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North County farmers react to President's new immigration plan

Posted at 6:11 PM, May 18, 2019
and last updated 2019-05-18 21:27:30-04

ESCONDIDO, Calif., (KGTV) — Farmers in North County are reacting to the President’s new immigration plans. 10News spoke to an avocado farmer out of Fallbrook at the San Diego County Farm Bureau annual luncheon in Escondido Saturday morning.

Charles Wolk owns Bejoca Company. The avocado growers said long hours in the hot sun is not easy work. He said farm work requires skill.

“Farm workers are not unskilled,” Wolk said, contrasting the President’s definition of skilled laborers.

On Thursday, President Trump said he wants a “big portion” of immigrants to come into the United States through a merit system. Points will be awarded to immigrants who are English-speaking, highly skilled workers like doctors and engineers, and to those who have jobs already lined up. These immigrants are not people who could become Wolk’s employees.

“What he said is not going to help fill the need for agriculture labor,” Wolk said, especially because many of his employees, who have been with him for more than 30 years, are aging out.

“They are getting older, and they’re literally retiring. And there’s nothing coming in behind them, whether it’s immigrant or people in the United States,” Wolk said.

“We just don’t have any relief in sight,” San Diego County Farm Bureau Executive Director, Eric Larson, said. “Our challenge is convincing the President and the members of Congress that agriculture is a skilled labor, and we need those workers here.”

Wolk has looked into other avenues of finding workers. For example, there is the H-2A Visa, which allows immigrants to come to the United States, specifically for seasonal agricultural work. It requires employees to provide free housing, food, and in some cases, transportation.

“The H-2A Program is cumbersome and expensive, especially for a small employer,” Wolk said. So at this point, he says he has no Plan B.

But Wolk is optimistic. He believes legislators will realize the importance of American agriculture. Even foreign engineers cannot survive without food in their stomachs.

“It might push out the requirements for the engineer,” Wolk laughed. “If you don’t have someone to produce the food we eat.”

At this point, there is no indication that a provision for farm laborers will be added to the President’s plan.