Thursday, July 05, 2007

More immigration woes

Congress' failure to pass comprehensive immigration reform is exacerbating a labor shortage in agriculture, reports Bloomberg News.

The immigration bill that was killed by the U.S. Senate focused on the nation's 12 million illegal aliens. To many farmers, the issue is more about such people as Thomas Murphy, an Irishman who leads a crew of combine operators from the U.K., cutting wheat across a swath of the Great Plains.

Murphy's crew and 2,500 other skilled, legal immigrants who come from places such as South Africa, Australia and New Zealand to cut grain are among the most productive workers in the U.S., gathering one-third of all the wheat in a $7.7 billion market.

That's why farmers and the companies that hire the crews say Congress's failure last week to overhaul the immigration laws will heighten an already intense labor shortage by preventing them from importing more of the English-speaking workers, even as the need for them grows. That may lower crop yields, raise food prices and force some growers out of business, they say.

"You'll have labor that simply doesn't get done,'' U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns said in a June 28 interview after the Senate rejected the legislation. "We have a system that doesn't work very well, so they're really struggling." [Alan Bjerga, Bloomberg]
One wonders about a country that would rather let wheat rot in the fields over admitting productive foreigners into America so that they can be part of the harvest. After all, what lobby thinks that it benefits from barring such labor from entering the country?


JR said...

I would say the problem is a bit more complicated than this.

Once you let immigrants come in, they have "anchor babies" who are US citizens. It then becomes very hard to deport people who overstay their visas. They then bring the entire family in, not all of whom are as productive. In addition, the largest group of immigrants (Mexicans) have far higher rates of crime (drunk driving in particular), welfare dependency, domestic violence, drug addiction, school dropout rates, etc.

I would support a guest worker program that had some teeth, for example allow immigrants to stay for ten years and then leave. Open borders and amnesty would turn the US into Los Angeles.

Yes, I know that that the welfare state makes the situation worse, but repealing the welfare state is about as likely as the restoration of the Stuarts. Certainly the long term prospects for reducing the size of government is not helped by importing large numbers of people who are the natural clients of big government.

Yushal Al'Dai said...

I wonder more about a country in which the producer refuses to pay a wage which his fellow citizens find desireable to work for.

Anyhow, the premise that any wheat is going to rot due to a shortage of labor (or any other non-political reason) is absurd.

As for immigration, institute a program whereby any immigrant must serve in the armed forces for 2-4 years. This is worthwhile for everyone.

Jim May said...

I wonder more about a country in which the producer refuses to pay a wage which his fellow citizens find desireable to work for.

If the price of produce does not support enough profit margin to sustain "attractive" labor rates, producers will simply cut back. They do not "refuse" to pay attractive labor rates; the profitability does not support it.

If you are wondering why profit margins are so slim in agriculture, I suggest you acquaint yourself with farm subsidies and their effects (agriculture in the Third World, which already has its supply of cheap labor on hand, could tell you all about what they do to the market.)

So, contrary to your assertion, a shortage of labor is most assuredly a "political" reason, and rotting wheat -- as well as its equivalent, government paying farmers to NOT grow crops -- happen more than you think.

Economics 101 -- try it!

Jim said...

Wow! Given the seasonal nature of harvesting, having technically skilled harvest employees working part of the year in the northern hemisphere and part in the southern hemisphere. Go capitalism!