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Farmworkers: 3 Things You Didn’t Know

75 percent of America’s agricultural workers are immigrants. Many of them are undocumented.

As one of our Think Table infographics show, it is estimated that over 75 percent of America’s agricultural workers are immigrants. There are three things you need to know about America’s dependence on immigrant agricultural workers.


1. It isn’t new.

Between 1650 and the mid 1800’s, African peoples were enslaved and brought to work on American plantations. After the Civil War, as African Americans moved north and into other industries, the U.S. began importing Asian labor. By 1886, seven out of every eight US farm workers were Chinese.  In the mid-1900, the U.S. government instituted the Bracero program, which imported temporary field workers from Mexico.  The program ended in 1964 after the abuses to immigrant workers was exposed thanks to the work of Cesar Chavez and his newly created United Farm Workers. Many of these workers – and their children and grandchildren – are still laboring the land and many still remain undocumented.

2. Undocumented farmworkers are vital to U.S. agriculture

One-half to three-quarters of America’s 3 million farm workers are undocumented. Without these farmworkers, the U.S. agricultural sector would go into a tailspin. Cornell University’s Farmworker Program 2017 research showed that 30 New York dairy producers could not find US citizens to fill the jobs of undocumented immigrants – without these mostly Mexican or Central American workers, those dairies would be forced to close. Another report commissioned by the American Farm Bureau Federation shows that the U.S. fruit, vegetable and meat industries are at risk without the help of unauthorized workers and, if those workers disappeared because of heightened immigration enforcement, production would drop precipitously and consumers would see higher food prices.

3. The Farmworker Modernization Act protects agriculture and immigrants alike.


The Farm Workforce Modernization Act will be the most significant effort to reform legal immigration since the 2013 comprehensive reform bill in the Senate, and it will likely pass the House on a broad bipartisan vote. The bill provides legal status for the current workforce, reforms the current federal agriculture guestworker program known as H-2A and ensures that we will have future access to a skilled, dedicated workforce. The bill also includes provisions to ensure the proper enforcement of U.S. immigration laws. It is supported by the UFW as well as by major agricultural producer organizations like the U.S. Apple Association and the U.S. Fresh Produce Association. Once approved by the House, the bill then goes to the Senate, where it will hopefully pass on a similar bipartisan basis, notwithstanding the noise of the 2020 presidential campaign. It then goes to the president for signature.


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