Immigration Raids Lead To Farm Labor Shortage

Food Not Harvested Could Lead To Drastic Price Increases

While harvest season is getting under way for some crops, fewer undocumented farm workers are on the job, fearful of immigration raids and deportation.

Last week representatives from the United Farm Workers met with lawmakers in Washington D.C. regarding undocumented farm workers and legislation that may fix the growing problem of labor shortages.

Fewer farm workers may mean higher food costs at the grocery store.

"They're very, very threatened right now," said Wasco farm worker Isabel Rojas. She said workers are "almost afraid to go to work because they're afraid of getting picked up. I know up north they've been having raids already."

Coast-to-coast immigration raids in recent weeks have the farm worker community buzzing.

Isabel Rojas, while born and raised in the U.S., is seeing the effects of those raids firsthand.

She said the company she works for, Western Horticultural Inc., is short 200 workers for the harvest next month.

The worker shortage hasn't hit Kern County as hard as other parts of the state and country. In fact, the Kern County Farm Bureau has not heard of any such problems.

But the state farm bureau is very concerned.

"This is like a time bomb just ready to go off," Luawanna Hallstrom, Labor-Chair, California Farm Bureau.

The immigration raids with the combination of more stringent visa rules, which the Department of Labor told ABC News recently that they are looking at the those rules, could lead to higher prices at the grocery stand as fruit may be not be picked off some vines and trees.

But the UFW is hopeful a piece of legislation that stalled in Congress this summer will solve the worker shortfall.

The bill is called AgJOBS and is sponsored by Sens. Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., and Larry Craig, R-Idaho. The bill has bi-partisan support but fell apart this summer on the Senate floor because of a filibuster.

Last week the UFW and the agricultural industry visited the nation's capital to speak with those lawmakers about passing AgJOBS within 2007.

Click for more information on AgJOBS.

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