23 May, 2017
Farmers and fruit growers in the United States depend heavily on immigrants to grow and harvest their crops.
Most immigrants working on American farms are Hispanic and come from Mexico or Central America. Many of them entered the United States illegally, and have settled in rural communities across the country.
The immigrants often raise families while working in the fields. And, just like U.S. citizens, they pay taxes.
President Donald Trump has called on government agencies to increase enforcement of the nation's immigration laws. His administration's policies on illegal immigration are creating fear in the agricultural industry. The industry worries about losing the workers it needs to plant, grow and harvest the crops that feed the country.
In the eastern state of Pennsylvania, fruit farmers are concerned about the administration's immigration policies. The farmers fear they will not have enough workers to stay in business.
Spring is pruning season for apple trees in Adams County, Pennsylvania. Hispanic immigrant workers care for the trees in many of the area's apple orchards.
The work takes many hours and is tiring and repetitive. Kay Hollabaugh says very few Americans are willing to do this kind of work anymore. She helps supervise her family's farm and orchard in Adams County. And, she worries that immigration officers will take her workers away.
"If my immigrant workforce is taken away, I don't have anybody to harvest my fruits and vegetables. It will be the end of our business. 75 people will not have a job and my family – who has been here for over 60 years – will lose this."
Some of the immigrants who work on the farms live in the town of York Springs. Almost half of the town speaks Spanish. But, these days, few of the people are out on the streets in this community. They are fearful because of recent arrests by immigration officers.
Arturo, a Spanish speaker, lives in York Springs. He says that things were different before; people felt more at ease.
"People would go out and walk around, they weren't afraid. Today it's very different. People are in hiding," he said. "Most of the people have left town, they've returned to their countries before anything else happens."
An estimated 800,000 workers harvest crops in the United States. About 46 percent of them are thought to be immigrants who entered the country illegally. The Associated Press says those numbers come from the U.S. labor and agriculture departments.
The Rice Fruit Company is the largest apple-packing house in the eastern United States. It prepares apples from Adams County farms for shipping to buyers across the country.
The Rice Fruit Company depends on immigrant labor to get the job done. The company employs some people from York Springs. It has 100 people working year-round — and double that number at harvest time. Most come from Latin America.
"No question about it, there's a great deal of anxiety."
David Rice is president of the Rice Fruit Company. He says that, while his employees have the required documents to work legally, there is still a climate of fear.
"It's really unfortunate because those people, very, very fine workers and very, very fine people who are contributing a lot to the local economy and an immense amount to the apple economy particularly."
The fruit industry in Adams County earns $580 million a year, according to one study. It also provides almost 20,000 jobs.
But, if immigrant workers start to leave the area, Rice says his company will be forced to reduce operations.
Rice says the company is exploring ways to reduce labor costs, including using more machinery. He said his company may also need to work with only the most profitable, efficient orchards.
The Hollabaugh fruit market has pictures of its family and workers all over the walls. Kay Hollabaugh feels a personal connection to her workers.
"When I watch on TV, a Hispanic mom or dad pulled away from their kids, I can't deal with it. I don't get it. Taking my work force away, remembering that I'm feeding everyone, along with the dairy farmers and the corn growers, and I just feel like our time and money could be so much better spent than tearing families apart and sending well-intended people home."
At a protest in the nearby town of Gettysburg, demonstrators showed their support by handing out apples picked by immigrant workers.
I'm Alice Bryant.
This story combines reports by Bill Rodgers and the Associated Press. Alice Bryant adapted the reports for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.
Words in This Story
prune - v. to cut off some of the branches of a tree or bush so that it will grow better or look better
orchard - n. a place where people grow fruit trees
anxiety - n. fear or nervousness about what might happen
unfortunate - adj. not appropriate or desirable
packing - n. the processing of food for future sale
according - adv. as stated by or in