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How Immigration Changes Could Affect California Agriculture

27 Dec

By Drew Bollea

SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — Major changes may be on the way to immigration policy now that Donald Trump is in the White House and the Republicans have control of both chambers of Congress.

On the campaign trail and on his website, President-elect Donald Trump has promised to build a wall along the southern border of the United States and immediately deport roughly 11 million people living in the country illegally, many of whom work in fields and farms across the country.

California is the sixth largest agricultural producer in the world, even so, the margins are slim.

“Our costs continue to go up. Profitability continues to go down,” said Paul Wenger.

He’s the president of the California Farm Bureau. Wenger says there are two main things on farmers minds following the annual bureau meeting earlier this month.

“With the new rules were going to have it’s going to put us on a much different playing field,” said Wenger.

The first issue is the recently passed farmworker overtime bill. The law requires overtime pay for farm workers after 8 hours. It was previously 10. Supporters say the law will final allow farmworkers to be treated as other workers in the state. Opponents say it will force hours and job cuts for millions of workers.

The other area of uncertainty is about what a Trump administration could mean for the future of the workforce.

“The talk was tough, but at the end of the day, we’re hoping that there will be very pragmatic decision making,” said Wenger.

Trump’s website and talking points on the campaign trail have pointed to removing some of an essential part to farm work. The labor.

“How important farm labor is depends crucially on the crop,” explained Dan Sumner, an economist and the director of the Agricultural Issues Center for the University of California. He says labor on berries, tree fruit and asparagus can take 50% to 80% of an operating budget.

“If you got to rice, five percent of operating costs. If you got to cotton, two percent,” said Sumner.

Sumner says in a scenario where millions of potential laborers are removed, there could be a shift in what crops are grown and rise in prices for others.

“There is a lot of uncertainty, naturally. There always is during an administration shift,” explained Sumner, who added that immigration rules and regulations have largely remained unchanged for 25 years.

But Sumner and Wenger agree that there may be another solution that a united congress could get behind.

“It may not be citizenship for a bunch of people that are here, but it may be at least some sort of immigration status that would regularize them,” said Sumner.

Wenger says a work visa program may be a piece of the immigration puzzle.

“It’s one thing to say something as a candidate, it’s another thing now when it’s really your responsibility to carry forth on that,” said Wenger.

In recent weeks, Trump has softened his stance on some campaign issues including immigration. Wegner says he hopes for some sort of compromise in the next four years to reform an immigration system that has been stagnant for decades.