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Immigration Raids Highlight Shortage of Agricultural Workers


A raid by ICE on a dairy farm in Rome, NY in mid-April highlighted the reality that many farmers are forced to employ undocumented workers.  Richard Ball, the Commissioner for Agriculture in the State of New York, estimates that half of farm workers in his state, especially on dairy farms and in orchards, are undocumented.

The recent activity of ICE in raiding farms and detaining workers with the probability of deportation is causing consternation, drawing the condemnation of Governor Andrew Cuomo and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY). According to the state of New York, there are 209,000 immigrants illegally residing in the state outside New York City, with an estimated 11 million nationwide.

Commissioner Ball noted “for decades, a shadow workforce has operated quietly on farms in New York and across the nation. The immigrants need work. Farmers have jobs they cannot fill. He commented “the workers offer the farmers enough paperwork to fill out the proper forms and away you go.” There are approximately 6,600 seasonal workers in New York with valid H2-A visas with an estimated 200,000 in total for the U.S. Ball estimates that almost 1,000 farms would fail if undocumented workers were deported in entirety.

The Administration should face reality. There is a need for workers given the disinclination of low-income U.S. citizens to undertake labor which can be satisfied by non-permanent residents from other nations. The H2-C visa is urgently needed especially in dairy, fruit and farming enterprises that require manual labor.