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Farmers are suffering for lack of labor

There was an excellent article in The Sun describing American fields ripe for harvest that are not getting picked because of a shortage of immigrants ("Labor shortages plague farms," July 7). The American Farm Bureau Federation projects $5 billion to $9 billion in annual produce industry losses because of "the labor shortages which have become commonplace for farmers" who claimed "there were 10 applicants for every job five years ago" and now must hire anybody who shows up. The cause of this labor shortage is said to be, among other things, "a crackdown on illegal immigration."

If this is truly the case, why aren't anti-immigrant nativist activists and politicians like Del. Pat McDonough, Brad Botwin of Help Save Maryland, and Rep. Roscoe Bartlett celebrating? They should be doing a victory lap now that acres of cabbage, cucumbers, squash, green beans, onions and cherries are rotting on the stalks, vines and branches. This is what they want, isn't it? Yet Mr. Bartlett contends he is still worried about having too many illegal immigrants.

The American workers with whom these pols claim solidarity were always told that the high unemployment rate would result in legal American workers coming to rescue these farmers if their immigrant enforcement and harassment provisions worked as planned. That doesn't appear to be happening. The Sun tells us why; "[a] harvester has to be conditioned like an NFL football player has to be conditioned to get out on the field ... working eight to 10 hours a day in the heat, stooping, lifting and picking."

That's understating the fitness requirements of a harvester. Football players do not play 10-hour games and can rest between downs, instant replays, touchdown celebrations and commercials. Almost none of them play all the downs on defense and offense. And although harvesters do not have violent collisions, I've never heard of a football player contracting Lyme disease on the field. There are orchards in Mr. Bartlett's district that have had 100-degree heat for the last 11 days.

One bone to pick with the article is the concern for the low percentage of employers who were "satisfied" with the H-2A seasonal visas program. I'd like to see how many workers were "satisfied" that they were treated fairly.

Paul R. Schlitz Jr., Baltimore

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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