The Pear Growers Are Complaining, So We Must Be Doing Something Right On Illegal Immigration

The New York Times has written a sob story about pear growers in California who suffered losses this year because they relied on illegal aliens who turned out to be in short supply this growing season:

“Stepped-up border enforcement kept many illegal Mexican migrant workers out of California this year, farmers and labor contractors said, putting new strains on the state’s shrinking seasonal farm labor force.

Labor shortages have also been reported by apple growers in Washington and upstate New York. Growers have gone from frustrated to furious with Congress, which has all but given up on passing legislation this year to create an agricultural guest-worker program.

…California farms employ at least 450,000 people at the peak of the harvest, with farm workers progressing from one crop to the next, stringing together as much as seven months of work. Growers estimate the state fell short this harvest season by 70,000 workers. Joe Bautista, a labor contractor from Stockton who brings crews to Lake County, said about one-third of his regular workers stayed home in Mexico this year, while others were caught by the Border Patrol trying to enter the United States.

With fewer workers, Mr. Bautista fell behind in harvests near Sacramento and arrived weeks late in Lake County. “There was a lot of pressure on the contractors,” he said. “But there is only so much we can do. There wasn’t enough labor.”

…As they sum up this season’s losses, estimated to be at least $10 million for California pear farmers alone, growers in the state mainly blame Republican lawmakers in Washington for stalling immigration legislation that would have addressed the shortage by authorizing a guest-worker program for agriculture. Many growers, a dependably Republican group, said they felt betrayed.

“After a while, you get done being sad and start being really angry,” said Toni Scully, a lifelong Republican whose family owns a pear-packing operation in Lake County. “The Republicans have given us a lot of lip service, and our crops are hanging on the trees rotting.”

Tons more pears that were harvested were rejected by Mrs. Scully’s packing plant because they were picked too late. The rejects were dumped in a farm lot, mounds of pungent fruit swarming with bees, left to be eaten by deer. “The anthem about the fruited plain,” Mrs. Scully said sadly, “I don’t think this is what they had in mind.”

Some economists and advocates for farm workers say the labor shortages would ease if farmers would pay more. Lake County growers said that pickers’ pay was not low — up to $150 a day — and that they had been ready to pay even more to save their crops. “I would have raised my wages,” said Steve Winant, a pear grower whose 14-acre orchard is still laden with overripe fruit. “But there weren’t any people to pay.”

First of all, if you can’t bring in your crops without illegal aliens, your business is a criminal enterprise and you should either go straight or go out of business. In fact, I’m glad to hear that these businesses lost money for lack of illegal aliens. In my book, if you’ve been fattening your profits by willfully disregarding the law, then you’re getting your just desserts if you lose money when your source of illicit income dries up.

Next, has there ever been a more deceitful statement than, “I would have raised my wages, but there weren’t any people to pay?” That’s not how the world works. If you raise your wages and benefits enough, you can get workers who will show up to do the work.

Last but not least, here’s a question this Times article doesn’t answer: isn’t it entirely possible that there are a lot of growers out there, ones that have tried to obey the law, that are benefitting immensely from their competitors having an illegal worker shortage?

Obviously, the ones that are complaining now are the people who have hired a lot of illegals. But, if you ran a business and didn’t hire illegals, wouldn’t you be thrilled to find out that your competitors, who have always had a leg up on you before, were finally starting to pay a price for breaking the law? If you’re an honest pear grower, aren’t you sitting around thinking, “I hope that Toni Scully loses his shirt. Serves him right for relying on illegal alien labor to pick his crops?”

If we cut off the flow of illegal aliens, all the growers will be able to compete on an even field and they will all do what it takes to get their crops picked. Maybe they’ll raise pay and benefits to hire more workers. Maybe they’ll improve their technology. Maybe some of the less efficient pear growers will sell out to more competent competitors who will be able to turn a profit by managing larger operations. It will work itself out. So, we should ignore the howls of these crooked pear barrons, cut off the flow of illegal aliens, and just trust that the labor market will correct itself.

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