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Past policies partly to blame for immigration woes

By John Stencel

Illegal immigration has become an explosive topic, particularly over the past few months. Since production agriculture has traditionally employed immigrant labor, it is important that we continue to weigh in on this topic.

While some family farmers need limited, seasonal immigrant laborers, the majority of illegal immigrants are employed by large and mega-sized confinement livestock operations. This is particularly true of year-round immigrant labor.

Whether illegal workers are employed at these operations, meat processing plants, fast food restaurants or in construction, it is not entirely true they are doing work Americans will not do. If the pay was a little higher and U.S. workers had some benefits, a lot more Americans would be willing to take these jobs. Many of the lower-paid jobs now filled by illegal immigrants used to be filled by kids seeking part-time employment and training.

Another seldom disputed myth is that the prices of goods and services provided by immigrant labor would be much higher if Americans or legal aliens were providing the labor. While illegal immigrants are willing to work for lower salaries and are easily exploited, we are naïve to believe that these lower costs of production are passed on to consumers.

Companies that employ illegal immigrants are making a windfall. I also need to point out that the flood of illegal immigrants into the United States comes more than a decade after enactment of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which was to have increased economic opportunities on both sides of the border. I can tell you that this agreement has hurt American farmers and ranchers, rather than helped them. Judging from the millions of Mexicans coming here to work, I would say, NAFTA hasn’t delivered on its promises for them, either.

While the problem is complex and will not be solved easily, Rocky Mountain Farmers Union’s board will support policies that deal fairly, humanely, and sensibly with U.S. illegal immigration.

This includes allowing family farmers to hire specialized, seasonal farm labor, without being required to act as immigration police. Let us institute a guest worker program that will provide the seasonal help that family farmers and ranchers need.

It might also be worthwhile for lawmakers to consider the impact of policies over the last decade that have led us to this position. Evaluating the effectiveness of NAFTA would be a good place to start!