Friday, February 10, 2017

Trump’s costly “Deportation Force”

During his campaign, Mr. Trump attacked immigrant communities. He blamed Mexico for sending criminals, he vowed to ban all Muslims, and he built his campaign on a promise to construct a wall along our southern border. He also pledged to create a "deportation force" that would remove millions of non-citizens. Trump has now released three executive orders focused on immigration policy, basically following through with all of these campaign promises. Trump's plan to deport millions of people will have devastating effects that go well beyond the lives of people he wants to throw out of the country. One of those effects is already seen in our produce industry.

Undocumented people make up 50 to 70% of the farm workers who pick our fruit, plant our vegetables and do everything in between according to this Boston Globe op-ed. Under Trump's plans to increase deportation across the country, we will see increased labor shortages on farms everywhere. What's more, the price of fruits and vegetables will increase by close to 6%. (Here's another cause of increased food prices)

The other side of the coin is that these invisible people who play such vital role in feeding our families are faced with horrendous work conditions. Farm workers work long hours, doing arduous physical labor, with numerous health risks, but they receive some of the lowest wages and zero benefits. However, because these undocumented men, women, and children live in such vulnerable situations and fear immigration enforcement, they often don't complain. (See this related blog post on reported farm worker complaints of favoritism towards immigrant workers.)

According to the Boston Globe, if all US farm workers were actually paid a living wage, that price increase I mentioned earlier would only be 3.7%, not 6%. Fancy that, paying our farm workers is cheaper than deporting them. Not to mention more humane.

Let's not forget that Obama deported more people than any other president. (His immigration policy failed temporary visa-holders too.) Deportations under the Obama Administration concentrated on people with criminal convictions, "felons not families." (Because felons don't have families?) Trump's January 25th Executive Order: Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States greatly expands this deportation policy. Instead of just prioritizing non-citizens with criminal records, Trump is prioritizing removable non-citizens who have been convicted or charged with a criminal offense, or who have "committed acts that constitute a chargeable criminal offense" (emphasis added).

When I was 12 years old, I stole a bottle of nail polish from the store because my mom said she wouldn't buy it for me. No one ever found out. I would be a priority for removal (deportation) if I were an undocumented immigrant because shoplifting is a chargeable criminal offense. At this point it is hard to say if Immigration and Customs Enforcement will actually have the resources it needs in order to enact these priorities, but I have no doubt that deportations will increase even more than they did under Obama. More and more innocent, working people will be removed from their homes, their lives and their jobs.

After 8 years of Obama, the produce industry is already seeing annual losses in the billions of dollars. There aren't enough workers. This Gilroy, CA garlic farm is just one example of the labor shortage playing out already. "The dearth of ag labor seems to have reached a tipping point when the Obama administration stepped up border enforcement and deported millions of undocumented workers." Both the LA Times and Boston Globe articles cited here report recent and future production decreases at least partially due to deportations. Under Trump, we can expect these losses to increase.

As a result of labor shortages and financial losses, ordinarily conservative politicians have shown a desire for more lenient worker visa provisions. In 2013, senators Dianne Feinstein, Michael Bennet, Marco Rubio, and Orrin Hatch, two Democrats and two Republicans, agreed on a provision allowing for 337,000 farm worker visas over three years. The fact that agribusiness donates a lot of money to Republicans and conservatives may play a role in this dynamic.

However, it is not clear that this unusual alignment will be a good predictor for the future. Trump has shown almost no tolerance for immigration reform. His casual use of the word "humane" is virtually the only exception.


Wynter K Miller said...

Dear RGL, I think you have identified several important issues in this post, and I hope that the following thoughts are not construed as suggesting I support President Trump's immigration policies or consider the current immigrant experience at all acceptable. However, setting my personal political beliefs aside, it seems analytically important to separate the issues, which seem to be getting blurred in this post. Though obviously there is interplay between these issues, the concern is that by amalgamating them, we do injustice to the nuances inherent in appropriately addressing each.

You mention that "[u]nder Trump's plans to increase deportation across the country, we will see increased labor shortages . . . [causing] the price of fruits and vegetables [to] increase by close to 6%." It seems that prices are only as low as they currently are because, as the Boston Globe article states: "Today's food prices are artificially low because we use underpaid, overworked, unprotected labor." So, even without Trump's "Deportation Force," we would expect prices to rise anyway (albeit at closer to the 3.7% figure), assuming farm workers of all stripes are paid appropriately. I agree that I would prefer to pay a higher price for fruit in pursuit of ameliorating working conditions, versus in pursuit of mass deportation. However, what is unclear from my perspective is how these labor policy issues fit into the separate question of whether it is appropriate (or just) to prioritize the removal of non-citizens with criminal convictions/charges.

As a final thought: I wonder if this can even be characterized as a "rural" issue? It seems urban populations and urban industries will experience similar effects, should Trump's policies come to pass. Indeed, according to a Washington Post article, undocumented immigrants comprise solid percentages of the workforce in urban industries like clothing manufacturing (20%), domestic work (23%), and construction trades (34% in drywall installation, 27% in roofing, and 24% in painting). Indeed, the percentage of the unauthorized immigrant population working in the farming, fishing and forestry fields is only 4%. See:

Courtney said...

You touch on a lot of different issues here. One that I’ve been reading more about recently is the issue of Central Valley Republican farmers who voted for Trump, but also depend on an undocumented labor force. For example, this NYT article:
One farmer said he isn’t worried Trump will immediately deport many of the people who work for him. His reasoning was that Trump is a “businessman” and he must know that the farmers “had invested millions of dollars” in the food currently growing and that without the current labor force to harvest those crops, there would be “huge losses” for the state economy. Initially, I was taken aback by this thought process—why does the state’s economy matter more than the families who would be torn apart by new immigration orders? Does this mean that they should just wait until the crops are harvested and then deport these people? Is that just “putting America first”?

EAG said...

Your post is very interesting and is relevant. The Huffington Post recently published an article describing the uptick in deportations by Trump ( But I agree with Wynter and I am not sure that this is necessarily a rural issue.

Furthermore, it appears that you may be missing a geographic comparison between rural and agriculturally dependent areas across America. You mention in your post that 50-70% of all farmworkers are undocumented immigrants, does this percentage change with more urban farms or farms in states closer to the border? The U.S. Department of Agriculture put together a map of the percentage of foreign-born individuals in non-metropolitan counties or metropolitan counties that are dependent on agriculture ( This map illustrates that there is a big difference in the percentage of foreign-born individuals in rural or agriculturally dependent areas. The problems you discuss in this post appear to affect only certain agricultural or rural areas. It would be interesting to examine the working conditions of the farm worker population of the other areas with lower populations of foreign-born individuals. Do those areas grow less labor intensive crops or is the make-up of their labor force just different and if so are they paid fair wages? By no means do I agree with Trump's actions, but I think they may disproportionately affect certain farming communities especially those in California.

Lisa R. Pruitt said...

Here is a story about another way that Trump's policies are hurting farmers--this one about Trump's trade policies:

Kaly Rule said...
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Kaly Rule said...

I found this to be a very interesting article. I spend a lot of time thinking of framing devices, and how best to have productive conversations with people with varied political beliefs, and I think cost savings is probably one of the more effective devices. This weekend I read a really interesting article about Alabama farmworkers who "disappeared overnight" because of new immigration policies, costing the farm about 100,000 dollars. (

One thing that particularly jumped out at me was the prioritizing of "criminals". These policies have consequences for not only those actually charged with a crime, but also for those who are merely arrested. It doesn't matter if it was a case of mistaken identity, or wrong place and wrong time, once detained they may still have their information reported to ICE. An arrest can also have an impact on someone applying for citizenship as well. So this policy supposedly targeting "criminals" is really much more broad than that.

Lisa R. Pruitt said...

Here is another piece--this one PBS and well worth watching--on the pinch facing farmers and why some (many?) were sympathetic to Trump?