Sunday, July 27, 2014
YOLO COUNTY NEWS
99 CENTS

California farmers short of labor, and patience

By Jennifer Medina

HURON — When Chuck Herrin, who runs a large farm labor contracting company, looks out at the hundreds of workers he hires each year to tend to the countless rows of asparagus, grapes, tomatoes, peaches and plums, he often seethes in frustration.

It is not that he has any trouble with the laborers. It is that he, like many others in agriculture here, is increasingly fed up with immigration laws that he says prevent him from fielding a steady, reliable workforce.

“What we have going on now is a farce — a waste of time and money,” said Herrin, a lifelong Republican who grew up in Central California, adding that the country should be considering ways to bring workers in, not keep them out. “We need these people to get our food to market.”

California is home to an estimated 2.5 million people who are living in the country illegally more than in any other state. Perhaps nowhere else captures the contradictions and complications of immigration policy better than the Central Valley, where nearly all farmworkers are immigrants, roughly half of them living here illegally, according to estimates from agricultural economists at UC Davis.

That reality is shaping the views of agriculture business owners, like Herrin, who cannot recall ever voting for a Democrat. In dozens of interviews, farmers and owners of related businesses said that even the current system of tacitly using laborers who crossed the border illegally was failing to sustain them.

A workforce that arrived in the 1990s is aging out of heavy labor, Americans do not want the jobs, and tightened security at the border is discouraging people from arriving, they say, leaving them to struggle amid the paralysis on immigration policy. No other region may be as eager to keep immigration legislation alive.

Campaign donations
The tension is so high that the powerful Western Growers Association, a group based in Irvine that represents hundreds of farmers in California and Arizona, is threatening to withhold contributions from Republicans in congressional races because of the party’s stance against a comprehensive immigration overhaul.

Herrin says he is constantly shifting his workforce during harvest, and can often provide crews only half the size that farmers request. Like other employers interviewed, he acknowledged that he almost certainly had hired people who are living in the U.S. illegally. Would-be workers provide a Social Security number or a document purporting they are eligible to work; employers accept the documentation even if they doubt its veracity because they want to bring in their crops.

“We have no choice,” he said. “We are not getting people who are coming out of the towns and cities to come out and work on the farms.” Potential workers, he said, are “scared to come, scared of Border Patrol and deportations and drug lords. They can’t afford to risk all these things.”

Roughly a third of Herrin’s workers are older than 50, a much higher proportion than even five years ago. He said they had earned the right to stay here.

“If we keep them here and not do anything for them once they get old, that’s really extortion,” he said.

The region has relied on new arrivals to pick crops since the time of the Dust Bowl. For more than two decades after World War II, growers depended on braceros, Mexican workers sent temporarily to the United States to work in agriculture. Today, many fieldworkers are indigenous people from southern Mexico who speak Mixtec and know little English or Spanish.

Labor shortages
In recent years, farm owners have grown increasingly fearful of labor shortages. Last year, the diminished supply of workers led average farm wages in the region to increase by roughly $1 an hour, according to researchers at UCD who have tracked wages for years. Now, farm owners are pressing to make it easier for would-be immigrants to obtain agricultural visas, which they say would create a more reliable labor supply.

A report released this month by the Partnership for a New American Economy and the Agriculture Coalition for Immigration Reform, two business-oriented groups that are lobbying Congress, said foreign-grown produce consumed in the United States had increased by nearly 80 percent since the late 1990s.

The report argues that the labor shortages make it impossible for U.S. farmers to increase production and compete effectively with foreign importers. While the amount of fresh produce consumed by Americans has increased, domestic production has not kept pace, and the report attributes a $1.4 billion annual loss in farm income to the lack of labor.

Top concern
So even amid a record drought threatening to wipe out crops here, growers routinely talk of immigration as a top concern, saying they are losing some of their most valuable workers because of deportations or threats of being sent away.

Kevin Andrew, the chief operating officer for Jakov P. Dulcich and Sons, which grows grapes and other produce in the region, remembers what happened to one of his workers who was simultaneously up for a promotion and citizenship a couple of years ago.

“Just as he goes to his final interview, they found some document where his two last names were reversed and they came after him for attempting to defraud the government,” Andrew said. “This is a guy who owned two or three homes, had stellar letters written for him by supervisors, and they’re looking for a reason to count him out.

“He came to me afterward and was crushed, just sobbing like a baby. All of a sudden he can’t be a supervisor because he’s wanted by the government. He was supposedly living the American dream, and they just took everything away in an instant.”

Andrew saw the man several months later, working at a job that paid less than what he had been earning for years.

Huron is part of an unusual congressional district: It is more than two-thirds Latino and is represented by a Republican, David Valadao. No other district represented by a Republican has more people who are living in this country illegally. Valadao and Rep. Jeff Denham, who represents a northern stretch of the agricultural valley, are two of the three Republicans who support a Democratic-sponsored bill that would grant a legal path to citizenship for millions of people.

“There are people who have been employed for many years, if not decades, and are now turning to their employers saying, ‘Look, I am undocumented,’ ” Denham said. “These are not just seasonal workers. These are people who have almost become part of the same family. It’s a problem that has grown so big and so multigenerational, we can no longer ignore it.”

Children of laborers
After decades of immigration, the region has become home to many of the children of Mexican laborers. Denham, for example, is married to the daughter of a former bracero from Mexico who became a citizen decades after he arrived in the Central Valley.

Industry groups are among the most important forces pressing Congress for an immigration overhaul. Tom Nassif, the president of the Western Growers Association, has shuttled to Washington to press members of Congress, especially Republicans, to get a bill passed this year. Nassif, an ambassador to Morocco under President Ronald Reagan, has long called for easing entry at the Mexican border to make it easier for growers to find labor.

“We’ve had secure borders with Mexico for the last decade; we don’t have that argument at this point,” Nassif said. “Now we want people to see the real damage of not doing anything, which is a declining workforce, and it means losing production to foreign countries.”

After the 2012 presidential election, as Republicans spoke enthusiastically about the need to court Latinos, Nassif was optimistic that immigration would become a top priority. But exasperation has replaced his confidence in recent months, and he said his group could withhold hundreds of thousands of dollars in congressional races in which it has usually supported Republicans.

‘Hue and cry’
“I can tell you if the Republicans don’t put something forward on immigration, there is going to be a very loud hue and cry from us in agriculture,” Nassif said. “We are a tremendously important part of the party, and they should not want to lose us.”

Joe Del Bosque grew up in the San Joaquin Valley after his parents came to California as children during the Mexican Revolution in the early part of the last century. A generation ago, he said, growers often pretended to have no idea that people working for them were not authorized to be in the United States. Now, there is a nearly universal recognition that the industry relies on immigrants who cross the border illegally.

Like other growers in the area, he said he felt politically isolated.

“The employers are more frustrated than the actual immigrants,” said Del Bosque, who grows cantaloupes, almonds and asparagus near Los Banos, north of Fresno.

“I thought it would have been much more contentious for them, but they are not so demanding,” he said. “It’s not a revolution for them — it’s more for us.”

Comments

comments

New York Times News Service

  • Recent Posts

  • Enter your email address to subscribe to this newspaper and receive notifications of new articles by email.

  • .

    News

    Community gardens stretch food dollars, study finds

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A1 | Gallery

     
    Zombies by rail: It’s not just a show, it’s a trip

    By Evan Arnold-Gordon | From Page: A1 | Gallery

    Fatal Covell Boulevard crash recalled in court

    By Lauren Keene | From Page: A1

     
    Humphrey Fellows will host Global Forum

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A1 | Gallery

    Wildfire spurs evacuation of 700 homes

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

     
    State can’t say if it’s meeting drought goal

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

     
    Rairdan joins race for Davis school board

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A2

    Ukraine launches offensive to retake Donetsk

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

     
    Israel extends Gaza truce through Sunday

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

    New ordinance aims to prevent nut thefts from orchards

    By Anne Ternus-Bellamy | From Page: A4

     
    Biggest book sale to date opens Friday at Davis library

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

    Luna family matriarch turns 100

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4 | Gallery

     
     
    Discussion of oil by rail EIR planned Sunday

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A5

     
    Mace Innovation Center is focus of meeting

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A5

    Freeway crash injures two drivers

    By Lauren Keene | From Page: A5

     
    Museum wants your old Davis High School yearbooks

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A5

    Affordable housing forum planned in Davis

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A5

     
    Protesters gather at Primate Center

    By Tanya Perez | From Page: A8

     
    State awards $40,000 for historic property survey

    By Lily Holmes | From Page: A8

    Free blood pressure screenings offered

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A9

     
    Vanguard hosts economic development director

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A9

    Get a sneak peek at documentary trailer

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A9

     
    Davis Chamber Choir sings short summer program

    By Jeff Hudson | From Page: A9

    Tasting event benefits Yolo Land Trust

    By Lily Holmes | From Page: A9

     
    At the Pond: From Davis, it’s easy to get back to nature

    By Jean Jackman | From Page: A10 | Gallery

    Tickets on sale now for DHS Hall of Fame dinner

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A11

     
    .

    Forum

    Feels like a million miles away

    By Creators Syndicate | From Page: A7

     
    Here’s what you need for a perfect wedding

    By Marion Franck | From Page: A7

     
    Check doctors’ vitals before they check yours

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A7

    Husband’s let himself go

    By Creators Syndicate | From Page: A14

     
    Questions on water rights

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A16, 1 Comment

    Campus turns on the tap

    By Our View | From Page: A16

     
    So, what’s in a week’s worth of waste?

    By Michelle Millet | From Page: A16

    Pat Oliphant cartoon

    By Debbie Davis | From Page: A16

     
    Golf tourney was a big success

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A16

    We can do more to help

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A17

     
    New playground is wonderful

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A17

    Just Us in Davis: Little Rock Nine hero to celebrate with Davis youths

    By Jann L. Murray-Garcia | From Page: A17 | Gallery

     
    .

    Sports

    Sutherland presents 1st clinic; golf column on its way

    By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B1 | Gallery

     
    New Korematsu teacher is an American Ninja Warrior

    By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B1 | Gallery

    Furyk opens 3-shot lead in Canadian Open

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

     
    Gray wins 6th straight, A’s 4 HRs beat Texas 5-1

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

    Kershaw throws 2-hitter as Dodgers beat Giants 5-0

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

     
    Nibali set to cruise to Tour victory

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

    Area sports briefs: River Cats take Game 1 of doubleheader

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: B4

     
    .

    Features

    .

    Arts

    .

    Business

    Companies will collaborate on crop insect control

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A13

     
    Developer’s commitments: affordable and green

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A13 | Gallery

    Go back to school with Great Clips

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A15

     
    Lagerstrom represents Davis at Mary Kay seminar

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A15

    UC Davis Health System earns ‘Most Wired’ award

    By Charles Casey | From Page: A15

     
    Bartholomew hires new associate

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A15

    Yolo County real estate sales

    By Zoe Juanitas | From Page: A15

     
    .

    Obituaries

    Carlton Hope Meister

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

     
    Jonathan Eric Hollander

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

    .

    Comics

    Comics: Sunday, July 27, 2014

    By Creator | From Page: A6