Immigration policy at the forefront of New York apple farming controversy

September 08, 2018 07:19 PM

As the immigration debate continues throughout the country, New York apple farmers are feeling the impact of the controversy.

Apple farmers regularly hire migrant workers from Latin American countries but lately it's getting harder to find those workers.


There was a time when many migrant workers on apple farms came from Mexico or Latin America, but now the migrant worker population from Mexico is shrinking.

This is partially because of immigration policy changes and also because of population changes there, but to keep business alive local farmers depend on workers from the Caribbean.

Devon James carefully scans apples to pick at Cherry Lawn Fruit Farms in North Rose, Wayne County.

"It's a good job, it helps our family back home to send our children to high school because in Jamaica we don't have much jobs," said James.

This Jamaica native travels more than 1,500 miles to the second largest apple producing county in the state.

James is a migrant worker a part of the federal H2A program for temporary agricultural workers.

James told News10NBC, "It's what we do to make a living here so when we get back home we are good."

Todd Furber owns Cherry Lawn Fruit Farms, he says in recent years more workers have been coming from Jamaica. That's because of immigration policy debates and also fewer Mexican workers seeking employment in U.S. agriculture.

"Mexico also, but it just seems to be easier for us to get the Jamaican workers...I'm not too good at speaking Spanish and these workers speak English," explained Furber.

Out of Furber's 58 employees 42 are from Jamaica, but before hiring abroad he tries locally.

Furber would say, "we have to prove that we do not have enough labor in the U.S. So we have to advertise in the local paper and two other states."

For migrant workers like James, joining the H2A program isn't easy and  neither is agricultural work.

"They recruit who they wanted but plenty of people got turned down," James said.

This job allowed him to send four kids to school and build a home.

James also got his son a job working here on the very same apple farm.

So far farmers say this apple season is on track to provide an average or above average harvest.


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