Bruce Burleson -- April 11, 2017

It’s incontrovertible: if there was no reason for people to migrate to the United States illegally, few would make the dangerous journey across our border.  And one reason illegal migrants come to the United States is to find a job--and often that’s what they do.
Let’s assume for a moment (and this may not in fact be a safe assumption) that the statistic that there are 11 million illegals living in the country is accurate.  Let’s also pretend for a moment that all 11 million of them are in fact working (ridiculous of course, but it’s unclear how many are and aren’t).  According to a study done by Pew a few years ago, about 3 percent of illegal migrants work in the agricultural sector.  Based on a figure of 11 million illegals, that would mean approximately 440,000 of them are doing seasonal jobs picking fruit and vegetables.   Seventeen percent work in construction, or about 1.8 million.  A slightly higher number work in installation and repair.  Eight percent, or about 880,000, work in the moving or transportation industries.  
A common argument that liberal politicians and activists make is that illegal migrants do the jobs that no one else wants.  The implication is that somehow we “need” illegal migrants to pick our crops or to do other menial jobs.  The argument goes something like this: If we didn’t have migrant workers whose wages are very low, you’d be paying a lot more for your fruits and vegetables.  But this is an irrational distortion of reality, as it assumes that there is absolutely no one living in the United States other than illegal migrants who are capable of picking crops.  Moreover, the truth is that depending on who you ask, only 3 or 4 percent of illegals are working in agriculture.  Would the “experts” on the left really have us believe that a country of 318 million people can’t come up with 440,000 seasonal farm workers on its own, without relying on migrant work?  Pew also reported in 2005 that only 19 percent of workers on farms, fishing vessels and in forestry were illegal migrants.  So somehow we’ve already been able to populate 81 percent of those jobs with citizens or legal residents.

Getting back to the title of this article: If we deport them all then who will pick the crops?  The answer is Americans.  Depending on what type of job needs to be filled, we can be quite creative as to where we come up with the labor.

For example, in 2006 there were 1.3 million people incarcerated in prisons (not including jails where people are incarcerated more temporarily).  About half of them are nonviolent offenders—people whose presence outside of prison walls poses little or no risk to public safety.  That’s approximately 670,000 people.

That number of people is probably more than enough to pick our nation’s crops were we unable to find alternatives to migrants outside the prison walls.

It might sound crazy, but prison labor is relatively cheap.  And there are technological ways of keeping prisoners in line, e.g. ankle bracelets with GPS technology, which would help minimize the risk of escape.  Farmers or agribusiness companies could pay a fee to prison bureaus—perhaps a sum comparable to what they’re currently paying illegals—to pick the crops, thereby minimizing food price increases that could result if illegal migrant workers were replaced by citizens or legal residents. 

Another possibility is summer jobs programs for teens.  How many rural agricultural communities have such programs?  Typically, these kinds of programs are found in cities, not the middle of Nebraska.  Even if we’re talking about typically urban service sector jobs and not agricultural jobs, we could certainly come up with 3.6 million workers.  According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2009 there were more than 41 million Americans between the ages of 10 and 19.  How many summer jobs are available for that many young people?  Pitifully few.  And yet we continue to import illegal labor to do jobs our own young people can do.

It all gets back to political will.  America is an innovative country.  We invented the Internet, automobiles and are now planning to send astronauts to Mars.  Certainly, if we’re capable of all of that, we can figure out how to steer unemployed youth—or otherwise idle nonviolent prisoners—toward jobs often held by illegal migrants.  And in so doing we remove the incentive for people to come to America illegally.