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America's farmworkers are aging, not being replaced
By Jessie Higgins
MAY 8, 2019

The average age of America's hired farm laborers was just under 42 in 2017, up from 36 in 2006. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Department of Agriculture


EVANSVILLE, Ind., May 8 (UPI) -- The average age of America's hired farm laborers is steadily increasing, threatening the future of the nation's farming industry, according to a new report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The reason is the foreign-born workers, who comprise more than half the workforce, are getting older. At least half those workers are unauthorized. And because the United States is cracking down on illegal immigration, younger immigrants are not arriving to replace them.

Between 2007 and 2016, the estimated number of unauthorized immigrants from Mexico dropped about 22 percent, according to the Pew Research Center. During roughly that same time period, the average age of migrant and immigrant farmworkers in the United States rose from just under 36 in 2006 to nearly 42 in 2017, according to the report, released last week by the USDA Economic Research Service.

"This is a pretty big concern," said Michael Langemeier, an agricultural economics professor at Purdue University. "If that group is aging, farmers are going to have more problems finding workers. Their bottom lines will be under pressure."

The issue mainly impacts fruit and vegetable growers and dairy farmers -- operations that require human labor to pick ripe produce and milk cows. Commodity crop growers require far fewer hands, as they can use machines to plant, tend and harvest their crops.

National farming organizations like the American Farm Bureau Federation warn that unless something is done to address the impending labor shortage, produce and dairy farms across the country will struggle to stay in business. As these farms cease operating, the United States instead will import produce, mostly from Mexico and other Latin American countries.

"We can import workers, or we can import food," said Will Rodger, a Farm Bureau spokesman. "It's really that simple."

But addressing the labor shortage is no simple matter.

It used to be that a substantial number of farm laborers were American citizens. Farmers who needed more hands could count on migrant workers from Mexico who arrived unprompted to fill the remaining positions.

That no longer is the case. Besides losing many migrant workers to tighter border security, farmers say it is nearly impossible to find Americans willing to take the jobs.

"There used to be a bigger local force to pull from," said Michael Hirakata, the co-owner of Hirakata Farms in Colorado, which produces melons. "It's hard to find labor now."

One of the reasons, farm groups say, is many Americans are no longer interested in the hot, backbreaking work of harvesting.

The only option farmers have to fill the void is the migrant visa program, H-2A. That program enables the farmers to apply (and pay) for a certain number of visas to bring in workers from Mexico and other Latin American countries each year.

But the program does not offer enough visas to fill the demand for workers, the Farm Bureau has said. And it has other issues. The paperwork is slow, and sometimes delayed to the point that farmers are unable to harvest their crops on time -- leaving produce rotting in the fields.

What's more, only seasonal crops are eligible, leaving dairy farms unable to legally import migrant workers.

The farm bureau and other farming groups support an overhaul of the H-2A program that would make the visas more flexible and easier to obtain. They also want such legislation to include a way for their current undocumented workers to obtain legal status.

A bill that would address the latter (H.R. 641, the Agricultural Worker Program Act of 2019) was introduced in the House in January. It was referred to the subcommittee on immigration and citizenship March 4.

 

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Restrictive Mexican visas keep Central American migrants away from U.S. border
By
Patrick Timmons
MAY 9, 2019

Brayan Rosales Hidalgo from Honduras holds his and his son Antony's regional visitor visa cards -- valid only for southern Mexico -- near a makeshift detention center in Mapastepec, Mexico, on Tuesday. Photo by Ariana Drehsler/UPI | License Photo

MAPASTEPEC, Mexico, May 9 (UPI) -- Mexico has released hundreds of Central American migrants from a makeshift migrant detention center near Guatemala's border, giving them restrictive visas that keep them far away from the United States.

Mexico's government formerly permitted caravans of undocumented migrants to pass virtually unimpeded on their way to the U.S-Mexico border. But that migrant-friendly approach angered President Donald Trump, who criticized Mexico's laxity in March and threatened to close the border if the flow did not stop.

In response, Mexico's president said he did not want a confrontation with the Trump administration. The result has been stricter immigration enforcement, characterized by mass detentions of migrants in camps like the one just closed in Mapastepec.

The government closed the makeshift detention center at the city's municipal sports complex after it issued the migrants regional visitor visas. They also received $200 in Mexican pesos for basic needs.

Migrants must wait in detention for Mexican immigration documents. Without them, they risk deportation to their home countries. Those who remained outside the camp Tuesday said they left their countries because of threats, persecution and violence.
"The gangs took my house and threatened my family, so we fled," said Brayan Rosales Hidalgo, 34, from Honduras, who had been traveling in a caravan with 11-year-old son Anthony.

Rosales, who wants to join his brother in Tijuana, a city on the U.S.-Mexico border, said they had been in the camp since it opened in early April after federal police rounded up the caravan's members on a highway.

But for Rosales, strict immigration enforcement and regional visitor visas do not allow him to reach his brother. The regional visas are valid for only four southern states: Chiapas, Campeche, Tabasco and Quintano Roo. To reach the U.S. border, a migrant would have to travel at least 950 miles illegally, all the time facing the threat of capture and deportation.

"I'm grateful for the money," Rosales said. "We've been able to rent a small house here in Mapastepec. But the regional visas don't help us get any closer to Tijuana. If we try to leave southern Mexico, immigration agents can deport us. I can't go back to Honduras. The gangs tried to recruit my son and threatened me."

Another Central American migrant also detained in Mapastepec, Byron Herrera, 39, from Puerto Barrios, Guatemala, expressed frustration over the regional visitor visa. Herrera said the visa wouldn't help him get to his chosen destination, Monterrey, in the northern Mexican state of Nuevo León.

"I used to be a taxi driver in Guatemala and the gangs extorted me for 400 quetzales [about $50] each week," Herrera said.

"I couldn't deal with the gang's threats anymore, so I had to leave. Otherwise, something bad was going to happen. I took my mother to a safer place and sold my house," he said. "When I heard Mexico's president say last year migrants who wanted to work are welcome here, I thought it was time to leave Guatemala."

But Herrera said he felt betrayed by Mexico's government because he cannot live in or travel to Monterrey without being deported.

"I don't want to make my new life in southern Mexico," Herrera said. "Monterrey is a perfect city for me. If the government would just let me live and work in the north, I know my life would be better. I don't want to go to the United States, but I don't want to live in southern Mexico. It's too much like Guatemala."

Mapastepec is about 100 miles from Guatemala's border. The region is hot, humid, lush with vegetation and a center of tropical fruit production. From the highway, mango, papaya and banana plantations come into view. Laborers on fruit plantations earn about $8 per day, but the work is seasonal and not steady, relying on each crop's harvest.

The effects of climate change in northern Chiapas also have weakened the state's labor market, forcing many former coffee workers into the coastal area around Mapastepec's fruit plantations.

When Mapastepec's makeshift detention center was fully operational, it held mostly Central American migrants. But some detained migrants were from Cuba. Mexico also has been enforcing strict immigration control against Cuban migrants, trying to stop them from reaching the U.S-Mexico border.

Unlike Central Americans, Cuban migrants are not eligible for regional visitor visas. Instead, they must apply for either humanitarian or exit visas if they want to continue north to the U.S.-Mexico border. Immigration officials have been slow to grant Cubans visas, stranding hundreds in southern Mexico and deporting those they find without documents.

"I've been here more than a month, and I'm still waiting for some type of document that will allow me to travel on to the United States," said Miguel Ángel González, 47, from Artemisa, Cuba, and whose brother lives in Miami.

"I can't leave Mapastepec without papers because if I do, I can be deported," González said. "I can't go back to Cuba. I sold everything I had and that wasn't very much. Before I got to Mexico, I was in Uruguay for 10 months trying to get more money together to get to Florida. I left Cuba because I can't stand the political system."

Undocumented Cuban migrants face detention if caught by immigration agents in Mexico. But unlike González, many refuse to wait for lengthy periods in detention for immigration documents, instead wanting to continue their journeys north to the United States.

Their frustration has caused them to attempt several escapes from Tapachula's migrant detention center and prompted mass roundups of Cubans stranded in the city. Last week, immigration agents caught hundreds of former escapees and deported them on planes from Tapachula back to Cuba.

A small group of Mexican immigration agents and a handful of federal police were the only officials at the almost-deserted sports complex in Mapastepec on Tuesday. When asked where all the migrants had gone, one immigration agent, who refused to give his name because he was not authorized to speak to the media, said they had been issued regional visitor visas and left town by themselves.

Herrera, the Guatemalan migrant who wants to begin living in Monterrey, said he thought Mexico could prosper if it let Central Americans live where they want in the country.

"I don't want to live in the United States, but I know it's a country of immigrants, and look how prosperous it is," Herrera said, dodging any questions about Trump's anti-immigrant agenda.

"Mexico needs to take its example from the United States and let us live and work wherever we want. Migrants can make Mexico prosperous, too."


 

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AP Finds 13,000 Asylum-Seekers on Border Wait Lists
May 09, 2019
Associated Press
FILE - A migrant in Matamoros, Mexico checks a typewritten list of more than 800 people seeking asylum in the US, April 30, 2019. Those marked with the word rio, Spanish for river, are believed to have crossed the Rio Grande to enter the US without authorization.

FILE - A migrant in Matamoros, Mexico checks a typewritten list of more than 800 people seeking asylum in the US, April 30, 2019. Those marked with the word "rio," Spanish for river, are believed to have crossed the Rio Grande to enter the US without authorization.

CIUDAD JUAREZ, MEXICO —
For thousands of desperate asylum-seekers, there are many ways to wait — and wait, and wait — at the threshold of the United States.
Parents and children sleep in tents next to bridges leading into Texas for weeks on end, desperately hoping their names and numbers are called so they can be let in.

Some immigrants complain of shakedowns and kidnappings by gangs and corrupt officials. Others pay bribes to get to the front of the line; the rest, determined to enter the country legally, wait patiently, even if it takes months.

This is what has happened since the Trump administration placed asylum in a chokehold.

The Associated Press visited eight cities along the U.S.-Mexico border and found 13,000 immigrants on waiting lists to get into the country — exposed to haphazard and often-dubious arrangements that vary sharply.

The lines began to swell in the last year when the administration limited the number of asylum cases it accepts each day at the main border crossings, leaving it to Mexican agencies, volunteers, nonprofit organizations and immigrants themselves to manage the lines.

In some cities, days pass without anyone being processed, the AP found. In San Diego, up to 80 are handled each day, but the line in Tijuana, across the border, is the longest anywhere — about 4,800 people.

Each day at each crossing, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials alert Mexican counterparts how many people they will take — a system the government calls metering. Then the keeper of the list lets immigrants know who can go into the U.S. for asylum interviews.

A federal lawsuit says the administration is violating U.S. and international law by refusing to take asylum-seekers when they show up at a crossing. U.S. authorities argue that processing capacity dictates how many people it can handle.

"It's not turning people away, it's asking them to wait," then-Customs and Border Protection Commissioner and current acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan said in October.

But some feel they cannot. They try to enter illegally, sometimes with tragic consequences.

A Honduran family, arriving at Piedras Negras, Mexico, decided the line was too long. Crossing the Rio Grande, they were swept away; a father and three children, including a baby, are believed to have died.

Here is a snapshot of the wait list systems along the border:

Ciudad Juarez: Black ink, wristbands, and thousands in line
The sprawling industrial city began its waiting list in October when many Cuban asylum-seekers began sleeping on the narrow sidewalk of a busy international bridge. Mexican authorities decided they had to go.

Asylum-seekers were then registered and had numbers written on their arms in black ink to show their number in line. That was abandoned in favor of plastic wristbands, which were scrapped because so many people were selling or counterfeiting them. Now it's a digital-based system.
There are currently about 4,000 names on the list.

Reynosa: 'River owners' run the show
The challenges faced by asylum-seekers waiting in Reynosa, across from McAllen, Texas, are compounded by rampant violence. Gunfights between cartels and police occur daily, and the U.S. State Department has warned Americans not to travel there. Few Americans are willing to visit the shelter that controls the list or the other churches and hotels where asylum-seekers wait.

Jennifer Harbury, a longtime human rights advocate in Texas, spoke recently to a large group of asylum-seekers at the Senda de Vida shelter and met with people who had been kidnapped by cartels.

"The owners of the river, you know who they are," Harbury said. Several nodded.

Piedras Negras, Mexico: The WhatsApp List
When asylum-seekers arrive at a migrant shelter in Piedras Negras, they are given a phone number to text on the messaging service WhatsApp. They're supposed to send the names and photos of everyone in their group. Then they're told to wait.

Managing the list is a local restaurateur named Hector Menchaca, who also serves as the local government's liaison to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

About 360 people are on the list, with another 200 people waiting to join it because the government has closed it to new entrants for the time being, Menchaca said.

The list includes people from Central America, Mexico, Brazil, and countries an ocean away like Cameroon. They aren't told how close to the top they are, only that they might wait for two or three months.

But many people say they can't wait — among them the four who are believed to have drowned in the Rio Grande last week.

Nogales: A family affair
A woman whose family manages shelters in Nogales keeps the list of new arrivals in Nogales.

Before she was involved, Brenda Nieblas says hundreds of migrants would wait at the border crossing and many would try to rush in when U.S. authorities called people for processing.

When they first arrive, some of the migrants are sent to a Red Cross first aid station. They are then connected with Nieblas, who puts them on the list, assigns them to a shelter in Nogales and notifies them when their time comes.

Tijuana and Mexicali: A notebook, and waiting for the phone call
Tijuana is most experienced with a numbering system, having established one in 2016 when Haitians had to wait in Mexico for a chance at refuge in the United States. Its waiting list stands at about 4,800.

Grupos Beta, a unit of Mexico's immigration agency that provides food, transportation and aid to migrants, keeps guard at night over tattered notebooks and hands them over to volunteers during the day to register new arrivals. On a recent Saturday, there were nearly 100 people in line to get a spot in the notebook — almost exclusively Cameroonians who arrived the previous day.

In nearby Mexicali, Grupos Beta employees in bright orange shirts call out those whose numbers are up. Mexicali — a city of about 1 million across from Calexico, California — has about 800 names on its list.

San Luis: 'There really is no schedule'
Darwin Mora manages two giant white boards with hundreds of numbers in black marker, each one representing a family or single adult. When CBP tells Mexican authorities how many people it wants, it falls to Mora to have them ready. Each family that crosses or cancels is marked with an X.

Mora says U.S. officials can call any day from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. During those hours, he never strays far from the boards under a green canopy, which are divided in neat columns and rows. In the lower left corner of each box is a number to represent the number of people in the family.

"There really is no schedule," he said.

There are about 900 people on the list, assuming three people per family. Recent arrivals are expected to wait at least five months.

Matamoros: A long wait and 'no space' for families
At the foot of the bridge connecting Matamoros, Mexico, to Brownsville, Texas, more than 20 sheets of paper have been taped to a large board with the typewritten names of more than 800 people. The migrants waiting in Matamoros check the board daily to see whose names have been crossed off with a black marker.

Some of the names have a line next to them with the word "rio," Spanish for river — denoting that they were believed to have crossed the Rio Grande to enter the U.S. without authorization.

There are frequent allegations that Mexican government officials or security agents demand bribes to let people join the list or move up the list.
The people who wait in the tents by the bridge have formed their own enclosed community. One man climbed into the Rio Grande to bathe. The country he was waiting to enter was a short swim away, but he stayed close to the bank on the Mexican side.

And then he went back toward his tent. To wait.

 

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Defense Department chooses 13 companies for border construction work
By Ed Adamczyk
MAY 9, 2019

Two different types of border fences are under construction in Naco, Ariz., on February 14. The Defense Department chose 13 companies on Thursday to share $5 billion in contracts to build additional structures along the southern border. File Photo by Ariana Drehsler/UPI | License Photo


May 9 (UPI) -- The Defense Department announced the selection of 13 companies to compete for construction contracts along the United States' southern border.

The construction is in support of the Department of Homeland Security's San Diego, El Centro, Yuma and Tucson Border Patrol sectors, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' South-Western Division and South Pacific Division.

The firm fixed-price contracts are for design-build and design-bid-build projects of "horizontal construction task orders," a term that includes building of fences, walls, patrol roads and access roads, as well as installation of lights, access gates and other elements.

The announcement was made on Thursday.

BFBC of Bozeman, Mont.; Texas Sterling Construction Co. of Houston; Bristol Construction Services of Anchorage, Alaska; Burgos Group of Albuquerque, N.M.; Gibraltar-Caddell JV of Montgomery, Ala.; Fisher Sand & Gravel of Dickinson, N.D.; Southwest Valley Constructors of Albuquerque, N.M.; Randy Kinder Excavating of Dexter, Mo.; Martin Brothers Construction of Sacramento, Calif.; SLSCO Ltd. of Galveston, Texas; Posillico Civil Inc. of Farmingdale, N.Y.; Coastal Environmental Group of Central Islip, N.Y.; and CJW JV of Santa Ana, Calif., will bid on various sections and elements of the project.

Thirsty-eight bids were received. Work location and funding will be determined with each order, with a target completion date of May 2024.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Fort Worth, Texas, was the contracting agent.

 

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U.S. plans to send transportation security staff to U.S.-Mexico border
May 15, 2019

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Trump administration plans to redirect Transportation Security Administration staff to the U.S. southern border to assist with immigration duties and migrant flows, the TSA said on Wednesday.

A TSA spokesman said the agency was looking for volunteers to support efforts at the U.S. border with Mexico, where the government has said it is grappling with record numbers of people.

“TSA, like all DHS components, is supporting the DHS effort to address the humanitarian and security crisis at the southwest border. TSA is in the process of soliciting volunteers to support this effort while minimizing operational impact,” TSA spokesman James Gregory said in a statement.

The TSA border assignment will last at least 45 days and comes at the start of the busy summer travel season, which a U.S. official acknowledged carried “some risk,” according to CNN, which first reported the plan, citing an internal email it obtained.

TSA staff will include 175 law enforcement officials, including air marshals, and as many as 400 security staff drawn from six U.S. cities but will not include airport screeners, CNN said, citing two additional unnamed sources. The six cities were not immediately identified.

TSA law enforcement officials sent to the border will receive legal training and assist the Customs and Border Protection department as immigration officers, the report said.

Gil Kerlikowske, who led CBP during the Obama administration, compared the plan to earlier moves by the Trump administration to redeploy hundreds of officers at ports of entry to assist Border Patrol agents with migrants crossing the border illegally.

“All of these things have kind of been stopgap measures,” he said. “They have alleviated some of the problem but not stopped the problem.”

The decision comes as the airline and travel industry urge lawmakers to approve funding for more CBP officers, warning of excessive wait times for traveling and shipping as officers have been shifted to the border.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Travel Association, an industry group, said moving TSA agents to the border could disrupt the U.S. economy.

“Further stretching CBP and TSA resources, especially headed into the busiest time of year at our nation’s airports and points of entry, clearly could result in turmoil for business and leisure travel that supports millions of livelihoods all across the country,” said Tori Barnes, the group’s executive vice president of public affairs and policy.

The Department of Interior has also doubled the number of officers it is sending for three-week stints to the border, from 22 to 47, The Hill reported on Wednesday, citing an internal memorandum.

Alex Hinson, an Interior Department spokesman, said the agency “continues to support our federal partners in the effort to end the crisis at the southern border,” but declined to give further information.

The U.S. government reported earlier this month that border officers had apprehended nearly 99,000 people crossing the border with Mexico in April, the highest figure since 2007. More than two-thirds of those apprehended were children or people traveling as families.

Reporting by David Shepardson; Additional reporting by Makini Brice, Mica Rosenberg, and Valerie Volcovici; Writing by Susan Heavey; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Meredith Mazzilli



 

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U.S. lawmakers want to tighten visas for Chinese students, researchers
May 15, 2019


WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A group of President Donald Trump’s fellow Republicans in Congress introduced legislation on Tuesday intended to prohibit anyone employed or sponsored by the Chinese military from receiving student or research visas to the United States.

The bill would require the U.S. government to create a list of scientific and engineering institutions affiliated with the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, and prohibit anyone employed or sponsored by those institutions from receiving the visas.

The bill was introduced as the United States and China have escalated a trade war following difficult negotiations last week.

It also comes as some U.S. officials have expressed concern about the possibility of the theft of intellectual property or even espionage by Chinese nationals at U.S. universities and other institutions.

Many U.S. and university officials also warn about overreacting, however, arguing it is important to acknowledge the important role Chinese scholars and students play at U.S. institutions while being aware of security risks.

The bill was sponsored by Republicans Senators Chuck Grassley, Tom Cotton, Ted Cruz, Marsha Blackburn and Josh Hawley. A companion bill was introduced in the House of Representatives by Representative Mike Gallagher.

Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall

 
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