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Immigration Law and Farm Labor

December 17, 1987

Times staff writer Dana Nichols' story on immigration reform and its effect on farm labor (Part I, Dec. 2) is commendable. The conclusions, however, are premature at best, and superficial at worst.

In spite of the survey results by agricultural economist Philip Martin at the University of California, the time has not yet arrived whereby the impact of the new immigration law on farm labor can be measured. Here's why:

The sanctions against farm employers who hire illegal aliens have not gone into effect yet, and won't be felt fully until 1989. This means that 1987, when economist Martin surveyed, was, for the most part, just another "illegals as usual" season.

Martin's finding that the farm work force contained only about 40% illegals is misleading. Several other experts put the ratio of illegals during critical seasonal periods of harvesting, planting and pruning much higher. This means that a reduced flow of imported labor--a preditable outcome of the new immigration law--hits growers and consumers where it hurts most, at the critical demand periods.

Overlooked by Martin were significant crop losses this year in strawberry production in Oregon and Washington. The Crop & Livestock Reporting Service attributed the loss of 18.5 million pounds in Oregon and 4.5 million pounds in Washington "primarily to labor shortages."

California growers would love to believe their supplies of adequate labor to harvest and handle perishable crops won't be interrupted. Their understanding of the new immigration law and the work force tells them otherwise. Martin's findings will have greater credibility when the full story of immigration reform is allowed to unfold.



Agricultural Producers


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