Breakingviews: U.S. immigration crackdown bets the farm

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By Gina Chon | WASHINGTON

WASHINGTON (Reuters Breakingviews) – Ailing U.S. farmers are
getting swept up in the country’s immigration crackdown. The
government is moving hastily to deport more illegal workers as
part of Donald Trump’s America-centric policy. In a dubious
effort to protect industries like manufacturing, however,
stricter rules will hit an already suffering agricultural
sector.

The Department of Homeland Security is working on putting
the president’s campaign promises into action. It issued
guidance on Tuesday that gives law enforcement wider latitude to
expel foreigners. The idea is that they’re taking away jobs from
American workers.

New priorities target any of the 11 million undocumented
immigrants who have broken any laws or abused public benefits.
That goes beyond Barack Obama’s focus on those who committed
serious crimes. The government also wants to hire 15,000
additional immigration and border agents. And Homeland Security
plans to establish an office dedicated to culling information
for victims of immigrant crime and to eliminate privacy rights
for anyone who is not a U.S. citizen or green-card holder.

More than half the country’s 731,000 farm workers are
illegal immigrants, according to the Labor Department. The
outflow of Mexicans leaving the United States already has been
outpacing those entering from 2005 to 2014, according to the Pew
Research Center. Labor shortages have caused wages for farm
workers to jump by almost a third over the last decade to nearly
$13 an hour in 2016, according to the Department of Agriculture.
Over that same period, the number of workers fell by more than 6
percent.

Those economic forces have contributed to lower earnings and
slower production. National net farm income is expected to fall
by 9 percent in 2017 to about $62 billion, according to a
Congressional Research Service report. That would be the lowest
figure since 2002 and represent a fourth consecutive year of
decline. The level of harvested corn, wheat and other crops last
year, meanwhile, was similar to the amount in 2005, despite
technology improvements, government figures show.

The export-dependent agricultural sector is already
concerned about the president’s protectionist trade philosophy.
Now, its shrinking workforce is at risk of being gutted. For the
sake of his broader goals, Trump, it would seem, is ready to bet
the farm.

On Twitter twitter.com/GinaChon

CONTEXT NEWS

– U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of
Homeland Security John Kelly are traveling to Mexico City on
Feb. 22 for talks on border security, law enforcement and trade.

– The Department of Homeland Security on Feb. 21 issued
guidance that gives law enforcement wider latitude to detain and
deport illegal immigrants. Under the Barack Obama
administration, the focus had been on people who committed
serious crimes. The new priorities list illegal immigrants who
have committed any crimes, engaged in civil fraud or abused
public benefits. The guidance also calls for the hiring of
15,000 additional immigration and border agents.

– The agency also wants to establish a Victims of
Immigration Crime Engagement Office and eliminate Privacy Act
rights for illegal immigrants and residents who are not U.S.
citizens or green-card holders.

About the Author

The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions
expressed are her own.



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