Those in agriculture who were hoping Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump would “come down off the wall” after making strong immigration statements were wildly disappointed this week. In a speech Wednesday in Arizona, Trump continued to base his immigration stance on mass deportation and building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
The extreme positions initially carried Trump to victory in primaries around the country but had begun to make advisors wonder whether he would be able to pick up new voters with such an extreme stance.
In mid-August, when asked if Trump still would move ahead with his plans to round up and deport illegal immigrants, his newly appointed campaign manager Kellyann Conway responded, “to be determined,” which gave some hope that he may be changing his tone on how to handle the millions of illegal immigrants.
National Public Radio reported that Gallup, which has tracked public opinion on this issue, found that 65% of Americans favor a path for "immigrants who are living illegally in the U.S. to remain in the country and become citizens if they meet certain requirements over time." They added that the sentiment was essentially reflected in the vote margin of the 2013 Senate bill in which 68 senators voted in favor of comprehensive immigration reform that included a path to citizenship only after immigrants pay fines and wait more than a decade without committing a crime.
In a meeting with a new team of Hispanic advisors, Trump reportedly discussed options for dealing with the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants currently residing in the U.S. However, some of those advisors dropped their support following his speech Wednesday.
Trump has also declared himself to be "the agricultural candidate," promising to eliminate estate tax and the "waters of the U.S. rule from the Environmental Protection Agency. He also plans to install a pro-agriculture EPA administrator.
Agriculture has been one industry that has tried to encourage legislators to find a viable solution to immigration as nearly 2 million industry workers are estimated to be here illegally. It appeared that many of the advisors Trump named to his agricultural team were strong supporters of a pathway to citizenship for those working in the agriculture industry, including Western Growers president Tom Nassif and National Council of Farmer Cooperatives president and chief executive officer Chuck Conner.
Many anecdotal stories have been shared in recent years about the shortage of workers in the agriculture industry and of fruits and vegetables rotting in fields because there aren’t enough workers to pick the crops. In addition, the jobs are not being filled by American citizens, many of whom are unwilling to do the hard labor that often comes with these types of jobs.
“While there are many illegal immigrants in our country who are good people, this doesn’t change the fact that most illegal immigrants are lower-skilled workers with less education who compete directly against vulnerable American workers and that these illegal workers draw much more out from the system than they will ever pay in,” Trump said in his speech Wednesday night.
Farmers and ranchers know that immigration reform cannot be addressed without tackling the issue of border security, said American Farm Bureau Federation president Zippy Duvall, who saw the delicate balance between the two issues during a tour of agriculture and border security efforts in Arizona in July.
“Our country is going need to make up its mind. We’re either going to import our agricultural labor, or we’ll have to import our food. Most Americans would opt for food grown on our own soil by American farmers. To keep that option viable, we must act soon,” Duvall said of immigration reform.