Also in this issue
Supply Management for the
U.S. Dairy Industry?
Opportunities and Challenges
Tina L. Saitone
and Richard J. Sexton .
Four Proposals for the Next
V. 13 no. 1 • Sep/Oct 2009
Immigration Reform: What Does It Mean for Agriculture?
resident Obama met with 30 Con-
gressional leaders June 25, 2009 to
begin “an honest discussion about
the issues” involved in immigration
reform. The major issue is what to do
about unauthorized foreigners. Accord-
ing to Passel and Cohn, about 5% of U.S.
residents and 7% of California residents
were foreigners believed to be illegally in
the United States in 2008.
About two-thirds of the 12 million
unauthorized foreigners are in the U.S.
labor force, meaning that 5% of U.S.
workers are not legally authorized to
work here. Most of the eight million
unauthorized workers are in nonfarm
jobs in sectors that include construc-
tion, manufacturing sectors such as
meat packing, and services such as food
preparation and cleaning. However, the
estimated one million unauthorized for-
eigners employed in agriculture are over
half of the hired farm work force, and
the share of unauthorized workers may
be climbing as they spread from seasonal
jobs on crop farms to year-round jobs in
dairies and other livestock operations.
This article reviews immigra-
tion patterns, foreign-born workers
in agriculture, and the major reform
proposals. The concluding section
assesses the possible impacts of the
status quo, which is likely to persist.
In 1970, the 10 million immigrants (for-
eign-born residents) in the United States
were less than 5% of U.S. residents; by
2010, the 40 million immigrants are
likely to be 13% of U.S. residents. The
largest single source of immigrants is
Mexico—a third of foreign-born U.S.
residents were born in Mexico. Most
Mexican-born U.S. residents arrived
since 1990, and a few numbers highlight
the dramatic growth. In 1970, when
Mexico’s population was about 50 mil-
lion, there were less than 750,000 Mex-
ican-born U.S. residents. By 2010, when
Mexico expects 110 million residents,
there are likely to be 13 million Mexican-
born U.S. residents, meaning that more
than 10% of those born in Mexico will
have moved to the United States.
There are three major subgroups
among the foreign born. About 14
million are naturalized U.S. citizens.
Another 14 million are legal immigrants
who have not yet become naturalized
U.S. and temporary visitors—such as
foreign students and guest workers—
many of whom stay in the United States
several years and some of whom become
immigrants. Finally, there are 12 mil-
lion unauthorized foreigners, including
seven million or 60% Mexicans. Unau-
thorized foreigners, almost all of whom
were born in Mexico, are over half of
the hired workers on U.S. crop farms.
Between 2003 and 2007, when the