U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack is using his remaining days in office to urge farm groups to push the new congress and President-elect Trump for what he calls a “legitimate conversation” about immigration policy.
“As important as regulations are, as important as tax policy is, as important as trade is, if you don’t have a workforce, you’re not going to have product to sell,” Vilsack says.
President-elect Trump promises to quickly complete a wall along the southern border and to immediately order deportation of immigrants who are in the country illegally and who are involved in criminal activity.
Vilsack acknowledges the country’s immigration system is “broken” and it’s time to fix it.
“We need to secure the border, but we also have to create some kind of stability in this workforce, particularly in the agricultural space, because 70% of our food is touched at some point in time by an immigrant hand,” Vilsack says. “A substantial number of those folks came here probably without authority, but need some kind of pathway to legitimacy.”
The American Farm Bureau Federation estimates agricultural output would decline by as much as $60-billion dollars if the farm sector no longer has access to immigrant labor.
“Rural America, rural people, farmers and ranchers who have something specifically at stake have an incredibly strong and powerful voice to say to our policy leaders: ‘This is an issue. This is a problem that needs to be fixed and it needs to be fixed right,'” Vilsack says.
According to the USDA, 25% of hired farmworkers who are immigrants are working in the Midwest, primarily in livestock operations.