Immigration Impacting Local Growers

Northern Michigan growers are worried about finding enough workers to pick fruit crops.

Securing migrant workers has been a worry of northern Michigan growers as they prepare for the harvesting season, and many fear the problem may get bigger if the federal government doesn't make a decision on immigration laws.

"Some growers expressed they didn't think they'd have a full crew," said Jim Bardenhagen, of Bardenhagen Farms.

However, Bardenhagen says it all comes down to one question; Do you want to import food or do you want to import workers?

He says the U.S. Senate's legislation makes sense, but "seems a little backwards."

"The first thing we need is to have workers to harvest crops to provide food for Americans."

The legislation Bardenhagen is referring to could increase legal immigration, meaning more people could enter the country.

"Everybody has to ask themselves; 'Do I want to take the risk if I'm going to be stopped and taken back across the border?'," Bardenhagen said.

He says some of his workers from past years have told him it's not worth the hassle to come back.

House Speaker John Boehner has said the House isn't planning on taking up the Senate's immigration bill. Instead, the House plans to create their own version.

Bardenhagen is worried, though, that nothing will come of it.

"I hope that we can come to some kind of consensus and get the job done," Bardenhagen said. "It's a job that's been talked about for many years."

Currently, one million people get green cards for permanent residence each year. Under the Senate's bill, that number would rise to around 1.5 to 1.7 million.

Bardenhagen says more emphasis needs to be placed on guest worker programs.

"They assume that everybody, from Mexico or other places, wants to be a citizen in the U.S. and I don't know that that's the case," he said.

Each year, growers like Bardenhagen have a tougher time finding enough migrant workers. He said it has been tough for operations larger than his, as well, and he fears that unless Washington finds a solution, the problem will only get bigger.

The Senate recently passed an immigration bill that beefs up border security and offers a "path to citizenship." House Republicans will be meeting Wednesday in a closed-door conference where they will discuss immigration.

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