The media tend to echo the wails of farmers who claim they cannot find the workers to harvest their crops because of enhanced border enforcement and tougher state laws. An NBC news story from California says, “Get-tough immigration policies are certainly having an impact on the number of people crossing into the United States illegally. But for California’s vast agriculture business, the crackdowns may be bringing costly consequences.”
In this story, and in almost every other similar story, there is important information missing. The first piece of information that should be included on any story about agricultural labor is that there is a visa program (H-2A) that allows farmers to employ an unlimited number of foreign seasonal agricultural workers. The farmer has to pay for transportation and provide housing for these foreign workers and has to pay a fair wage, so it is more expensive than hiring illegal alien workers who are easily exploited. For that reason, employers prefer to not use this option, and in 2010 only about 56,000 of these workers came to the United States legally to work in agriculture.
The other key factor missing from these stories that lament the lot of the poor farmer who sees his crops rotting for lack of farmhands, is the fact that illegal aliens are less available to harvest crops because they have learned that they can do better working in construction and services. In effect, the agricultural producers have been so successful in holding down wages for their seasonal workers that they have contributed to the growing trend among illegal aliens to bypass farm jobs in favor of better paying jobs in other sectors.