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.