New York Farmers Fear Losing Workers to ICE

Credit: SrdjanPav

(Español)For farmers in New York, constant fear of losing their work force is now standard under the Trump administration. During previous administration, especially Obama, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) would have a targeted approach as to who it would look for and detain given its limited resources. Namely, these would be criminal aliens with some form of criminal record. People who resided in the United States for many years and have ties to the country and community, such as family or stable job, were typically not a target for removal and allowed to stay under certain provisions. The new administration’s dragnet approach now tosses those old assumptions out the window. Under this new administration, ICE has far leeway to detain any undocumented person, regardless of previous criminal history or circumstances of the questioning or detention, and the Department of Homeland Security is expected to pursue the person’s deportation.

This has caused great strife among the farmers in upstate New York, a region that largely went to President Trump in the 2016 election. The open secret in the area, which houses a variety of agriculture, including vineyards and apple orchards, depends on a largely undocumented work force to be able to function. Whereas under previous administrations, these farms could work with little fear, now, there is a risk any time any of the workers steps off the property (as ICE requires a warrant to search for people on private land). Given the nature of the work being done, a seasonal worker’s visa would not be an option for most of the farmers because of the prohibitive cost and the work they require is year-round. This has left the farms in a precarious position of not knowing if or when any of their workers will be detained and how to replace them, as most of these workers have been on the job for years and are fully aware of the proper work required.

Should there be any upside to this, it’s that workers are now seeing their treatment and working conditions improve. Many have decided that living in New York under the constant scrutiny and danger is no longer worth the work and have decided to move away. In an attempt to convince the workers to stay put and continue living in the area, many farmers have begun increasing wages and improving working conditions, as one worker stated “but the good thing about it now is that we get paid more and this farmer is good to me.”