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Immigration issues have an importance to Arizona farmers, in terms of workforce


Nearly three-quarters of farm workers in the United States are immigrants. That means immigration issues and the agricultural industry are closely intertwined. NPR's Ximena Bustillo spoke to farmers in Arizona about their labor force needs.

XIMENA BUSTILLO, BYLINE: Next to a flea market in Yuma, Ariz., there's a cluster of white tents and antennas. It looks like a drab traveling circus, but it's actually a facility to process immigrants.

CRAIG ALAMEDA: Those are all makeshift tents that have been brought in to house and handle the influx here that we've had in the last couple of years. This all - all these tents and all that were never out here before.

BUSTILLO: That's Craig Alameda. He's a farmer with operations in California and Arizona near the Mexican border.

ALAMEDA: But now because of the border situation, this is what they've had to build up, and they're trying to make do with what they got.

BUSTILLO: Driving past the tents, it's clear that immigration issues loom largest for border towns like Yuma. They're especially stark for farmers like Alameda, who rely on migrant labor for their own livelihoods and have for decades. Now, Alameda said he's one of the largest H-2A employers in the country. That's the visa program for seasonal agriculture workers. And many more migrant workers from Mexico commute across the border every day. But relying on a foreign demographic means farmers are at the mercy of a complicated immigration system, and many farmers say more needs to be done to provide access to visas and workers.

ALAMEDA: Nothing's been passed. No one's done anything on the labor situation.

BUSTILLO: Labor advocates like Antonio De Loera-Brust with United Farm Workers want to see a pathway to citizenship for farm workers first before the program is expanded.

ANTONIO DE LOERA-BRUST: The agricultural workers who are here who have been securing our domestic food supply for decades deserve a pathway to citizenship. If you feed America, you deserve the right to stay in America and to become an American.

BUSTILLO: Congress has failed to move forward on substantial immigration reform for decades. Often, the conversation around immigration focuses on illegal border crossings. But for farmers like Alameda, reform is much more about preserving a dedicated workforce. Ximena Bustillo, NPR News, Phoenix. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ximena Bustillo
Ximena Bustillo is a multi-platform reporter at NPR covering politics out of the White House and Congress on air and in print.