No Illegal Aliens Equals Disaster for Farmers?

A news conference featuring the secretaries of homeland security and commerce yesterday sent shockwaves through agribusiness yesterday.

Facing the prospect of major layoffs of farmworkers during harvest season, growers and lawmakers from agricultural states spoke in dire terms yesterday about new measures by the Bush administration to crack down on employers of illegal immigrants. “This is not just painful, this is death to the American farmer,” Maureen Torrey, who runs a family dairy and vegetable farm in Elba, N. Y., said in a telephone interview.

What is this dire plot inflicted by the evil Bush administration?

Under the new rules, employers will have 90 days to resolve discrepancies between Social Security numbers provided by their workers and the records of the Social Security Administration. If the employers cannot obtain valid Social Security information for an employee within three months after receiving a notice of any discrepancies, they must fire the worker. Illegal immigrants often present false Social Security numbers on job applications.

So . . . they have three months to ensure that their workers are actually who they claim to be?

Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, who has worked closely with growers, described the new enforcement as a “catastrophe.” “The crisis is that crops will not be harvested,” Mrs. Feinstein said.

Employers in low-wage industries were critical but guarded, reluctant to admit openly that they hire illegal immigrants. Randel K. Johnson, a vice president of the United States Chamber of Commerce, said the measures were “one more kick in the pants” for meat-packing, construction and health care companies that employ immigrant workers in unskilled jobs.

Farmers were less shy, saying at least 70 percent of farmworkers are illegal immigrants.

So, basically, they’re wantonly breaking the law and whining about being given 90 days to comply?


Unlike the silly omnibus bill that was the focus of so much political controversy the last few months, these crackdown will force us to actually deal with the real issues. The bottom line is that major sectors of our economy depend on low wage workers. We’re going to have to either learn to get by without them and pay much higher prices to attract legal workers, substitute with imports from low wage countries, or figure out a way to legally admit tens of thousands more workers.

FILED UNDER: Borders and Immigration, Economics and Business, , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Dave Schuler says:

    The bizarre irony of this is that under the H-2A visa program farmers can bring in unlimited numbers of temporary workers. The farmers’ complaint is that they don’t want to do paperwork.

  2. Rick DeMent says:

    The bottom line is that major sectors of our economy depend profits more from low wage workers.

    …there fixed it for you….

  3. just me says:

    Dave one of the apple orchards up here does the paperwork, and brings in several teams of Jamaican laborers to pick the apples every fall.

    The real reason they don’t want to do the paperwork, is they can pay the illegal worker less.

    Which is the crux of the immigration problem, people from all corners of the political spectrum have reasons to keep the status quo, and to not actually do anything.

  4. floyd says:

    90 days sounds like time for the harvest and firings every year without any reduction of illegal labor.Sweet deal!

  5. R. Alex says:

    In some cases I’m sure it’s true that hiring the illegals is about saving a buck or two. Maybe in most cases. In other cases they really have a great deal of trouble staffing jobs even at pretty high wages.

    When I was living in Idaho there were places paying $20-25 an hour. But even with that kind of money (which goes a long way in rural Idaho), it’s hard to staff jobs that only exist during harvest season. But they never filled all of the positions.

  6. carpeicthus says:

    “They’re turning kids into slaves just to make cheaper sneakers
    But what’s the real cost, ‘cause the sneakers don’t seem that much cheaper
    Why are we still paying so much for sneakers when you got little kid slaves making them
    What are your overheads?”

  7. Steve Verdon says:

    The bottom line is that major sectors of our economy depend profits more from low wage workers.

    …there fixed it for you….

    Rick, your economic ignorance is showing again. No profits means that firms shut down. Duh.

  8. Rick DeMent says:


    Your being obtuse (imagine that), I am not talking about whether or not a profit is made, I am talking about the amount of profit made. Here I’ll fix it again so even a flat earth economist can understand.

    The bottom line is that major sectors of our economy depend on low wage workers so they can make even bigger profits then they would otherwise.

    the whole idea some industries can’t exist without coolly wage labor is a myth that only people like you believe. Remember class, economics is a soft science, it’s social studies for math geeks and you cam make it say anything you want to, and you prove it with equations.