NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Undocumented Immigrants Are A Majority Of Farm Workers

October 3, 2000

It has been years since many farmers were able to harvest their crops without Mexican laborers. Now, with labor supplies so tight, farmers across the nation -- from strawberry growers in California to owners of apple orchards in Pennsylvania -- have learned not to examine too closely the documentation of their immigrant pickers, lest their crops are left to rot unharvested for want of migrant fieldhands.

  • More than three million undocumented workers may be in the U.S. working in the agriculture sector and elsewhere.
  • The General Accounting Office has estimated that 52 percent of the nation's 1.6 million farm workers may be here illegally.
  • The U.S. attracts over 340,000 new migrant workers a year -- most without proper papers.
  • While temporary field workers can cross the border legally under a federal program known as H2A, the paperwork is so cumbersome and the requirements so rigid that only 41,000 workers came in with the temporary visas last year.

Republican lawmakers are pushing the biggest temporary-worker legislation since the Bracero program, which brought in waves of workers in the 1940s and 1950s. And Mexico's president-elect, Vicente Fox, says the U.S. should allow Mexican workers to cross the Rio Grande as easily as the products which make up the $196 billion in two-way trade.

The Clinton administration has rejected both proposals.

Source: Anthony DePalma, "A Tyrannical Situation," New York Times, October 3, 2000.


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