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Farm workers and undocumentation

April 04, 2002

A report produced by the Pew Hispanic Center indicates that nearly half of United States farm workers are here illegally.

The report also looked at a few other work sectors and the findings indicate that the majority of the 7.8 million illegal residents, in this country, come from Mexico. This privately financed report found that nearly 4 percent of the U.S. work force is illegal and that 25 percent of household workers and 10 percent of restaurant employees are undocumented immigrants.

Philip Martin, professor and agricultural economist at the University of California, Davis, estimates of the 2.5 million farm workers in the U.S., about 47 percent are here illegally. Martin reports that fruit and vegetable growers tend to hire more undocumented workers than do livestock ranchers.

Citing sectors such as the wine industry, Martin thinks that given a reduction in the flow of undocumented workers into agriculture, the industry could find ways to effectively deal with the situation. The wine industry relies on machines for about 75 percent of its harvest. Martin thinks Georgia's Vidalia onion industry could follow the wine industry's lead.

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Some reviewers of the findings believe the large numbers of undocumented workers have a negative fiscal impact on the economy. Others believe since the workers are needed by basic industries such as agriculture, what is needed is a process to speed up the legalization of immigrants already working in the U.S.

>> Refugio Gonzalez is the county director at the University of California-Imperial County Cooperative Extension.

>> The Cooperative Extension serves all residents of the Imperial Valley.

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