The price of deportation
How Trump’s immigration policies will raise the prices of artichokes
by Desiree Samler
The first thing most people see when they enter a grocery store is a bountiful display of fruits and vegetables. Countless varieties of tomatoes, carrots, leafy greens, and berries are all at our fingertips for just a few dollars or less. Now imagine walking into your local grocery store and the low price of your favorite onion variety is unusually high. Or maybe those plums you like to snack on are no longer in their usual spot nestled by the nectarines and the price of almonds has skyrocketed. To many of us, this is a nightmarish scenario where our beloved avocado and spinach salads are either too expensive to prepare or, dare I say it, unavailable. Trump’s recent signing of Executive Order 13768 could make the unimaginable a reality.
The executive order titled “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States” was signed by the president on January 25th just 5 days after Trump took office. The order essentially makes it extremely easy for undocumented immigrants to get deported and harder for them to enter the country. Even minor crimes like traffic violations could be cause for deportation under the new administration. There are some major consequences that could come out of these severe immigration policies, particularly for California and the nation’s food production system.
California is the agricultural hub of the country. Over one third of the nation’s vegetables and over two thirds of fruits and nuts come from California and in 2015 exports were valued at $20.69 billion. If California’s agricultural production were to experience some sort of upheaval, the effects would be wide reaching across the country. If the Trump administration is to carry forward with the enforcement of these new immigration laws, we may find ourselves in an agricultural labor crisis. Interestingly, many of the farm owners who employ undocumented workers also voted for Trump. Farmers realize that they are heavily dependent on unauthorized immigrants to keep their businesses afloat.
Roughly 839,300 people are employed in California’s agriculture industry and an estimated 50% of those people who are responsible for the harvesting are undocumented. These are the workers who are physically working in the fields and if they were to be deported California, and by extension the country, could experience a significant drop in food production and processing due to a lack of labor. The long work days of these laborers are hard and physically demanding and finding people who are willing to do this type of work for little pay can be difficult. It is hard to convince people to pick and shell pistachios in the hot sun for 9 hours a day without very much compensation. Unless farmers are willing to create better working conditions for their employees, they will be hard pressed to find people willing to work these jobs when there are more appealing jobs available.
The exploitation of undocumented workers is by no means acceptable and is a serious issue that should be addressed. These workers are often vulnerable and because they are undocumented, they are at the mercy of their employers. They work long days in conditions that can be rather harsh doing physical labor that most people would not want to do. Labor conditions for farm workers should without a doubt be improved. In fact, improving working conditions for farm laborers (aside from being the humane thing to do) might incentivize more people to join the agriculture workforce. However it sadly stands that the foundation our food production is built upon rests on the exploitation of undocumented workers and if we are to look solely at the immediate ramifications of Trump’s extreme immigration policies, then we need to recognize that this would cause labor shortage in food production which would greatly hurt California’s economy.
There is the possibility that these large scale agribusinesses will use their influence to get around the deportations of their workers. Since these businesses are highly valued and are part of the economic backbone of California, they might be able to sway the administration to provide breaks for them. Deporting workers could also result in the replacement of human laborers with machines as some farmers have already started doing. It takes a tremendous amount of labor to produce the amount of food we currently do and most of the labor force consists of undocumented workers and this is something that Trump administration is failing to take into account when creating their immigration policies. Of course the simplest solutions would be to create a path towards citizenship for undocumented farmworkers. This would ensure security to the labor force of farmworkers and California’s agribusinesses. Beyond this, measures should be taken to improve the working conditions of farm laborers both as a moral and social obligation and to promote jobs in this field. However both of these actions are very idealistic and, at the moment, seem highly unlikely under a Trump presidency.