Apr 25, 2012 6:10 PM by Lacey Steele

Local farmers hurting from immigration decrease

Stricter regulations over the past few years mean farmers must be sure a worker is in the U.S. legally.

One farmer told us he's in compliance with the law, but he now has only 20-percent of his previous workforce.

"Historically, this was a really good place to work, and that's kind of coming to an end," said Zach Mason, a local farmer.

Stricter restrictions mean farmers have to have copies of photo ID's for each worker they hire.

Mason says they aren't trained to handle situations like fake ID's.

"The farmers are bearing the burden, and that's unfair," said Mason. "That's really unfair."

Mason says many laws were changed in 2009, and he was audited in 2010.

"They turned the place upside down," said Mason. "They fined me $2500 for every unwillful violation that they found in my records and told me that they'd be back."

Knowingly hiring an illegal worker is a $5000 fine, so no matter how badly he needs the help or someone needs a job.....

"I have to get tough and just say, 'If you don't have a valid ID, if I can't prove who you are, you can't stay here,'" said Mason. "That's eliminated probably nine out of the ten people that ask me for a job."

They're paid based on how many rows they plant, so if they don't work fast enough to earn minimum wage, farmers have to let them go even if they are willing to work for less money.

"Which is a really frustrating situation because the people need the money, and I need the help," said Mason.

It's causing problems for Mason's bottom line.

"I'm forced to plant crops that have maybe a third or a fourth of the income potential of what we could do if we had labor available," said Mason.

He's one of the last produce farmers left in his area.

"The business isn't all that profitable all the time anyway, and now that we've had so much new regulation added to us, it totally eliminates any reason to continue," said Mason.

Mason also told us he once planted 1,300 acres of onions, but this year he will only have forty acres.

The rest he'll plant in corn and alfalfa, which take less manual labor.



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