so many people, wealth and working conditions are relative, not absolute.”

          For EVERYONE, just of course some people are used to a much higher baseline. So for some people if you work 60 hour weeks with never a weekend off and a very abusive boss, it’s a job. For others it’s: you’ve got to get out of there! And it’s the same for anything.

          “We shouldn’t forget that from the persepective of billions of people around the world, even to be an unskilled worker in a dead end decaying town in the US or Europe can seem like a pretty good deal. ‘You have a car and a TV! You get to eat 3 times a day and drink coca cola! You have constant electricity! And yet you complain!’”

          Yea but if lifespans are actually declining etc. (like many of these places) then there are objective measures that no things are NOT so great. Even if the badness has intangible reasons like inequality, lack of job security, loneliness, etc..

      4. Anonymous

        The Wall Street Journal did an article twenty-five years ago on Mexican doctors and lawyers who came to work in the beanfields of California because they could make more money picking beans than they could practicing their professions in Mexico.

        Incidentally, farm work is often less than minimum wage. There are exceptions to the minimum wage for farm labor–perhaps just the seasonal type–in the Fair Labor Standards Act. Rules also vary state by state.

        The problem of the Mexican professionals doing lesser jobs reminds me of Swedish doctors painting their own houses. Figuring out how to get society to pay such that scarce intellectual skills are adequately recompensed and are used to the maximum possible extent is not an easy one. I don’t think we’ve figured out how to frame the question.

        I’ve been thinking of this issue recently because one of my childhood friends, a former real estate developer with a master’s degree, married to a high income professional, has recently taken a job as a school bus driver. The biggest factor driving his decision was the need to acquire affordable health insurance for his family, as his wife is self employed.. He found that the other bus driver candidates were often formerly high earning professionals like him who just needed the insurance. The 2 1/2 month training program was very rigorous, resembling the astronaut training in ‘Apollo Thirteen’. In the end, I would not be surprised if the bus driver pool is both wealthier and better educated than the teachers and administrators in the school system.

        Ironically, when he and I were in high school, sixteen year old students drove the buses. There was some training, but no more than a few hours after school for a week.

      5. JohnnyGL

        “I wish I had a better picture of how much less “illegal” farm workers (since they are a big group and it ought to be possible to get a crude idea) are typically paid, and what that means in terms of lifestyle v. how other low end jobs pay, like Wal-Mart.”

        I suspect a big part of it is businesses not wanting the hassle of having to do real HR work (screening candidates, background checks, dealing with candidate application time lags), since that’s seen as an annoyance. It’s very convenient to be able to hire someone instantly and not have to worry about whether they’ll do a decent job. With illegals, there’s always a reasonably good employee around just waiting to be snapped up. Without them, there’s more HR work to be done to attract and retain decent employees.

      6. jrs

        There are farm work ads on Craigslist (for rural parts of the state). Now this is a data point not an average of course and maybe only necessary in peak season (because probably not exactly what is used when relying on illegals). But it’s why I’m saying the pay isn’t always low.

      7. Former Farmer

        Most of the farms I worked on growing up paid based on productivity. The best workers could make hundreds of dollars per day, but that required picking hundreds of gallons of strawberries (pay was $1/gallon) for instance. Working at that rate every day without breaks (plants don’t take weekends) is very difficult, and not something easily done unless you’ve grown up in circumstances requiring this level of work.

      8. rod

        this is first hand but dated: in fall 1979(US minimum wage for non-exempt workers was $2.65) I found myself broke in LaCross Wisconsin. Locals said I could go upriver and strip tobacco or go pick apples for daily pay. I went to pick apples–greenings and granny smiths–along with many other people. We all were anglo saxon looking, men and women–adolescents to old age’ers. In casual talk, mothers said they did it for school supplies and “pin” money; kids for school clothes and spending money; 2nd and 3rd shifters at factories to “get some extra money”; and some-like me-that needed food and get out of town money.

        To most everyone I picked with this was an annual economic event they had been doing for years–much like bailing hay was in Ohio farm country I grew up in.

        Nobody bragged it was the best deal and easiest money around–but it was money waiting to be had with your labor. Most all participating were locals.

        It paid piecework-sort of–$20.00$– for a full 20 bushel orchard box. We picked into a 1/2 bushel bag from the ladders and gently off loaded them into the orchard box–we were picking the gleanings after the largest apples had been stripped. I picked 6 to 10 trees to fill that box for 20$.
        I was desperate for cash/young/ and used to farmwork and only once picked 2 boxes in an entire day–they didn’t pay for a partial orchard box so you either had to return the next day to fill it and cash out or combine your partial with another’s box and work out a cash split with them. Mostly it was a 8-10hr day for 20-30$ cash.
        I was able to hitch hike out of LaCross in 8 days with 40$ in my pocket. I was very happy and more enlightened than when I arrived.
        Piecework is the most common way agriculture harvests pay and it’s supporters say it rewards individual “work ethic”. And why it is so common to see families in the fields.

        1. visitor

          $20-30 in 1979 are equivalent to $54.76-82.13 in 2016. For 8 to 10 hours, this means an hourly wage of $6.85-10.21.

    2. cocomaan

      I suspect one reason why California is famed for its variety of produce is its accessibility to cheap labour as much as its temperate climate.

      Wow, what a great point. I wish someone studied it. I was thinking about this idea, especially in relation to Yves’s statement below, about how it’s hard to understand how much less or how much more illegal vs legal people are paid in various industries.

      It’s bizarre to me how little research exists on the subject of illegal immigration. What’s the seminal book on illegal immigration? I recently finished The Warmth of Other Suns about black migration from the south to the north and west over a century. If you were to read one book on the subject of the Great Migration, that’s the one. It’s incredible.

      Who has written a similarly celebrated tome about illegal immigration? Has it not been long enough to really investigate in a long form manner? Too politically fraught?

      1. A1

        So maybe if wages for farm workers rise in California agribusiness can move to Mexico and then we can import Mexican grown lettuce harvested in Mexico by Mexicans. Sounds like a win win for me.

        1. jrs

          yes I often suspect that is what will happen, and remember there are LESS regulations on pesticides etc. in Mexico than the U.S. So if you worry about the pesticides in non-organic food not to mention farmworker exposure to pesticides here go one double. Maybe California knows that it actually does need these people. Absolute open borders are another issue and mostly an ideological/humanitarian cause for the people involved I think.

      2. nobody

        Migration Studies is a thing. Out of curiosity I went to Google Scholar and searched “Migration Studies.” Excluding patents and citations, 151,000 results were returned. 19,000 for “illegal immigration.” 16,100 for “undocumented immigrants.” I tried “Migration Studies” and “illegal immigration” together and got 5,050 results.

        Book length, one of the results was Shadowed Lives: Undocumented Immigrants in American Society. In the book description it does say though that it is “One of the few case studies of undocumented immigrants available.”

        Results for a few other combination:

        “illegal immigration” + “wage arbitrage” = 10 results
        “illegal immigration” + “arbitrage” = 537 results
        “undocumented immigrants” + “wage arbitrage” = 4 results
        “undocumented immigrants” + “arbitrage” = 159 results

    3. John Wright

      And one finds little pressure in California to revive a formerly large agricultural region known as “The Valley of Heart’s delight” that was until the 1960’s the largest fruit production and packing region in the world.

      This region transitioned to another industry and you’d have to bulldoze Silicon Valley to bring back this agricultural region.

      Cheap labor and cheap subsidized water help drive and preserve California agriculture in the Central Valley.

      1. Anon

        Cheap labor and cheap water help grow the agricultural products in the Central Valley. A mature and subsidized transportation system gets it to market. (Your market.)

    4. JohnnyGL

      Very good point about labor constraints determining the shape/nature of the agricultural businesses.

      With labor scarce in the US in the 1800s, and healthy demand from export markets in the eastern US and Europe, agricultural focus in the Great Plains was always on beef and grain. There’s no reason you can’t grow small scale veggies there. The soils are great. But why would you do that when there’s no one to hire and miles of empty land at cheap prices?

    5. Dead Dog

      Cairns is a ‘destination’ for many young international travelers, many of whom can get work visas and extend their stay – 12 to 24 months is not unusual, unless you are visiting from a third world country like Thailand, don’t let you dudes stay long or get a job…

      Around the region, well Australia for that matter, farmers need labor to pick fruit and veg. Mangoes, bananas, strawberries, tomatoes, avocado – it’s quite extensive. These farmers provide the necessary evidence these young people need to show they have worked in an agricultural role for the required period and can get an extension to their visas.

      The biggest diff between Australia and most other places is our wall or moat is pretty impregnable, so the biggest group of aliens here are those that overstay a tourist visa. And most reputable business people won’t hire these as it all needs to be under the table.

      Would locals go out in the sun and pick fruit and veg for $20 an hour? Not really, it’s a job for transient people, one that requires strength and endurance and we are happy there are people willing to do it. I am sure exploitation occurs, but it wouldn’t appear to be a huge issue.

      There must be some way to retain the illegals that have been in the US a number of years, particularly those with children? Deporting them is not a solution and, when those in the upper strata can’t find an illegal maid for $40 a week and a small room in a closet, no, that couldn’t happen…

    6. Oregoncharles

      When you finish pruning a vineyard, all you see is wire – shining in the sun, it’s rather spectacular. Wire,and thousands of posts. Furthermore, it takes at least 5 years of intensive labor before you get premium grapes.

      My point? Vineyards represent an enormous fixed investment. Converting them back might not be that hard, but it represents a huge loss for somebody. It just isn’t going to happen as long as they can sell the grapes – although climate change is going to have something to say about that.

  4. Felix_47

    A lot of the work is done by subcontractors. That way worker’s comp and legal can be controlled. When the experience mod gets too high they can go bankrupt and drop the liability on the uninusured employers fund and then start out again with another contractor company. The medico legal rentier system in California is insane. No one in their right mind would hire in California unless there was some sort of legal shield. Same game is played by homebuilders, warehouses etc.

  5. Democrita

    I wonder if part of the equation is respect. Natives may be disinclined to take posts that get no respect and perhaps more attuned to that low status. The deeply poor immigrant probably doesn’t have the same expectations of respect.

    One of the dismaying aspects of neoliberalism is that it accepts earnings as the measure of value, thus diminishing all sorts of jobs. Why is it so hard to be grateful and give props to the people who, say, clean our toilets or wipe our grandparents’ spittle?

  6. Colonel Smithers

    Thank you, Yves.

    It’s a similar story with regard to Brexit and British agriculture, fish processing and horse racing. EU migrant labour is what keeps much of them going. Without that labour, these activities would no longer exist or not to the current extent. With regard to horse racing, many stable lads (no lasses so far as far as I know) come from south and east Asia and South America. One head lad at a classic winning stable across the border in Oxfordshire hails from Brazil. A recent champion jockey also comes from Brazil.

    1. A1

      Wow. Heaven forbid we lose the horse racing industry. How will Brits go on? Next you will be telling me English born kids will not be interested in football and football will die if not for all the Brazilians at Chelsea and Liverpool!

  7. Steve Ruis

    A while ago NPR did a lengthy piece based upon “a young white guy’s” research for a book he was going to write. This young man went across the country taking jobs that most Americans do not. So he cut up chickens, and worked as a farm worker, etc. along with undocumented workers. What he found is that he couldn’t physically keep up. While in the fields, the Latinos took pity on him and covered for his lack of speed by doing part of his job. This was a young, healthy, fit young man.

    Our culture treats everyone in school as it they are going to grow up to be an intellectual worker. Other than kids fanatic about sports there is no longer training about how to work with your hands. High schools used to have classes in mechanics, woodworking, sheet metal, etc. but no longer do. You have to go to a community college to find such course and by then, many kids are expecting too much pay for too little work and it turns them off.

    The reason that undocumented foreigners are doing the work they do is that a) American citizens do not want to do those jobs and b) American citizens can not do those jobs. It is that simple. We have become too effete. We have demeaned manual labor to the point no one wants to do, nor can they do it as they haven’t been prepared to use their bodies that hard.

    1. FluffytheObeseCat

      If U.S. farms, meat packing plants and janitorial service companies suddenly found themselves without immigrant labor, guess what? They’d scream and holler blue murder…… and then they’d find a way to get the jobs done with less “hardworking” (AKA compliant) labor. Or machines. And boy howdy, they’d play up the machines angle at top volume, just like they’re already doing now. And not on account of their great admiration for hard work.

      There have been a few commenters above in addition to you, insisting that young Americans are “snowflakes”, “effete”, drug and alcohol abusing, yada, yada, yada. Because they allegedly won’t do hard work jobs. It’s really hard for me to read this stuff – pouring off the keyboards of armchair warriors on a workday morning – without sneering guys. You are quite clearly under no workplace duress this Wednesday morning. If you were, you would not be posting here.

      You are far from the first collection of secure, idle older men to come up with these asinine ‘verities’. The complaints of 19th century petty bourgeoisie read similarly. Their “worthless, lazy morally deficient” workers were drawn from a different population, but were apparently guilty of all the same flaws, all lacking in stamina, work ethic and whatnot.

      This insulting babble was drivel then and it is drivel now. Immigrants, when they are better workers are so because 1) these jobs look good compared to what they left behind, 2) they are not the dregs of their own societies; the less able and mentally ill never make it up here, 3) there is no embarrassment for them in working these jobs and 4) they have the connections to get these jobs. It’s real simple and has nothing to do with BS about muscular virtues. So stop insulting large numbers of people from your relatively lofty perches. It’s a cheap thrilll and an unworthy one. But mainly, it’s bogus.

      1. tegnost

        +1, also don’t forget the benefit of having less productive family members stay in mexico, far cheaper, buy houses in mexico in which to retire,escape bill collectors no ACA tax, armies of up and coming illegals who’ve yet to learn the language so your gardener can show up one day with 10 cheap laborers none of whom can communicate, etc…IMO as a person in direct contact with these more worried now than before workers is that it’s class warfare and has very little political angle other than identity angle of “helping the downtrodden brown people why are you so racist” crowd. Wealthy dems and repubs alike love the cheap labor and love even more being able to say “poor americans won’t do the work” which as you say is total BS. California will go back to mexico by default, no need for secession. oh and PS I don’t think mainstream dems understand that hispanics are by and large against abortion, so if that’s your only angle you need to work up to something greater in order for them to swing your way…

        1. tegnost

          I should add I’m in the household services side of the equation, and the farmworkers are subjected to toxins that I wouldn’t expose myself to, a fact that speaks volumes about the upper class of our society and their willingness to poison everyone for a buck so long as they can get their usda certified organics for themselves and their own progeny.

          1. jrs

            the buying organics isn’t the problem, if anything it reduces the amount of pesticides used by that small fraction of the market, so by itself it’s only a net benefit to farm workers. The fact that everything isn’t organic may be though.

            1. tegnost

              yes, I guess the organic thing is an issue all it’s own, creates a tiered system where there’s food for the upper echelon, and feed for the rest….but in the end all about the benjamins, patenting the genome and etc…not directly germane to the topic at hand.

              1. different clue

                Food for the classes, feed for the masses.

                That is a more elegant phrasing than “shinola food for the classes, sh*t food for the masses.” Maybe I will just switch over to it.

                Food sells for a food price. Feed sells for a feed price. If a prospective food-eater wants food, he/she should not expect to get away with paying a feed price for it. Many more non-rich people than today could buy food at food prices if they are willing to go without something else like maybe cable TV or lottery tickets. If they would rather buy cable TV and lottery tickets than to spend the money paying a food price to get food, than let them eat feed.

    2. Nakatomi Plaza

      I have a hard time with the “American kids are just lazy” argument. In the places where I teach, I have a lot of students who work extremely hard. They’ll work a third shift in some warehouse or spend all evening working a fast-food drive in, they’ll attend and succeed in multiple classes, and very often they’ll do this with children or other serious responsibilities at home. Obviously, they aren’t all like this, but many of them do whatever is necessary to keep up. No, they aren’t working physically demanding jobs, but why would they? Why kill themselves for tiny paychecks? With the cost of school, childcare, and California rent, it must be profoundly discouraging to break your ass for a paycheck that barely allows you to keep our head above water.

      Besides, they’ve been convinced that getting an education means they’re too good for field labor. We’re going to blame them for believing what they’ve been told all their lives?

  8. Steve Ruis

    I just found the book I alluded to. It is “Working in the Shadows: A Year of Doing the Jobs (Most) Americans Won’t Do” by Gabriel Thompson. His account is different from the ones statiticians/economists give.

  9. Carolinian

    Over the last three decades, however, Mexico’s economy has seen solid growth, shrinking the flow of immigration to the United States.

    Really? From Counterpunch yesterday.

    If we look at the most basic measure of economic progress, the growth of GDP, or income, per person, Mexico ranks fifteenth out of 20 Latin American countries since it joined NAFTA in 1994. Other measures show an even sadder picture. According to Mexico’s latest national statistics, the poverty rate in 2014 was 55.1 percent–actually higher than the 52.4 rate in 1994.
    Wages tell a similar story: almost no growth in real (inflation-adjusted) wages since 1994–just about 4.1 percent over 21 years.

    Weisbrot does say that the inflow of migrants soared in the 90s after NAFTA and then slowed in recent years (because of the great recession, according to what I’ve seen elsewhere). Since the above is talking about immigrants who have been here for years it could be that the agricultural interests now have all the farm labor they need. But the notion that NAFTA has been a success for Mexico should not be allowed to pass unchallenged.

    1. Corey

      As anywhere, growth is unevenly distributed. There is a rapidly growing, relatively affluent middle class which is clustered in the cities. Go to a Costco store in Tijuana on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon, and it will be so jammed with families loading hundreds of dollars in groceries into their newer-model SUVs that you cannot find a parking space. Away from the cities, and further south, there are the same grinding poverty and difficult conditions as ever.

      It tends to be unskilled labor that emigrates to the United States. Professionals with good jobs – doctors, lawyers, businessmen – prefer to stay in Mexico because with a little money the quality of life is better than in the United States. For unskilled labor life is difficult. Wages are perhaps $100/week performing long hours of difficult or tedious work. Those are the Mexicans who tend to cross to the U.S., where the pay and conditions of work for unskilled labor are far better.

      Although now the destination of choice is Canada since they dropped the visa requirement for Mexican citizens. Lots of Mexicans heading up there for work now.

  10. Gail Jonas

    I live in Healdsburg, California, in the heart of “wine country.” Our premium grapes, on which our regional economy depends, are largely harvested by unauthorized immigrants.

    I’ve done some research on why “what drives the fact that these jobs are not done by Americans.” Believe me, they do not want these jobs! The United Farm Workers set up a way for “Americans” (for purposes of this comment I’ll use Yve’s definition of white citizens) to apply for these jobs on its website, “Take our jobs.” I talked with the coordinator of this effort, and the results were stunning. Thousands of “Americans” applied, and when they learned the working conditions – the low pay, the hard labor, the lack of breaks, etc., only one American in the whole US actually took a farmworker job.

    In our very elite tourist town, which is riding on the backs of these unauthorized immigrants providing the labor for our wine and tourism businesses, they can’t afford to live, much less live comfortably.

    1. different clue

      So . . . raise the pay, forcibly enforce forcibly mandated breaks as in most other workplaces, etc. That would require raising the price of the wine. And that could only be done behind a Wall of Protectionism, because otherwise those premium wine growers will move their premium wine operations to slave-labor countries.

      None of the improvements people seek for conditions of doing ag-work in America are possible under a Forced Free Trade Regime, because food buyers/ wine buyers would immediately seek cheaper slave-labor food and slave-labor wine from slave-labor countries. No change is possible until such cheaper-conditions food/wine/etc. is physically banned-in-reality from entering the United States if wages and conditions are improved for ag work performed IN the United States.

  11. Jim A.

    Everything is relative. People who grew up in the US often compare their lot to the middle class or worse, people that they see on television. For them, the lot of agricultural workers is deeply unsatisfying. OTOH, for those who grew up in the third world, picking fruit in CA is much more rewarding than any work that they found back home. And of course immigration itself selects for those who are willing to upend their lives to try and improve their lot.

  12. DH

    Most laws have statutes of limitations and statutes of repose so that prosecutions aren’t viable many years after the crime occurred. Similarly, selective prosecution is generally frowned upon where only a small sample of violators are investigated and prosecuted.

    The immigration system needs to think along these terms if it is to be practical over the coming decade. Many of these people have been here for decades providing inexpensive labor to generate inexpensive food while employers make profits from using off-the-books labor so that taxes are not paid. This is the type of thing that has dragged Greece down where the underground economy got so big that the government couldn’t function anymore. The current round of Cabinet nominees have multiple people who have employed undocumented workers off the books and that does not seem to be an impediment to becoming confirmed. This is happening concurrent with a deportation crackdown, so there is clearly a lot of hypocrisy on this issue.

    It is pretty clear we need to do an amnesty for well-behaved illegal immigrants with long-term roots and proven track records of work. This will be a large percentage of the illegal immigrants in the country. Recent arrivals, people who have been breaking laws, and people who are not here to work should be deported – this should be a manageable number, unlike the estimated 11 million total illegal immigrants in country.

    The now documented workers should be on a track for citizenship and should be on the books for future work. Employers who break the laws on this should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Since the previously illegal immigrants would now be documented workers, the excuse of inability to find documented workers should vanish and future prosecutions would not be selective prosecution. It is likely that the recently documented workers will have an incentive to not support recent illegal immigrants since the recent arrivals would just undercut their own ability to find work at a reasonable wage.

    However, this does not match the current political narrative and alternative facts.

    1. Pat

      Caveat on this response is that I am somewhat neutral on the immigration issue. Yes it lowers wages, yes our system is broken, yes enforcement is targeted in a manner that indicates other factors at play and yes the employers should be at risk of large (as in truly punishing) fines and/or jail time. That said, there is a break in logic in your statute of limitations argument.

      So you put a statute of limitations on immigration crimes, that means perhaps you cannot be prosecuted or deported for coming into the country without a visa after say seven years, but unless you have an independent income you will need to work, illegal without the appropriate status, and even with the independent income there may be financial crimes of accessing it you could run afoul of during that seven years. IOW, you are still committing illegal acts to remain here and doing anything that connects to that original violation actually resets the clock on most statutes. See the problem?

      Like I said, our system is broken. Largely because it has been twisted. I don’t have the answer(s). Maybe you do. I just think you need to be careful of flawed arguments.

      1. SpringTexan

        Yes, you can’t let unlimited numbers come, but there ought to be some statute of limitations such that if someone has been here a while and working, they can stay and be naturalized.

    2. Adamski

      How would you prevent the illegal population building up again in future since the border is so hard to secure and the wall seems so impractical? And apparently 40% of illegal immigrants are actually visa overstayers rather than people who sneaked in; how to track them? Biometric record of visa applicants?

      1. Dead Dog

        Eventually a camera will catch their faceprint, match it to an illegal on their database and an automated drone will be dispatched to, well, dispatch /s

        Yes an amnesty, but when those people become documented or citizens, they become more expensive to hire.

        You can’t stop the demand for workers who will work for next to nothing, (who doesn’t want an ‘affordable’ servant?) and it seems stopping the supply side is a tough job too, particularly as people can simply fly in on a tourist visa and disappear into the cracks.

        Tough topic to find good solutions.

        1. different clue

          Amnesty every non-violent drugs offender from our prisons and jails. This will create enough room to jail and imprison a half-a-million or so people who hire so much as a single illegal for any purpose whatsoever. If close to a million hirers of illegal aliens all went to prison for many hard years . . . from the illegal nanny-hirer to the illegal hirer of thousands of workers at a time, other illegal-hirer-wannabes will be too scared to hire the illegal.

  13. Gardener

    One thing I wish I had a better grip on is precisely what drives the fact that these jobs are not done by Americans

    The impact of Edward R. Murrow’s documentary ‘Harvest of Shame’ can’t be overlooked. In the 1960s these jobs were done by white people who were living in horrid conditions as migrants. “Grapes of Wrath,” anyone?

    It shocked people enough that the jobs were outsourced.

    1. Anon

      Actually, it’s more complex than that.

      Agricultural farmworkers have been mistreated in the US for decades. The “Bracero” program, begun in 1942 to bring migrant workers (Mexicans, mostly) to offset the loss of US manpower to the WWII military effort, were supposed to receive specified wages and working/living conditions. Unfortunately, many of these workers were mistreated; some revolted and performed work stoppages. The program ended in 1964, with the agricultural farms preferring undocumented, compliant farmworkers to do the work more cheaply than “braceros”. Eventually, even undocumented workers found a way to organize and rebel. Their leader was Cesar Chavez.

  14. PQS

    Why aren’t Americans doing these jobs….I imagine a lot of it has to do with inertia. Illegal labor in Ag is a longstanding arrangement between the producers, the marketers, and the People who Rule Us.

    I have a friend who farms in WA state – small holder. Some observations:
    1. She pays above the market rate for pickers. What happens? Other smallholders come over to her place to bitch her out about this practice.
    2. The packing houses rule the whole operation. They can and do reject thousands of pounds of fruit due to slight imperfections in the fruit. Also, so much fruit has to be picked very near ripeness because it doesn’t ripen off the tree, that skill and speed are required to just get the fruit into the bins before damage/rot sets in. This is not a job for amateurs, nor can most farmers waste a season training people. They just don’t make enough money, because again, the packing houses make the rules and pay for the fruit before it gets to the store. And they pay pennies on the pound. Literally.
    3. Local food is a great idea. BUT “Ugly Food” would probably help more people. The reason the packing houses are so strict is because their customers, the grocery stores, insist on perfect fruit. Why? Because their customers insist on this. We are trained to see gleaming piles of perfectly sized and washed produce in the store aisles. People won’t accept something less.
    4. Big Ag uses subcontractors, as noted above, just like Big Construction does. Despite Republican claims to the contrary, it isn’t terribly hard to set up a business, hire a bunch of friends and cousins, and market yourself to General Contractors, who are happy to not deal with hiring individual workers for what will be temporary jobs.
    Contractor pays Subcontractor, who either does or doesn’t pay his employees/taxes/fees.
    5. I know nobody around here likes “identity politics” but the fact is that in America, racism is a factor in how certain industries/workers are sorted. In Agriculture and construction, the white bosses are OK with Hispanic workers. Other minorities, not so much – this is anecdotal, but in 20 years in construction, I’ve seen far more Hispanic and even Asian workers than African American ones. The Construction trades are notoriously racist, (and sexist) and this has persisted to this day.

  15. Gareth

    One major reason agricultural work is undesirable to Americans is that it is exempted from Federal overtime rules. This translates into 72 hour work weeks of back breaking labor in fields that have been sprayed with dangerous pesticides and herbicides. Only someone who is absolutely desperate, or who could be deported at the whim of the boss, will work under these conditions.

    1. old flame

      Which is why the employers would want the undocumented workers so they would not have to comply with the law. Plus the immigrant would know this and not be interested in going to the trouble for legal status-green card, temporary resident alien, citizenship, etc.
      because they want the work and don’t want to go to the trouble of filing papers, immunizations, and what not. Plantations run on this sort of thing.

      1. jrs

        might be a wink nod. But even when they are 100% legally obligated to pay overtime, overtime law is massively broken, and it seems to me massively under-enforced (notice noone is campaigning on that, on better enforcement of legal overtime law, even though wage theft is a widespread problem – apparently not to our leaders). Wage theft of legal citizens has gone to court though, so there is the possibility of legal action.

  16. JimTan

    I once visited Napa California during harvest season in October. My previous visits were during the summer, so this visit was a real eye opener regarding how our food gets harvested.

    Huge convoys of migrant laborers travel north in the spring, and follow harvests across all of California, Oregon, Washington, and into Canada. They arrive in Napa in September, and my observation was that every vineyard parking lot was filled with pickup trucks piled with mattresses, tents, sleeping bags, ect. To be fair, I have read that Napa raises money through auctions and charity drives to subsidize some temporary housing and provide mobile medical clinics for migrant farmworkers.

    Two things about this arrangement struck me. First the observed population of Napa more than doubled for the harvest, suggesting there are not enough locals to manage a harvest. Second, I have no idea how much migrants are compensated but these workers likely travel from farm to farm to toil while living in their trucks or tents. This is how one of the most profitable produce (wine grapes) get harvested. I assume conditions are equivalent or worse in lower margin farms across the west coast of North America. Not sure about harvest migrants on the east coast.

    1. Colonel Smithers

      Thank you, Jim.

      In the old days, the orchards in the garden of England (Kent, south east of London) would get (London) east end residents to help with the harvest (and get away from the big smoke for week or two). Much of that is now done by migrant labour from eastern and, to a lesser extent, southern Europe. Some of the migrants will work on building sites, clean offices, wait tables etc at other times of the year. It’s the same in France.

      1. visitor

        In the old days, the orchards in the garden of England would get east end residents to help with the harvest

        Fun fact: several European countries (such as Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, Denmark…) have school holidays, one or two weeks long, in early October.

        They are a long tradition and are still popularly known as the “potato holidays” (Kartoffelferien, potatislov, vacances de patates) because in the days back their original purpose was to free entire families to go help with the harvest of potatoes before the winter.

        1. vlade

          a different fun fact.

          In the former Easter Block countries, school kids (up to high school really) spent 2-3 weeks in each Sep/Oct harvesting potatoes, grapes, sugarbeets etc.

          Uni students had more fun since they were usually sent to harvest hops in late summer (so had better weather, stayed there, and many a marriage had its origins there too).

          Of course, this was a patriotic duty then, so unpaid. When collective farms wanted to do the same in 90s, and found they had to pay for it, quite a few found themselves not really profitable anymore. But farming overall still survived.

  17. RUKidding

    One variable in all of this is that most immigrant farm laborers in the USA start working in the fields from a very young age typically. Why is this important? Because from a very early age they develop the skills necessary to do this back-breaking work, they develop the stamina and strength needed to do this work, and they somehow develop an attitude (if you will) that enables them to want to do the work and persist with it and carry on.

    It’s not that Central Americans are uniquely qualified somehow to do this work. It’s more that they’ve been born into it and have developed the necessary intestinal fortitude to carry it off as best as possible. Look at the Amish, for example. There you have white European-descent (German mostly) people who do almost even more back-breaking work – no fancy tractors, combines or what have you – with manual ploughs. And boy, talk about strong. Go watch them prepare their fields for planting if you want to be impressed. But like the Central American farm laborers in California, the Amish in Pennsylvania and elsewhere are born into farming. I assume those Amish kids are introduced to farm work from an early age where they also develop the skills and strength needed to do the job.

    I have also read the articles about what happened not just in Alabama but also in Georgia and other parts of the south when about 8 years ago they did “outlaw” all undocumented farm labor. And the fruits and veggies rotted on the vines/trees/ground because the farmers couldn’t hire enough legal skilled labor to do the work. So the ban against the dreaded and horrid “illegals” was quietly lifted.

    I have read on rightwing blogs lots of moaning and groaning about lazy, drug-addled whites who are on the govt dole (I thought it was only lazy minorities, but I guess not) and refuse to get off their lazy bums and do a real day’s work on farms. Well I don’t know if they’re lazy and drug-addicted, but I do know that most Americans (of whatever ethnicity) have the LOST the skills to do farm labor.

    I’m one and half generations removed from my family’s former farms, and I have some notion of what it takes to do the labor involved. My mother’s family wanted my dad to take over the farm. He tried for it a week and said: NO WAY. I grew up a bit with some limited experience of farm work, plus I’ve lived in rural Australia with friends who currently own farms. It’s hard work, and frankly, it’s more skilled than most people give it credit for.

    If Trump were to somehow magically deport all 11 million undocumented workers from this country, I predict that it would engender a huge crisis. Most “legal” US citizens simply do not know how, nor do we have the strength and stamina, to do this work, which is, frankly, critical to our survival.

    Talk about: wake up sheeples.

    1. a different chris

      Not disagreeing with you in toto, not at all, but there is one underlying thread to your missive: things that are have always been and will always be that way.

      I don’t agree. An “un-hardened” American can only pick say 1/2 as much as the undocumented. Well, we eat a good 1/3 more calories than we need per cap so… maybe we should start “picking more” (that is, somehow involve ourselves more with directly acquiring our calories) and eat less?

      And describing choices in terms of “today we are doing this so how can we possibly switch to that tomorrow?” is a great tool of hidden opposition. We don’t have to have it all changed tomorrow, Kennedy did say we would get to the moon before “this decade was out”, not “before this week was out.”

      The biggest problem in America today is we can’t even seem to conceive of gradual but persistent, stick-to-it change.

      1. RUKidding

        I agree with you. My comment was somewhat simplistic. I wasn’t trying to say or imply that people cannot change and learn new skills. Certainly non-farm US citizens can be taught to do farm work, including the back-breaking labor of picking/harvesting crops. But there has to be a WILL to do it.

        I was just saying that the current group of mostly undocumented Central Americans who do this work, at least in CA (but elsewhere, too), have been born into it and raised into it. Therefore, it is a bit easier for them to do the work. That is not to say that no one else can ever do it. Certainly, almost anyone can, if they choose to do learn it.

        There is a feel-good movie called McFarland USA, which is based on the true story of Jim White, a coach who formed one of the first Track teams in McFarland, CA, which is deep in the Central Valley ag country. One small bit in the movie – and in Jim White’s “real” life – is that he (a white American) sometimes helped in the fields in order to enable his students to go to training for their meets. Jim White said it was super hard work, and he was always impressed with what those families could do. He readily admitted that he was slower and could only harvest a fraction of what the farm labor families could. However, he did do it, albeit temporarily and part-time.

        So yes, people can learn new things. But as has been discussed here, some years ago in the south, the PTB managed to stop the hiring of undocumented workers. The farmers hired citizens to do the work, and for the most part, the citizens tried it briefly and quit. Those southern states then quietly stopped the ban against hiring undocumented workers.

        So: how do we get US citizens to agree to and want to do this work? That’s the conundrum.

  18. Eleanor

    My partner picked tomatoes as a kid. He says it’s horrible work. I talked to someone recently who detassled corn as a teenager. The contractors would drop the kids off at a corn field and then drive away, so the kids were stuck all day. Some of the kids decided to take the long walk into town, sooner than detassle corn. Again, it’s horrible work. Georgia passed an anti-immigrant law a few years ago. The NY Times described one farm. The farm lost its Hispanic workers and hired local blacks and whites, all of whom quit before noon. The work was too damn hard. These jobs involve long hours in every kind of weather and it’s back breaking labor. Obviously labor laws (if we still have them after Trump) ought to be extended to agricultural laborers; they should be protected from exposure to toxic chemicals; and the farm owners should really consider higher wages. It’s still awful work. As the poster from Hungary pointed out, the answer might be to recreate the family farm. People will work really hard on their own land. But we are a long way form doing that.

  19. PKMKII

    Kashkooli of United Farm Workers tells me that rather than initiating mass deportations of 3 million to 11 million people, the government may be hammering home that message with a few high-profile raids. “What [Trump] can do is create mass fear with raids,” he says.

    And conversely, mass jubilation in the neonationalists. Once again, it seems that the same policies being carried out by Democrats and Republicans are received differently, depending on how their spun and packaged. Trump can kick them out at the same rate as Obama, but if it’s got a highly-visible, paramilitary sheen on it, the Right “feels” like he’s doing more.

  20. rocky

    This from Yves got me thinking:

    One thing I wish I had a better grip on is precisely what drives the fact that these jobs are not done by Americans.

    While there is variance across the country as to who has done the labor and under what circumstances (i.e. slavery in the South, migrants in the West), I’m not sure that the bulk of industrial farm (as opposed to small farm) labor has ever been done by Americans who were full citizens and not members of a marginalized group.

    In the South, there is a fairly uninterrupted history of non-full-citizen labor (slaves and sharecroppers>Jim Crow>immigrants). In the West, it seems like waves of immigrants have taken on the work.

    1. Field Hand

      I am not aware of detailed work on the unemployed.

      Alan Krueger Andreas Mueller’s 2008 “The Lot of the Unemployed: A Time Use Perspective” undertook national comparisons of time use by the unemployed. The U.S. unemployed, as has been reported anecdotally elsewhere, have a comparatively high proportion of time in recreational activities, mostly television viewing.

      A more refined analysis for the U.S. could be done by creating downloadable microdata extracts from the American Time Use Study (ATUS) (subpart of Current Population Survey). The data dictionary can be accessed here: It appears to be a somewhat laborious process, but it might be of interest for those seeking to create a more empirical wedge into the topic and explore networks, transportation, and lack of skill (e.g., in cutting celery) for challenging physical work. (Instilling work regimens takes time to develop, though in the information age this may be becoming somewhat obscured. And the amount and distribution of work tasks entails structural constraints; those employed spend a comparatively longer amounts of time on the job than a number of other countries.

      In addition to activities and the time devoted to them ATUS microdata or individual level data include some general demographic items, geographic location (9 regions) and variables that:
      1. Identifying able-bodied, unemployed persons
      2. identify those not looking for work (e.g. last 4 weeks, reasons for
      not looking)
      3. asking respondents their availability for work last week and
      reasons why not available.
      4. asking respondents if they looked for work in the last 12 months.
      5. asking respondents who sought employment what job search
      procedures they used (multiple answers possible).

      Learning to labor under conditions in which there are few opportunities to resist today seems to be the upwardly political cultural model – start with vulnerable farm workers and then go up the ladder and render others such as the professorate vulnerable. It’s the stuff of George Wallace inspired status politics; the latter are “better” than the former.

  21. Sluggeaux

    Good comments. I’m a native Californian, my grandparents immigrated here at the turn of the 20th Century. My aunt was the daughter of a Bracero who came up to work in the fields when all the white boys were drafted and the Japanese-American boys were interned. There are many moving pieces to this issue. Here are just a few:

    1) Most of today’s undocumented Mexican ag workers are in fact refugees from a semi-feudal economy further distorted by NAFTA. Even worse, they are refugees from extreme violence caused by the rise of wealthy criminal enterprises fueled by the demand for drugs by Americans (there is no domestically produced heroin or cocaine in the US — it all comes through Mexico). Desperate people who are terrified of deportation make a docile workforce.

    2) NAFTA has distorted agricultural production. Where I live, truck farms and packing houses for frozen vegetables were displaced to Mexico by NAFTA, and the high-paying, unionized jobs left with them. Farmers switched to berries, which are packed in the fields by unskilled workers, crushing the ability of Mexican immigrants to rise to the middle class. For example, in the ’70’s through the ’90’s the “Irish Cop” of California was Mexican-American, the child of immigrants who rose to the middle class. Berry-pickers can’t support the education of their children the way that packing-plant workers did.

    3) The federal government refuses to prosecute employers for exploiting undocumented immigrants. I once got the regional chief of ICE to admit that his office had NEVER prosecuted an employer. In a country that has a constitution that sanctions slavery, this should come as no surprise.

    4) About those drugs. Addicts make terrible employees. The scope of drug use by Americans is grossly under-reported in my opinion, based on personal experience. The so-called “lazy” American is generally a substance abuser, and the vast majority of street drugs come from Mexico, because the American government has long sanctioned a semi-feudal and fascist political system in Mexico that has tolerated and been subsumed by the lawless drug trade (see refugees above). To repeat: there is no domestically-produced heroin or cocaine in the USA, and most of the precursors for methamphetamine are imported from Mexico as well.

    5) There is also a “Gresham’s Dynamic” in play. Farmers who I have spoken with say that they would like to hire legally, but could never compete with those who don’t. In the marketplace rule-breakers will always prevail without enforcement of the rules. It’s a race to the bottom.

    There are many more moving pieces to this issue, but it is far simpler to demonize the “other” than it is to question the political basis for undocumented immigration.

    1. RUKidding

      That’s the rub. You say that you got a regional ICE chief to admit that ICE never prosecuted an employer. That’s been my big complaint all along. Frankly, everyone knows that ICE almost never goes after the employers, whether it’s farm labor, meat packing plants (which are horror shows), the hospitality or construction industries.

      It really ticked me off all through Trump’s campaign where he ranted and fulminated about the “illegals” to the loud cheering of his white supremacist fans (note: not all Trump voters are white supremacists but a core group is). Where of where were these “nationalists” going to go after the employers that hire “illegals”?? That is NEVER discussed, and it never happens.

      Rightwing websites abound with commenters visciously and sometimes violently dissing “illegals,” but if you bring up the issue about the employers being the ones responsible, you either get radio silence or a ton of bs excuses why the employers shouldn’t be held responsible and experience consequences.

      Yet another: wake up sheeples.

      Trump never ever said one word about the bosses/employers, and neither do most of his voters. If ICE really went after the employers, a lot of “illegals” would probably self-deport, as some have already.

      1. PQS

        Agree. Just once I’d like to hear of an Employer CrackDown Program from a politician of any flavor. Won’t happen, not when Big Ag, Big Hospitality (Hello, Mr. Trump), and other big industries have the ears and pockets of Big Politics.

    2. Oregoncharles

      Just a footnote: opium poppies are easy to grow, certainly in milder areas, and quite common in gardens – they’re the tall, showy, biennial ones. Chewing the leaves is an effective pain reliever. So enforcement is the ONLY reason there isn’t a heroin industry here, and I wonder seriously about that claim. Granted, opium poppies in bloom are very showy indeed.

        1. Oregoncharles

          Just a guess, but probably wherever oranges are grown. They don’t tolerate freezing, either. Coca is from quite high in the mountains. Might be interesting – do the local police actually know what coca bushes look like?

          1. different clue

            They probably don’t know coca bushes specifically, but if they know Hawaiian plant life, they would recognize any new foreign plant showing up as new and foreign. And Hawaii is a few small islands, a much smaller place to hide coca plants in then the whole of mountainous South America.

            So now that I think about it, I don’t know if Hawaii could grow enough coca in Hawaii to meet the world’s “need” if it were legal to grow there.

            I wonder which classes and sectors of society spend most of the money that gets spent on cocaine. We hear ever so much about crack, but that gets sold in tiny doses to poor buyers. How much money gets spent on rock, powder, etc. in Hollywood, Fashionwood, Banksterwood, Brokerwood, etc.?

    3. that guy

      Fascinating. Points 1 and 3 through 5 don’t surprise me at all, but 2, never heard that before. I’m surprised. I live in Idaho and it’s a bit different here, the ag plants mostly hire temp workers, a large percentage of whom are felons and can’t find anything better based on that alone. (Also, no historical perspective on my part, I only moved here recently.) I never would have considered that. Thank you.

  22. IF

    Rural California towns south of Sacramento are de-facto Latino. I have met people who were retired, had educated US born children doing work in the cities, but I understood were not legal in the US.

    As an example, look at Cutler, a picturesque town in the middle of the Orange groves. One of the 10 poorest towns in CA. But very clean, tiny houses, 8-10 cars in front of each little house etc.,_California
    “As of the census of 2000 […] Hispanic or Latino of any race were 96.24% of the population.”

    White people usually live in small ranches on the Sierra Foothills, having mini ranches, horses etc. How do you hire them to pick Oranges?

  23. Jesper

    Liberals fighting for the right to be exploited? While socialists (are supposed to?) fight to protect weakest from exploitation? Or maybe, an unholy alliance between the two to protect the capitalist (conservative?) class?
    I don’t see much of a fight so I’m guessing the liberal elite, the socialist elite and the conservative elite has decided that their (supposedly hated since it is nationalist) goal of increased Gross National Product is worth almost any price.

  24. PhilM

    Last time a state talked so seriously about secession, it followed through, and for much the same reasons the Californians are so upset: the rest of the nation’s trash-talk about their “differently legal” workforce. California, so righteous about its identities, does not seem aware that it has become, mutatis mutandis, South Carolina.

    1. Anon

      While Calexit is a fun topic, it’s not likely.

      And let me assure you, California is NOT South Carolina (and never will be).

  25. Oregoncharles

    ” The story points out that barring or developing a program to phase out illegal farm workers might result in more automation rather than replacement by American laborers. ”
    I’ve done this work, and I doubt it. You could speed things up a little with conveyor belts, but either picking or pruning things like peaches or grapes with machines is just not on. And yes, the crew I worked on (pruning wine grapes) is now Mexican, and the owner was very concerned – in public – about a crackdown on illegals.

    The real difference may be that they work harder and fool around less. A co-worker commented on that lo, these many years ago. Vineyard pruning is very hard on the elbows and shoulders – I couldn’t do it now, though I still prune apples. But not in a commercial orchard. My shoulder hurts just thinking about it. So disability compensation might be a factor, too.

    An anecdote relative to machine picking: 50 years ago, the food science department at Oregon State was working on maraschino strawberries because the picking machines couldn’t tell the difference between ripe and green berries – maraschinos are made from green cherries. I suppose you could make a machine picker color-sensitive, but it would be looking at each individual berry, just like people. As far as I know, strawberries are still picked by hand. These days, a lot of the growers are hippy farmers depending on apprentice labor – one way to get white Americans into a farm field.

    Blueberries and probably blackberries can be shaken off, which gets only ripe berries, but the other care is much harder to mechanize. I’ve done that, too, though again not on a commercial scale.

  26. Paid Minion

    Face it. There are hundreds of businesses in the USA that are unviable, unless the business is allowed to pay minimum wage (or less). Like the entire fast food industry.

    I found that having my daughters work in summer/high school was a net “money-loser”, when the total costs of their job (mainly transportation and car insurance) were subtracted. A ton of money spent by the Bank of Mom and Dad, to develop a “work ethic”

    This isn’t just an immigrant/farm worker problem. My oldest daughter just quit her job as a Store Manager of a clothing store, because she was taking home about $1.50/hour after paying for child care, and the costs associated with “working”.

    As they say about holes…….”quit digging”.

    Call me cynical, but “work ethic” is another one of those brainwashing-by-the-1%ers projects, like “hard work always pays”…..mainly because they want the wretched refuse to continue working hard. If hard work paid, fruit picking Mexicans would be running the country.

    It’s all about money. The PTB do everything to create an overabundance of labor, because they don’t want to deal with a “free market” for labor. Witness the supposed “shortage of trained/qualified/experienced” job seekers. Pay 20% more than the “market” pay scale, and your labor problems would be over. Why do businesses put up with our current health care system? I suspect they have done a cost-benefit analysis, and have figured that it costs less to have employees “captive” thanks to health insurance, than dealing with a “free market” for labor, if they didn’t have the health insurace carrot..

  27. oho

    margins in agriculture are thin. i imagine the choices are:

    a) mechanize and grow crops/varieties favorable to machine-harvesting—which is one of the reasons why lots of produce taste m’eh—varieties are grown for ease of harvesting, not taste

    or b) do things below the table.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if there is a very dark side to all the perfect organic produce at Whole Foods.

    1. PQS

      Yes, as I mentioned upthread – Local Food is great. Ugly Food would be better. Consumers are so conditioned to see perfect piles of beautiful produce that the packing houses won’t accept or pay for anything below that level, so it won’t go to the groceries.

      It can be done, and Lord knows we could use a lot less food waste around here, but it would take a big campaign.

      1. RUKidding

        We are starting to see more of what you call ugly food at farmers’ markets here in CA. I think it’s a good thing. Sometimes the local growers will charge a slight amount less for less than perfect fruits and veg. Over time, though, locals are getting used to buying our produce this way, and don’t mind it.

        It’s all about training. I agree that ugly food should become the norm. I’m seeing a tiny bit of it happening at some local grocery stores. Hope it catches on more.

    2. Renee

      The margins are low. Here in the Central Valley of CA, because CA is raising the minimum wage, some major growers are taking their land out of production because the crops just won’t price out a profit. So while increasing the pay rate, the overall labor hours are going to drop.
      Try visiting one of these small towns in the Central Valley – highly depressed in the post-drought era, looks like Appalachia around here, with opioid/meth addiction rates to match. Housing stock is a mess too, and schools are marginal.
      The notion that unskilled folks (especially white folks on welfare) will choose to do this kind of work is laughable.

      1. jrs

        Well what type of welfare are they on? Just food stamps or something? Think they are cheating disability?

        Because if they are on what little remains of actual welfare it’s a mother raising kids. And that’s who you think is the ideal farmworker? Some woman with possibly young kids? Because people without kids aren’t getting that.

  28. Dead Dog

    Great comments and anecdotes from many.

    The focus should be on those who exploit, the employers, but we can all see how difficult this would be to implement, politically and practically.

    Much easier to deport a few publicly and then go back to business as usual.

    And, many have commented that the use of non-citizens has been the modus operandi of the Ag sector companies and employers for, well, a long time. The employment conditions and itinerant nature of the work means that local people either can’t do it or won’t do it.

    Raising wages and conditions to encourage more citizens into this type of work is a much, much tougher task, (consumers and retailers like their cheap fruit and veg), so nothing will change from where I look.

  29. Code Name D

    Reading the comments here, its clear there is a question that must be resolved before the conversation can move forward. Is immigrant labor more productive than domestic labor. One can speculate until the cows come home, but this is not a minor quibble we can side step.

    Seems to me that this is a claim that should provide some evidence. And if not current studies can be found, something that can be tested out in the field. Get two lots, have migrant labor pick one, and domestic labor pick the other and compare the results.

    1. Tom_Doak

      Well, since everyone says the free market finds the right solution, what is the free market telling you about who are the most productive workers?

      1. Code Name D

        Hmmmmm, let me see. (Throws a stack of $50 bills into a chipper shredder and examines the results.) Inconclusive. Maybe we should give this thing called – science – a try.

  30. What a mess

    I appreciate the work that farm workers with guest worker permits do here and I think the conditions they work under should be greatly improved as well as their wages. I supported Caesar Chavez.
    I’ve seen Latinos be kind and loving to the elderly in nursing homes and hospitals,
    we could use the help of many more, machines do not provide love & kindness.

    However farm workers are always used as the example although as soon as they are able they move into construction jobs, restaurant jobs, etc that Americans have always done and now can’t get hired for. Many time these jobs went to teens as their first job.

    I think the majority of Americans that are fed up are speaking of the gang banger, the cartels growing marijuana using wild life and river destroying chemicals, the welfare going to the off spring of the Hispanic man that has a wife and 4 girlfriends and 6 kids with each one of them. These are people I’ve known they are not fictions.
    90% of the most wanted list in my County are Latino, the Mexican cartel run much of the California prison system.

    There are at least 2 sides to every story.

  31. Yves Smith Post author

    Just in via e-mail. I thought this provided important perspective:

    Hi Yves, I didn’t feel comfortable posting a comment because it’s kind of frank/un-PC, so I thought I’d send you a note about the farmworker issue.

    I grew up in a small town in Western NY on Lake Ontario. The county is the largest apple producing county outside of Washington state. Motts and other companies have factories there. During summers and falls, I’d work on local farms. Friends of ours owned them, and I was in/had been in 4H with their kids, so they’d hire me (I was one of the poors but they knew I was dependable), so I was at least able to work and earn a little bit of money. I’d bring in the apple crop with the workers in the fall. Other than the farmers/owners themselves, sometimes I was the only other one that could speak English.

    The farmers/owners prefer the illegals/undocumented however you want to term it, over blacks or other Americans. The blacks (usually migrants) were the ones that picked the fruit before the big influx from south of the border. The migrant blacks were eventually displaced. The farmers didn’t like them because they’d actually complain about stuff or would leave if they were getting a raw deal. There was nothing really keeping them there. The illegals, they can’t say a word or else ICE will be called. They know they’re under the gun, so to speak. They have to take whatever deal the farmers offer them. They can’t complain about housing, pay, injuries, working conditions, nothing.

    They send their children to the local school-which has gone way downhill in recent years due to the influx of kids that are not native English speakers and need a lot of remedial help, etc. The non-farming locals get upset because they know they are driving illegally, and there are sometimes fatal accidents(drunk driving is very common during apple season), and there are fights amongst them and sometimes murders, etc. The farmers have historically held a lot of sway politically (always been a very heavily republican district) so laws pretty much were never enforced, and it’s been allowed to go on(the farmers never get in trouble for hiring them). In recent years, however, ICE has been patrolling more often, and there have been raids on the camps owned by the farmers(slums/bunkhouses, essentially, where they put up the workers). The farmers got mad about the raids because they were losing their cheap labor.

    A woman I know in the town made a documentary(“After I Pick the Fruit”) a few years ago about them. It does have a slant, but it might help shed some light for you. Some background, though-Nancy Ghertner is from a well-off family and her husband is a doctor. They own a home in Sodus and a summer home on Sodus Bay, and their children were sent to Gould Academy in Maine so they wouldn’t have to go to the local public school with the rest of us deplorables. They have been trying to protect the workers from the raids and do other support work, and the non-farming locals are not big fans of them. The locals are much, much less well-off than the Ghertners, so there is friction there. Working poor, for the most part, as a lot(most- who are we kidding) of the traditional manufacturing industry pulled out some time ago(Xerox, Kodak, etc).

    The farm owners around there are mostly old Dutch stock and the farms have been in their families for generations. Nearly every single one of them is a quiet millionaire/multi-millionaire. They pinch pennies like crazy and go to great lengths to not pay their workers much if they can help it/get away with it. A lot of them are very racist and hate the blacks. You’d think you were in the Jim Crow Deep South sometimes! The stuff I have heard, it’s horrible. I think some of that might play a role (they don’t like “uppity n-ggers”). They much prefer the illegals/undocumenteds for obvious reasons.

    I think more Americans would want to do these jobs if they were paid decently/not getting screwed. It’s honest work and I always felt good about myself at the end of the day.

    Another issue is that it is seasonal, and so you can’t really settle down. There aren’t exactly other jobs in the area to pick up when the season is over. Obviously it is different in CA and other warmer places. Maybe it does come down to greed. I don’t know. And no one wants to pay for fruit and veg what it’s really worth. Also, when I was picking, Motts was paying 2 cents(!) per pound for juice apples. The market got flooded with Chinese concentrate and drove the price down. Nobody talks about that. The bottom suddenly fell out. How can American farms compete with that? It’s a giant mess, suppose it is all interwoven.

    Anyway, I hope that helps a little. It’s not something I felt I could post. I’m very sorry for the harsh language, and I don’t know what to term the workers. I just thought I’d chime in as I had been in the thick of it for a while, not that long ago, and also to suggest the documentary.

    1. different clue

      It is these farmers who should go to prison, and die in prison if necessary, to make a point about the illegal hiring of illegal aliens.

  32. skk

    I ride my motorbike regularly in the “market garden” of the USA – the Oxnard /Camarillo area and note the workers harvesting during the changing of the crops – celery, peppers, green onions, cilantro, strawberry, tomatoes – so this is close to my life and heart. I’d like to see a peer reviewed ethnographic study of these individuals. I remember the jolt I got way back when reading the classic paper about village life in Southern India by Andre Beteille.
    There has to be a similar study here – closest I can find is a book “Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies” by Seth Holmes. As regards why this field of work is so dominated by Mexicans, social-networks has to play a part – its not as if these jobs are advertised on, – the work moves field to field, crop to crop, owner to owner. Perhaps the union has published ethnographic papers on this too ?

  33. Code Name D

    Now that I have a chance to think about it, migrant workers are not just about agriculture. This was years ago mind you, back when the housing boom was still raging and I worked the area as a utility locator. One job site I had to visit regularly for a while was for a new apartment complex going up, one of the larger ones in the area. When they were still framing the structures, the majority of the workers there on sight were Spanish speaking. I never thought of it much at the time until news came down about an ice raid on the construction site, sending all of the framers running on foot.

    My job also had me working alongside road crews. While not universal across the industry, one company in particular was well known for hiring migrant workers to do most of the grunt-work. They were also not well respected by other contracting companies because of the shoddy workmanship. And they had a reputation for cutting utilities – some times in multiple locations.

    While antidotal, it does suggest two things. 1) This isn’t just agricultural phenomena, but one that impacts many industries. And 2) Quality and productivity probably has a lot more to do with supervision and standers than on some sort of nebulous “cultural” property.

  34. Gman

    The ‘immigration issue’ has been bought into ever sharper focus thanks to the increasingly divisive nature of globalisation on sovereign nations and, as this piece ably demonstrates, is intractable in the short term without major social, political and economic upheaval. Walls and inhumane deportations, particularly of long established migrants and their families, are clearly not the answer.

    Interesting and illuminating though it and many of the comments are it is clear that many rely too heavily on personal anecdote rather than fully understanding the narrow interests and expedient economic forces that initially drove so much of that immigration ie lowering labour and production costs and how they’ve played out so profoundly differently for different social groups.

    ‘Racial profiling’ doesn’t add anything to the debate and is by its very nature itself divisive as virtue signalling ‘liberals’ vie with ‘right wing’ (closet?) racists to ‘prove’ their points of who works harder or more conscientiously and why. ‘Just sayin’ and all that…

    ‘Putting a human face’ to what is in essence a potentially destabilising long-term socio-economic issue might improve further understanding for some, and encourage all but the most hard hearted to examine their positions, but it still doesn’t alter the fact that there will always be big losers (as well as big winners) where mass immigration of low cost, unskilled labour is concerned, and the most surprising thing is that people are apparently STILL surprised by this and that debate is deliberately and cynically framed by some as resistance to modernisation, or worse, blind racism.

  35. SJB

    I am ag economqist, who started grad school in the early 1980’s. At that time IBP (since bought by Tyson) was in the process of breaking the meat packing union, and there were lots of local news stories about unions protesting, ultimately to no avail. Meat Packers were recruiting down in Mexico, promising jobs to people if they could make their way north. Iowa state demographics changed dramatically, from being a largely white state of Scandinavian and Germanic descent, to some towns being one-third Hispanic. It was very obvious what the meatpackers were doing, but was entirely ignored by government enforcement agencies. (As the horizontal and vertical integration of ag industries were ignored by antitrust enforcement agencies).

    I completely agree with the comments that mention the failure to enforce existing laws being a contributing factor in the use of immigrants in the ag sector.

    There are other important factors as well. The easy crops to harvest have had mechanical harvesting for years, and some crops have been modified (even before genetic engineering) to be more easily harvested mechanically. But some crops are too complicated to harvest without skilled labor.

    As mentioned above by several people, there are many factors that can account for the use of immigrant over native labor–desperation, existing skills, familiarity with the difficult nature of the work, distance from population centers, lower pay, etc.

    One thing that was also mentioned, but is rarely brought up, is the migratory nature of the work. Fruit harvesting is typically a short season job. When peaches are harvested, then what? Workers don’t sit around waiting for the next season and producers are only going to pay workers when there is a job to do. So they move on to Florida, or wherever they are needed. That is a very difficult life for families. If children are back home or are already uprooted, the migration is less of a problem. But if you have a family, with a mortgage, or a working spouse, or kids in school, how exactly is that going to work? This is not a lifestyle that adults want to have even with merely decent pay, unless they have no obligations and aren’t intending to have any. There are no benefits, the work can be hazardous, there is no job security, no advancement opportunities, the conditions might be awful, and there is no training except for one the job experience. It might be very costly in terms of lost income to get fast and efficient at the job. It makes me frustrated when people just assume that the reason is laziness or a lack of work ethic. That is most definitely the case for some people, but when you stop to think about the lifestyle that these jobs impose on people, it is perfectly sensible to conclude these jobs are not going to be favored by most adults, even with decent pay.

    Also, as was mentioned, the margins in the food sector are mostly not that high. There is always a tug of war for profitability between producers, processors and retailers. Somebody is always at a disadvantage in that triad, and producers over the years have seen a diminishing share of the food dollar going their way. That is not to excuse abuse of workers in any fashion. It does provide a context for understanding the difficulties producers and workers face.

    I do also agree that we have a serious problem with loss of skills and demoralization of workers. I don’t think that is a problem for the farm sector itself, but for the overall economy, and I don’t think workers are to blame for that.

    American corporations have totally gotten off the hook for the damage they have done to our workers, our way of life, and our country. It is about time we start calling them out for this damage, and stop blaming people who are just trying to have a decent life.

    And it is long past time the economics profession should be called out on their role in providing a rationale to blame everyone but corporations. At least some economists like Joe Stiglitz recognize this.

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