This month, the United States will have a new president, and the Trump administration will begin to tackle the issue that was the benchmark of their campaign: immigration.
Now — as the American people voted — the promises on the campaign trail about strict enforcement and business tax breaks will transform into calls of action.
But from the sentiment I’ve heard from many growers at the Great Lakes Fruit, Vegetable and Farm Market Expo in Grand Rapids, Michigan, last month, in the words of former college football coach Lee Corso, “Not so fast, my friend!” When Frank Gasperini Jr., executive vice president of the National Council of Agricultural Employer, spoke to growers in attendance during a session, he voiced that 2017 might leave employers in a “wait-and-see” mode.
He told the crowd that officials may spend the new year assessing the complex immigration situation noting that the call for strict deportation may negatively affect migrant employment in the ag industry.
“We on the agricultural side want him to do all the things he promised… to everyone except us,” he said. “We don’t want all of our workers deported, and we don’t want the border to close so tightly that we can’t get new workers. So, we’ll see how that works out.”
Gasperini and most growers I spoke with agree the new administration needs to strike a balance with the campaign talk and the hard realities facing growing operations. Other growers still feel worried that things may get worse before they get better. Those growers see a labor force that has been slowly shrinking for some time. Ironically, some migrant workers they hire are not coming back to the U.S. in favor of new jobs in Mexico.
They also fear that strict deportation will lead to higher produce prices, resulting in more imported produce: a counterproductive result during a trend for more local food sustainability.
However, the biggest fear of all is not knowing. 2017 may not bring us the fireworks and big headlines of immigration reform we’re hoping for, but it’s still key to how President Trump will start his push for reform. Change is coming, but maybe not this year.