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How Increased Immigration Enforcement Could Impact San Diego County Farms

Eric Larson, executive director of the San Diego County Farm Bureau, is pictured at a grapefruit orchard in Escondido, March 19, 2015.
Roland Lizarondo
Eric Larson, executive director of the San Diego County Farm Bureau, is pictured at a grapefruit orchard in Escondido, March 19, 2015.

How Increased Immigration Enforcement Could Impact San Diego County Farms
How Increased Immigration Enforcement Could Impact San Diego County Farms GUEST:Eric Larson, executive director, San Diego County Farm Bureau

Many farmers and growers in the central valley were enthusiastic supporters of Donald Trump for president. They like to stance on fewer environmental regulations and a business oriented approach to government. Now many of those farmers are having second thoughts as it becomes clear that administration is rolling out a tough crackdown on immigrants. It's estimated that 70% of California's farmworkers are in the country illegally. Joining me is Eric Larson executive director of the Sentinel County Farm Bureau. Welcome to the program. Thank you. I remember we talked about a year ago about how difficult it was getting for growers in San Diego to get enough workers to harvest their crops. Why were they having problems? The situation is the same today and the problem was with tighter border security fewer people are coming into this country and farmworkers tend to be foreign-born, which is the reality of agriculture. The current farmworkers that we have are aging out. It's been a long time since we've issued green cards are given individual's ability to come here and work. So as they are aging out are moving into other businesses, that supply of farmworkers has been shrinking and shrinking and they get more difficult to fill out. Theirs aspect that a lot of people don't think about and that is the relationships that many farmers and growers have with their farmworkers. Some have been working the same farms for years. Years and sometimes it's generational. In San Diego County farming is different than other places and that we are not terribly dependent on migrant or seasonal workers. The farmworker that comes in tends to get a job that is permanent. They build this relationship with the employer so the long-term relationships they know each other's family and children in such is because it is a permanent job because we grow 12 months a year. As I mentioned many farmers in the central valley supported Donald Trump in the election. To think farmers largely supported Donald Trump for president? I think a lot of them moved over to the Trump site because of the water issue. He really said that he will open up the spigots and rollback environmental rules and we are keeping a lot of water being pumped from the Sarah McKean river to the farms and here in San Diego probably more of a mixed bag on the support. I would not say it was universal. Farmers in San Diego reflect the electric of San Diego County. We have a lot of very small farmers. We do not have corporate farms so it's a different personality. I think they may have made their presidential decisions on other factors other than this promise of water and promise of regulatory robots. With all the tough talk about immigration on the border wall coming from the Trump campaign, was there something on what might happen if he did win and become president? Absolutely. Here in San Diego that was the conversation taking place. For us the big issue was not water supply because the water district and a good job of diversifying the portfolios to we've never had an issue of supplier's performance but when it came to labor, there's been promises coming from administrations, Congress. This is nothing that happened. In the Trump campaign it was right there at the top of the list was deportations, criminal immigrants, folks were broken the law. So farmers do not know how that was going to turn out and now we are starting to see what's happening as he's living up to those promises. Now that the administration is releasing more information about the deportation requirements and immigration regulations, is there anything in particular that you may think is a problem for growers here and the rest of California. There's an order that came down from Homeland security Secretary to hire 10,000 more immigration customs enforcement agents. That is a lot more people out there it could have a dampening effect on people willing to work in agriculture. We are to have this limited supply of workers and I we have this action in Washington DC to fix the problem. So you have two things that you can do when you want to do with immigration. You can do enforcement or some kind of reform. The farm committee selects to the reform and give us a viable workforce but instead the Trump administration is moving towards the enforcement site. Be placed a very low bar and they said anyone who is broken law is going to be subject to deportation. That could be driving without a license. So the farm can rush community is very concerned. There are some advocates that say when Mexican farmworkers are gone Americans will take those jobs. What is your feeling They can do that all day long. American born residents are not showing up for those jobs. So I think it's just a false statement and not true and it's ever had each with. Americans are not raising their children to be farmworkers. It is not part of what we do. We depend on that workforce. We have to make a decision doing what our food grown at the farm or do that at the country other Bruce -- birth. What kind of impact to have on Sunday go County? It is closer to billion-dollar a year and 10,000 people engage in that. I think there's a big risk. It's more than just the economy. I think San Diego is like the idea that they can buy local. I think they like the idea that the whole County is not rooftops. Part that comes from having farms that are active and profitable. Finally what you think would make a sensible immigration policy for farmworkers coming in from Mexico? We been asking for this for years. We just want the government and Congress to recognize that we do need this workforce. We need them to move fairly easily across the border. They come up here and get trapped. They can go back and forth. Allow the individuals to get cards or whatever the identification thing is that allows them to come here and have jobs. We think that should not come without restrictions. We think they should prove they haven't broken the law prove they pay their taxes. I think they should enroll in English speaking class and learn to do that and show that they've worked in agriculture for a number of years and show that's what they intend to do and then let's allow them to be here and be part of our community and not be looking over the shoulder all of the time. I've been speaking with Eric Larson executive director of the Farm Bureau. Thank you. Coming up the number of hate groups is on the rise even in California. That is according to the southern property loss under. It is 12:24 and you are listening to KPBS Midday Edition.

Farms across the country, including those in San Diego County, rely on laborers who are in the country illegally.

Between 50 percent and 70 percent of farmworkers in the U.S. are in the country illegally, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation.

Eric Larson, executive director of the San Diego County Farm Bureau, said that even prior to President Donald Trump's actions to step up immigration enforcement, San Diego County was already experiencing a labor shortage caused by already tight border security and an aging population of farmworkers.

"There's an order now that came down from Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly to hire 10,000 more interior immigration and custom enforcement agents, that's a lot more out there, (it) could have a dampening effect on people willing to work in agriculture, so we already have this limited supply of workers and then we have this inaction in Washington, D.C. to fix the problem," Larson said.

San Diego County's farm industry has a wholesale value of $2 billion and employs 10,000 people. Larson said a loss of farmworkers would impact the county's farming industry and puts the local economy at risk.

Larson joins Midday Edition on Thursday to discuss how increased enforcement of immigration laws could affect farms in San Diego County.