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Study: US Immigration relief is of limited help to farm workers

Chicago, Dec 9 (EFE).- A study released on Tuesday warns that President Barack Obama’s recent executive action on immigration offers only “minimal benefits” to immigrants who work in agriculture in the U.S. Midwest, most of whom are of Mexican origin.

Moreover, the measures could worsen the critical scarcity of agricultural workers in the region, said Michele Wucker, the vice president for research at The Chicago Council for Global Affairs, which released the study.

Meanwhile, Stephanie Mercier, the author of the study entitled “Employing Agriculture: How the Midwest Farm and Food Sector Relies on Immigrant Labor,” told Efe that there are 57,000 migrants with work visas in agriculture, livestock raising and food processing in the Midwest, and the sector needs another 80,000 workers right away.

These workers would need a new visa system that would allow them to remain in the country for longer periods, but “President Obama can’t do this by decree; Congress needs to approve immigration reform,” she said.

Mercier, who works as an independent consultant but for 11 years was the main economist for the Democratic caucus in the Senate, says that stagnation in immigration reform would mean less food production, higher food prices, lost jobs and competitiveness.

The study says that half of the 440 U.S. counties that depend on agriculture are located in the Midwest.

The region is the country’s main producing zone for corn, soybeans, hogs and eggs (all in Iowa); wheat and sorghum (Kansas) and oats and turkeys (Minnesota).

The Midwest is also where 55 percent of U.S. pork is produced, along with 39 percent of the country’s beef and 35 percent of its milk.

Two-thirds of the agricultural labor there comes from Mexico, 6 percent from Central America and the rest from the United States and Puerto Rico.

Mercier said that harsh working conditions make it more difficult for Midwestern agricultural producers to attract non-immigrant workers.

Although 9.7 million people over age 16 are still unemployed in the country, an “imported labor force” is necessary because Americans are reluctant to work in the fields, “where salaries are low, conditions are tough and transitory jobs force them to constantly move,” she said.

She also emphasized in the study that undocumented labor is high in the agricultural sector, where hundreds of thousands of migrants remain in the country after their seasonal work visas have expired.

Mercier said that Obama’s executive action, which provides temporary relief from deportation to millions of workers nationwide, would allow agricultural workers to seek other better-paying jobs in other sectors, thus resulting in a loss of critical labor in agriculture.

The study suggests that a new system of renewable, year-round visas would solve this problem