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Farmers discuss immigration and border issues

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MICHIGAN (WPBN/WGTU) -- The issues of immigration and border security aren't just national.

They impact northern Michigan as well. Especially when it comes to growers who rely on migrant workers to harvest crops.

Jim Bardenhagen, a farmer in Suttons Bay said that while he knows something needs to be done about the immigration issues, they've caused a lot of stress for him and other farmers who are unsure if they'll have enough workers.

"We've got to be able to harvest our crops to provide people the food that they have been enjoying," said Bardenhagen.

Bardenhagen has been growing cherries, apples, grapes and potatoes for over 30 years, but says he can't harvest everything on his 80 acres of land without the help of migrant workers.

"That work force is getting less and less and a lot of it's because of the immigration policies that are happening that people are being picked up here locally by Border Patrol and that sends a scare through that community that so do they take the chance and come up here or do they find safer ground," said Bardenhagen.

Bardenhagen says he only has one migrant family helping him with the apple harvest this year instead of two, and that he isn't sure when he'll get more help.

He had the opportunity to hear Alan Bersin, a former border patrol agent speak this week about immigration issues and how those affects farmers.

"This is playing out on the ground of something that's not just a matter of national politics and debate," said Bersin.

As part of a program with the League of Women Voters in Leelanau County and Northwestern Michigan College's International Affairs Forum, Bersin talked with crowds both Wednesday and Thursday night not just about issues at the border and with immigration, but also about how to move forward.

"This a question of how do we make our farms work as economic proposition if we can't get labor at a reasonable price. But it's also got to be done in a way that's consistent with our laws. So how do we make the H-2A
Visa program for example work for family farms and individual farms in addition to working for large farms and enterprises," said Bersin.

While Bardenhagen was happy to hear from Bersin,he's still uncertain about the future and how it will impact him and other farmers trying to get enough workers.

"We have politicians that are more interested in getting re-elected than they are in solving that problem. Immigration is a problem and he pointed it out last night, it is a huge problem, affects almost everybody in the country," said Bardenhagen.

If you are interested in going to one of Northwestern Michigan College's International Affairs Forums, there is another one on November 15th.

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