Half of U.S. crop workers are unauthorized immigrants

Most of the 700,000 workers on U.S. dairy farms also believed to be Mexican born and unauthorized

An excerpt from ‘Trump, Immigration, and Agriculture,’ an article by Philip Martin in Choices, a magazine published by the U.S. Agricultural and Applied Economics Association www.choicesmagazine.org.

Eight million unauthorized foreigners are part of the U.S. labour force, and at least a million are employed primarily in agriculture. It cannot be a surprise, therefore, to learn that the Trump administration’s plans for a wall on the Mexico-U.S. border, increased deportations, and punishment of “sanctuary cities” that refuse to co-operate with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will be disruptive to American agriculture.

New enforcement measures to slow the entry of unauthorized foreigners and plans to remove those already in the United States would have a profound impact on American agriculture.

Relying on national household survey data, Passel and Cohn (2016) estimated that 17 per cent of those employed in agriculture in 2014 were unauthorized, followed by 13 per cent unauthorized workers in the construction industry and nine per cent in the hospitality sector. Slightly different estimates are found by occupation, with 26 per cent of those with farming occupations were unauthorized, followed by 15 per cent in construction, and nine per cent each in production and service occupations.

Moving from all agricultural workers to those employed on crop farms, the U.S. Department of Labor’s National Agricultural Worker Survey (NAWS) reports that approximately half of workers on crop farms are unauthorized. This calculation is derived from the NAWS estimate that 70 per cent of the 1.8 million workers employed at some time during a typical year on crop farms were born in Mexico, and that 70 per cent of foreign-born crop workers are unauthorized. There is no statistical data on the characteristics of the estimated 700,000 workers employed on livestock farms, but they too are believed to be mostly Mexican born and unauthorized (Rural Migration News, 2010).

About the author

Philip Martin's recent articles



Stories from our other publications