At first blush, I'm sure some will find the news of big California ag firms expanding operations in Mexico to be a negative reaction to increased enforcement against illegal immigration.
Look deeper, however, and this is yet more proof that a constant and escalating enforcement will create an attrition in the illegal population in the U.S. -- and will allow agricultural capitalism to begin to work properly without the distortion of an amnesty.
AP is reporting that many Southwest U.S. agri-businesses are doing more and more of their farming in Mexico where they can get Mexican workers more cheaply, more readily and legally than they can in the United States where they fear the illegal ag workforce is beginning to dry up.
Like a virtuous circle, the agri-business decision is drawing many illegal aliens in the U.S. back to Mexico to work for the U.S. farmers there. Although they make far less in Mexico than in the U.S., the wages at the U.S. farms in Mexico are still much higher than the usual Mexican wage.
Why are these former illegal aliens willing to take a big wage cut? Partly, they prefer to live around their own extended families and within the culture of their home communities. After long periods of separation, they may discover that their materialistic ambitions could be satisfied if they could simply double or triple their income in Mexico, rather than perhaps increasing it by tenfold in the U.S.
But they also are moving back because they are finding it increasingly uncomfortable to live and work illegally in the U.S. due to public opposition to their presence. And the recent highly public enforcement efforts are a deterrent that makes them feel they have a reasonable chance of getting arrested.
As the U.S. farms in Mexico draw more illegal ag workers out of the U.S., that may create even more uncertainty for agri-business which will either become more radical in demanding amnesty for their remaining illegal workforce, or push the growers away from their many years of criminal business activity.
It will take a lot to persuade California farmers that they can leave their lives of crime (decades of breaking immigration and labor laws) and survive economically. I swang through California in the last week and visited with a number of business people. Even though most of them were concerned about what immigration-fueled population growth will do to California (160 million projected to be added to the country in the next 50 years), most were conflicted about immigration. Many just can't imagine their economy operating without massive new permanent foreign labor importation at the levels of the last 30 years.
This is the problem with corrupted economies and societies: They can't imagine living honestly and legally. The rule of law terrifies people who have lived in the midst of corruption too long.
NumbersUSA recognizes this terror and advocates moderate changes that will not force the big growers of the West to have to change too rapidly. We do not, for example, advocate giant raids that would suddenly leave the fields empty of laborers. We DO advocate passage of the SAVE Act in the House and Senate which would require the big growers a year from now and the rest over the next four years to verify the right of all new hires to work. The growers correctly fear that in a few years, it will be very difficult to hire illegal workers.
What you will almost never read in a newspaper story about supposed labor shortages in agriculture is that any farmer can import UNLIMITED numbers of foreign ag workers legally through H-2A visas. Growers with a big illegal workforce should begin transitioning right now to bringing in legal workers through the H-2A program while getting rid of their illegal workers.
In the West, the big employers of illegal aliens insist that the H-2A visas don't work for them. But, as I intend to tell you more about at a later date, other farmers in America find that H-2A works just fine if you are willing to pay decent wages.
A May 27 story in the New York Times talked about growers who apparently have decided they don't want to use H-2A workers even though they no longer feel they can count on an illegal workforce. What they are doing is choosing to raise crops that can be much more mechanically harvested.
Every time you read a story like this, doesn't it just remind you of what might have been happening the last decades if the free market had been allowed to work, instead of being manipulated by the government allowing giant quantities of illegal foreign labor. Because of the threat of real enforcement drying up the illegal supply, farmers are starting to make market decisions to mechanize, to shift crops -- and to move crops requiring intensive labor to countries where that kind of labor is more available and cheap enough to meet international demands.
Now, some people will lament that certain crops are being grown in Mexico instead of the U.S. But the American people are so much better off. The average household of the typical illegal alien without a high school degree pays around $10,000 a year in total taxes and uses about $30,000 a year in taxpayers supplied services, according to intensive Heritage Foundation studies. Each time Attrition Through Enforcement efforts push one of these illegal workers out of the country, taxpayers are saved $20,000 per year.
It is far better for American farmers to plant crops that don't require taxpayers to cough up giant subsidies for the laborers working those crops.
I hope you will join with the 630,000 members of NumbersUSA in pressing Congress to pass the SAVE Act this summer. Just think how much more pressure that would put on western growers and illegal businesses to find ways to be productive and make their profits in ways that make sense in a legal market economy.
Updated: Thu, Jun 26th 2008 @ 12:13pm EDT