After Immigration Crackdown, Farms Lack Workers

Publicly, the White House has been forceful about border enforcement -- giving little to the plight of farmers.

"Today, members of my Cabinet announced a series of important new administrative actions to address border security and immigration challenges," President Bush said Aug. 10.

But officials now say those challenges include the shortage of farm workers -- something they have quietly begun to address.

It has been estimated more than half of all farm workers are illegal immigrants, and farmers say a shortage of workers means food gets left to rot. Farms must simply leave fruit on the vine and fields unharvested.

"This is like a time bomb just ready to go off," said Luawanna Hallstrom of the California Farm Bureau.

Stepped up efforts at the Mexican border, along with numerous raids and threats to crack down on companies employing illegal workers, have made labor shortages on farms worse.

Jerry Schlaman, an orchardist from California, said times are tough "because of the fear factor."

With immigration reform stalled in Congress, the Bush administration is exploring ways to increase the number of legal farm workers entering the country.

In a statement today, the Department of Labor said, "We are now in the process of identifying ways the program can be improved to provide farmers with an orderly and timely flow of legal workers."

But any easing in regulations won't affect farmers this season. So, many states have taken the issue into their own hands.

The state of Washington recently produced a commercial aimed at luring the dwindling supply of farm workers away from other states -- promising higher wages and a better lifestyle. Voiced over beautiful landscapes, the narrator says "We want you to know why it's worth taking the long trip to Washington."

Farmers say it's gotten so bad that some could be forced out of business. And what happens on the farm could trickle down -- leading to higher food prices for the consumer.

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