PHARR, Texas (Border Report) — As the strong South Texas winds whipped dirt into the air on Wednesday, dozens of migrant field workers harvested onions in a vast field, gathering the crops into bundles and bags in the near-100-degree heat.
Most of these workers are in the United States on a temporary seasonal work visa, and despite President Donald Trump this week pledging that he would stop immigration for 60 days to help preserve jobs for American workers during this pandemic, White House officials say these migrant workers should still be allowed to continue harvesting crops.
In a tweet on Monday night, Trump announced he would issue an immigration ban on new immigrant visas. On Tuesday morning, he tweeted that he would sign the order Wednesday.
Dante Galeazzi, president of the Texas International Produce Association, which represents Texas growers, told Border Report on Wednesday that these workers are necessary for the American food supply chain and he’s glad these temporary H-2A visas will continue to be issued. Nevertheless, he said this has been a hard year for farmers who have very limited buyers during the current COVID-19 lockdown, which has closed most restaurants and schools that would normally be buying produce.
“Here in Texas, we are seeing depressed markets: cabbage and onions have low demand and lots of supply, which is very unfortunate because it’s been a good year for growing conditions. But if we don’t have the market for it, it makes it difficult to get the product out of the field,” Galeazzi said.
This past winter was mild with gentle rains and “especially good for growers,” which, Galeazzi said, makes this glut of produce even harder to stomach. Right now, farmers are deciding whether to cut their losses, he said.
Some farmers in Homestead, Florida, reportedly chose to leave green beans and other produce rotting in the fields rather than spend money on migrant labor to harvest a product that has no buyer, Galeazzi said.
“Texas farmers will have to decide what’s the lesser of the losses. Do they gamble and take the product out of the field and hope it gets better or stop right now or end up harvesting and take a larger loss?” he said.
There are about 10,000 fruit and vegetable farmers in Texas who produce 330,000 acres of produce and tree-nuts, Galeazzi said.
The subtropical South Texas heat ripens crops earlier here, but these same onions in fields three hours to the north in San Antonio won’t be ready to pick for another month, or so. That could give those farmers more time and could coincide with an economic recovery in Texas.
Gov. Greg Abbott has announced that he wants to reopen the Texas economy and has formed a task force that is studying how best to begin. The Governor’s Strike Force to Open Texas includes three dozen of the state’s most prominent and influential business owners and leaders, including Michael Dell, the founder and CEO of Dell Technologies; former Houston Astros astros Drayton McLane; McAllen lawyer David Oliveira; and prominent South Texas businessman Alonzo Cantu, president and CEO of Cantu Construction.
The Department of Homeland Security was working with the Department of Agriculture on issuing language clarifying the exemption for these seasonal migrant workers, Politico reported.
U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela, a Democrat from South Texas who serves on the House Committee on Agriculture, said while he is relieved that migrant workers will be allowed to continue doing these necessary jobs, he criticized President Trump for using the coronavirus pandemic to stop immigration into the United States.
“The president continues to use immigrants as a scapegoat for any crisis he encounters, and these latest restrictions are more of the same short-sighted and xenophobic measures that are a hallmark of this Administration. The president claims that he must halt immigration to protect the American worker, but at the same time he exempted guest worker programs from the restrictions — seriously calling into question the purpose of these restrictions,” Vela told Border Report on Wednesday. “I understand the critical role that farmworkers play in our country and am glad they won’t be affected by the president’s ill-conceived ideas, but they are by no means the only valuable members of our communities. Make no mistake, isolationism and the shutting down of legal immigration will hurt our country in the long run.”
The president claims that he must halt immigration to protect the American worker, but at the same time he exempted guest worker programs from the restrictions—seriously calling into question the purpose of these restrictions.”U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela, D-Texas