Trump reassures farmers immigration crackdown not aimed at their workers

N.C. Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler among 14 who met with president last month

James Lamb (L)

WASHINGTON, D.C. — President Donald Trump said he would seek to keep his tough immigration enforcement policies from harming the U.S. farm industry and its largely immigrant workforce, according to farmers and officials who met with him.Roundtable participants said that many farmers have worried about the effect of the stepped up enforcement on their workforce, but Trump told them his administration was focused on deporting criminals, not farmworkers.”He has a much better understanding about this than some of the rhetoric we have seen,” said meeting attendee Steve Troxler, North Carolina’s agriculture commissioner and a farmer himself.They said they were worried about stricter immigration enforcement and described frustrations with the H-2A visa program, the one legal way to bring in temporary seasonal agricultural workers.During the roundtable, Luke Brubaker, a dairy farmer from Pennsylvania, described how immigration agents had recently picked up half a dozen chicken catchers working for a poultry transportation company in his county.The employer tried to replace them with local hires, but within three hours all but one had quit, Brubaker told the gathering at the White House.While use of the H-2A guestworker program has steadily increased over the past decade, it still accounts for only about 10 percent of the estimated 1.3 million farmworkers in the country. Of U.S. crop workers, about half are in the country illegally and more than two-thirds are foreign born, according to according to government data. In 2016, the government granted 134,000 H-2A visas.Employers who import workers with H-2A visas must provide free transportation to and from the United States as well as housing and food for workers once they arrive. Wage minimums are set by the government and are often higher than farmers are used to paying.The farmers at the meeting said they stressed to the president the need for both short-term and permanent workers. They said there should be a program to help long-time farmworkers without criminal records, but who are in the country illegally, to become legal residents.Trump said he wanted to help and asked Perdue to look into the issues and come back with recommendations, according to the accounts.On Monday, U.S. Senators Thom Tillis (R-NC) and Angus King (I-ME) and Congressmen Andy Harris (R-MD-01) and Bill Keating (D-MA-09) announced that a bipartisan, bicameral group of 87 Members of Congress have sent a letter to the Secretaries of Homeland Security and Labor urging them to take immediate action to ensure that small and seasonal businesses across the nation are able to get the workers they need to operate during the busy summer months.