President Black Jack Trump rides the borderline

Submitted: Feb 01, 2017
By: 
Badlands Journal editorial board

 Reporter: How will Mexico pay for the wall?

President Trump: "It will be in a form, perhaps a complicated form."

Reporter: Will it be as complicated as your tax forms?

--blj

 

2-1-17

AP

Trump to Mexico: Take care of "bad hombres or US might

Vivian Salama'

https://apnews.com/0b3f5db59b2e4aa78cdbbf008f27fb49

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump threatened in a phone call with his Mexican counterpart to send U.S. troops to stop "bad hombres down there" unless the Mexican military does more to control them, according to an excerpt of a transcript of the conversation obtained by The Associated Press.

The excerpt of the call did not detail who exactly Trump considered "bad hombres," nor did it make clear the tone and context of the remark, made in a Friday morning phone call between the leaders. It also did not contain Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto's response. Mexico denies that Trump made the threat.

Still, the excerpt offers a rare and striking look at how the new president is conducting diplomacy behind closed doors. Trump's remarks suggest he is using the same tough and blunt talk with world leaders that he used to rally crowds on the campaign trail.

A White House spokesman did not respond to requests for comment. The Mexican Foreign Relations Department told The AP: "The negative statements you refer to did not occur during said telephone call. On the contrary, the tone was constructive."

The phone call between the leaders was intended to patch things up between the new president and his ally. The two have had a series of public spats over Trump's determination to have Mexico pay for the planned border wall, something Mexico steadfastly refuses to agree to.

"You have a bunch of bad hombres down there," Trump told Pena Nieto, according to the excerpt given to AP. "You aren't doing enough to stop them. I think your military is scared. Our military isn't, so I just might send them down to take care of it."

A person with access to the official transcript of the phone call provided only that portion of the conversation to The Associated Press. The person gave it on condition of anonymity because the administration did not make the details of the call public.

The Mexican website Aristegui Noticias on Tuesday published a similar account of the phone call, based on the reporting of journalist Dolia Estevez. The report described Trump as humiliating Pena Nieto in a confrontational conversation.

Mexico's foreign relations department denied that account, saying it "is based on absolute falsehoods."

Americans may recognize Trump's signature bombast in the comments, but the remarks may carry more weight in Mexico.

Political analyst and former presidential spokesman Ruben Aguilar notes Pena Nieto had enjoyed an apparent spike in his low approval levels, as Mexicans rallied around him for publicly challenging Trump in the border wall dispute.

The latest remarks could undercut that, if Pena Nieto is viewed as "weak," he said.

Trump has used the phrase "bad hombres" before. In an October presidential debate, he vowed to get rid the U.S. of "drug lords" and "bad people."

"We have some bad hombres here, and we're going to get them out," he said. The phrase ricocheted on social media with Trump opponents saying he was denigrating immigrants.

Trump's comment was in line with the new administration's bullish stance on foreign policy matters in general, and the president's willingness to break long-standing norms around the globe.

Before his inauguration, Trump spoke to the president of Taiwan, breaking long-standing U.S. policy and irritating China. His temporary ban on refugees and travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries, aimed at reviewing screening procedures to lessen the threat of extremist attacks, has caused consternation around the world.

But nothing has created the level of bickering as the border wall, a centerpiece of his campaign. Mexico has consistently said it would not pay for the wall and opposes it. Before the phone call, Pena Nieto canceled a planned visit to the United States.

The fresh fight with Mexico last week arose over trade as the White House proposed a 20 percent tax on imports from the key U.S. ally to finance the wall after Pena Nieto abruptly scrapped his Jan. 31 trip to Washington.

The U.S. and Mexico conduct some $1.6 billion a day in cross-border trade, and cooperate on everything from migration to anti-drug enforcement to major environmental issues.

Trump tasked his son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner — a real estate executive with no foreign policy experience — with managing the ongoing dispute, according to an administration official with knowledge of the call.

At a press conference with British Prime Minister Theresa May last week, Trump described his call with Pena Nieto as "friendly."

In a statement, the White House said the two leaders acknowledged their "clear and very public differences" and agreed to work through the immigration disagreement as part of broader discussions on the relationship between their countries.

 

 

1-26-17

The Guardian

Mexican president cancels US visit over Trump's order to build border wall

Enrique Peña Nieto has said Mexico will not pay for the wall, as US Congress faces questions about budgetary impact of its constructio

 

 

 

 

Mexican president ‘demands respect’ and rejects US border wall

 

David Agren in Mexico City, Ben Jacobs in Philadelphia and Julian Borger in Washington

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jan/26/mexican-president-cancels-us-visit-border-wall-nieto-trump

Mexico’s president, Enrique Peña Nieto, has cancelled a scheduled visit to Washington next week to meet with Donald Trump, after the US president signed an executive order to move forward on construction of a border wall and repeated his claim that Mexico would be forced to pay for it.

Peña Nieto tweeted on Thursday that he had informed the White House that he would not attend the meeting with Trump that had been scheduled for Tuesday.

“Mexico reiterates its willingness to work with the US to achieve agreements which benefit both nations,” he added.

Speaking to congressional Republicans in Philadelphia, Trump claimed the decision to cancel the meeting with Peña Nieto was mutual.

“The president of Mexico and myself have agreed to cancel our planned meeting next week,” said Trump. He added: “Unless Mexico is going to treat the United States fairly, with respect, such a meeting would be fruitless and I want to go a different route. We have no choice.”

Trump also repeated his criticism of Nafta, the US free trade agreement with Canada and Mexico, describing it as “a terrible deal [and] a total disaster for us since its inception”.

Trump’s press secretary, Sean Spicer, said that the White House would attempt to set up a new meeting. “We’ll look for a date to schedule something in the future. We will keep the lines of communication open,” he said.

Peña Nieto’s decision came after a day in which he appeared to dither over the appropriate response to a US administration considered one of the most hostile to Mexico since the Mexican-American war of the 1840s.

The Mexican president has come under sustained criticism at home for failing to come up with a decisive strategy to deal with Trump’s combative policies, and was under growing pressure to pull out of the meeting.

In a short video statement on Wednesday night, he once again declared that “Mexico will not pay for any wall”, but stopped short of cancelling the trip to Washington.

On Thursday morning, Trump appeared to be goading Peña Nieto into pulling out of the visit, saying on Twitter: “The US has a $60bn trade deficit with Mexico. It has been a one-sided deal from the beginning of Nafta with massive numbers of jobs and companies lost.

“If Mexico is unwilling to pay for the badly needed wall, then it would be better to cancel the upcoming meeting.”

Many Mexicans welcomed Peña Nieto’s decision, but asked why it had taken so long to make a stand – and why it was not included in Wednesday night’s video.

“It’s good, but too late. He should have immediately announced it immediately,” said Carlos Bravo Regidor, professor at the Centre for Research and Teaching in Economics. “The fact that he has not been able to turn Trump into a piñata for national unity is turning [Peña Nieto] into that piñata.”

The Mexican president has seemed to be constantly wrongfooted by Trump since he launched his election campaign with a barrage of explicitly anti-Mexican rhetoric. Peña Nieto’s perceived failure to stand up to Trump during a visit to Mexico City in August helped drive down his personal popularity ratings to a historic low of 12%.

Peña Nieto appeared frozen in an impossible situation: agreeing to pay for Trump’s wall would stoke domestic outrage; not paying could provoke problems with Trump’s team.

That indecision has only fuelled criticism at home.

Political consultant Fernando Dworak described Peña Nieto’s response as “tepid”. “He needed to show strength. Something like: we’re withdrawing from all dialogue until there are conditions to talk again.”

Others have been more direct, including ex-president Vicente Fox – who has targeted Trump with profanity-laden tweets for more than a year.

The diplomatic spat comes as US congressional leaders are facing questions about how to actually pay for the border wall – and the budgetary impact such a huge project would have.

The Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, said on Thursday that a border wall would cost between $12bn and $15bn, but neither he nor the House speaker, Paul Ryan, would say how that cost would be offset in the federal budget.

Spicer, the White House spokesman, declined to say how the Trump administration would secure funding from Mexico for the wall, simply saying “a variety of potential sources” could pay for it.
“The president’s been very clear on his intention to build the wall and how it would be paid for,” Spicer said. “I think he’s been consistent with that throughout.”

Speaking to reporters in Philadelphia, Ryan dodged questions about whether the wall would be paid for with budget cuts or new revenue, or if it would represent additional deficit spending.

Ryan repeatedly referred to the wall as a fence, referring to the 2006 Secure Fences Act, a bipartisan bill that provided for barriers along portions of the US-Mexico border.

Trump has repeatedly pledged to build a concrete wall along the entire border, but Wednesday’s executive order used a broader definition: “A contiguous, physical wall or other similarly secure, contiguous, and impassable physical barrier.”

The rift with Mexico comes at a time when there are significant gaps in the US foreign policy establishment that would otherwise be working to heal the divide.

The nominee for secretary of state, former oil executive Rex Tillerson, has yet to be confirmed and there are still no announced candidates for scores of top posts at the state department.

Meanwhile, key people in the department’s senior management are leaving this week. Most of them are political appointees, who routinely submit their resignations at the beginning of new administration.

A former senior state department official pointed out that what was not routine was that there was no one in line to replace them.

“The Trump people wanted a bunch of the top people to leave on inauguration day. But it was pointed out to them that if they did, there would be nobody home,” the former official said.

 

US Border Patrol chief ousted after Trump revealed wall plans, official says

Mark Morgan, former FBI agent named for the job just seven months ago, said he was asked to leave and chose to resign rather than fight, says insider

 

 

 

 

 

1-26-17

The Guardian<!--[if gte vml 1]> <![endif]--><!--[if !vml]-->The head of the Border Patrol was forced out following Donald Trump’s announcement of plans to build a Mexican border wall, an official says.<!--[endif]-->

 The head of the Border Patrol was forced out following Donald Trump’s announcement of plans to build a Mexican border wall, an official says.

2017 https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/jan/26/us-immigration-border-patrol-chief-mark-morgan

The Border Patrol chief has been forced out a day after Donald Trump announced an ambitious plan to build a wall at the Mexican border and hire 5,000 Border Patrol agents, a US official told the Associated Press.

Mark Morgan told senior Border Patrol agents about his ouster during a brief video conference on Thursday morning, saying he was asked to leave and that he decided to resign rather than fight the request, according to the official, who was on the call. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the discussion was not intended to be made public.

Customs and Border Protection said Morgan’s last official day in office would be Tuesday.

\Morgan was named to the post in June and took office in October. The former FBI agent briefly led the internal affairs department at the Border Patrol’s parent agency before heading the agency of roughly 20,000 agents.

In a statement, Kevin McAleenan, US Customs and Border Protection’s acting commissioner, praised Morgan for “his unwavering dedication to our border security mission” and “lifelong career in service to the nation”.

Morgan leaves office only seven months after being named the first outsider to lead the agency since it was founded in 1924.

From the start, he clashed with the Border Patrol’s union, which endorsed Trump early and forcefully during the presidential campaign. The National Border Patrol Council had advocated for an insider to lead the agency and sharply criticized Morgan at almost every turn.

The former official said Morgan had not been at work on Wednesday and had not attended a gathering at the homeland security department with Trump and the newly appointed homeland security secretary, John Kelly.

During that visit, Trump singled out the union’s president, Brandon Judd, while pointedly avoiding mention of Morgan. Judd served on Trump’s transition team.

The union was incensed when Morgan told a Senate hearing on 1 December, in response to a question from Senator Tom Carper, a Delaware Democrat, that he supported a comprehensive immigration overhaul, which is often interpreted to include a path to citizenship for people who are in the country illegally. Morgan clarified his remarks in a note to Border Patrol staff the following week.

“I want to be clear what my position is regarding immigration reform,” Morgan wrote. “I do not, as some have suggested, support what is often referred to as ‘blanket amnesty’. This assertion could not be further from my position. I encourage everyone to listen to my testimony.”

Despite pressure from the union, many agency officials said Morgan appeared to embrace the job. Less than a week ago, the first message on his new Twitter account read: “Chief Morgan here – excited to use this account to share the latest news and events of the #BorderPatrol with followers.”

 

1-26-17

The Guardian

Mexico

Trump calls for 20% tax on Mexican imports to pay for border wall

<!--[if !supportLists]-->·         <!--[endif]-->Announcement follows Mexican president cancelling summit

<!--[if !supportLists]-->·         <!--[endif]-->Mexico is US’s third biggest trading partner after Canada and China

 Trump: Meeting with Peña Nieto would have been ‘fruitless’

Ben Jacobs in Philadelphia, Dominic Rushe in New York and David Agren in Mexico City

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jan/26/trump-calls-for-20-tax-on-mexican-imports-to-pay-for-border-wall

Relations between the United States and Mexico appeared to be heading for crisis on Thursday after Enrique Peña Nieto cancelled a meeting with Donald Trump and the White House retaliated by suggesting a new 20% tax on imports from its southern neighbour to finance the construction of a border wall.

Such a tax would mark a new low in relations between the two countries, following a bitter election campaign in which Trump referred to Mexicans as “rapists” and insisted that the country would pay for the wall.

The White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, made the announcement to reporters on Air Force One as Trump returned from addressing the congressional Republican retreat in Philadelphia. 

Spicer painted the border tax as one aspect of a broader tax reform policy. “When you look at the plan that’s taking shape now, using comprehensive tax reform as a means to tax imports from countries that we have a trade deficit from, like Mexico,” said Spicer.

“If you tax that $50bn at 20% of imports – which is by the way a practice that 160 other countries do – right now our country’s policy is to tax exports and let imports flow freely in, which is ridiculous. By doing it that way we can do $10bn a year and easily pay for the wall just through that mechanism alone. That’s really going to provide the funding,” he said.

Trump’s chief of staff Reince Priebus later appeared to walk back on the proposal, describing it as one of a “buffet of options.”

Tax increases would need to be passed by Congress. However, the president has the authority in certain situations to impose tariffs on imports if he considers US interests are threatened.

The move would prove disastrous for Mexico, whose economy has become deeply entwined with that of the US since the Nafta free trade policy came into effect in 1994.

Mexico is America’s third-largest goods trading partner, after Canada and China, with $531bn in total (two-way) goods traded between the two countries in 2015.

Earlier this month, Mexico’s economy minister, Ildefonso Guajardo, warned that a border tax would unleash consequences around the world and could trigger a global recession.

Spicer’s announcement came hours after President Peña Nieto cancelled a scheduled visit to the White House after Trump signed an executive order on the building of the wall.

<!--[if gte vml 1]><![endif]--><!--[if !vml]-->A man in Mexico City reads a newspaper whose front page declares ‘He did it!’, on the day Trump signed an executive order to jumpstart the wall.<!--[endif]-->

 

Peña Nieto tweeted on Thursday that he had informed the White House that he would not attend the meeting with Trump that had been scheduled for Tuesday.

“Mexico reiterates its willingness to work with the US to achieve agreements which benefit both nations,” he added.

Speaking to congressional Republicans in Philadelphia, Trump claimed the decision to cancel the meeting with Peña Nieto was mutual and repeated his criticism of Nafta, the US free trade agreement with Canada and Mexico, describing it as “a terrible deal [and] a total disaster for us since its inception”.

John McCain said he was “deeply concerned” by Trump’s remarks. “Any effort to restrict or impose new barriers on our ability to trade with Mexico and Canada could jeopardize the future of this trade agreement and have serious consequences for Arizona and the country,” he said.

Republican senator Lindsey Graham tweeted: “Border security yes, tariffs no. Mexico is 3rd largest trading partner. Any tariff we can levy they can levy.”

 

The two countries’ economies are so integrated that Mexican exports to the US contain approximately 40% US content and cars built in Mexico are assembled with parts produced in the other two Nafta nations.

“I would assume that this is the start of a trade war,” said Jonathan Heath, independent economist in Mexico City. “And I’m assuming that Mexico would be retaliating with the same and this will also go to the World Trade Organization.”

Heath says a trade war with Mexico would bring consequences for US manufacturers, farmers and consumers. As an example, he pointed to supermarkets – such as the stores owned by Walmart, Mexico’s biggest retailer – which stock US-grown produce. He also noted some 75% of auto parts made in the US for export are shipped to Mexico.

I suspect if Trump acts in this manner, the Mexicans will most certainly retaliate. We are in very dangerous waters here

Daniel Ikenson, the Cato Institute

“It’s going to create, big, big problems on the Mexican side, but in the US too,” Heath said. “It’s the second or third trading partner of the US. You’re not talking about a trivial amount of trade. You’re talking about an extremely integrated region.”

Daniel Ikenson, director of the Herbert A Stiefel Center for Trade Policy Studies at the Cato Institute, said the suggestion had put the US in “dangerous waters”.

“There are a few statutes under which Trump could impose a 20% tariff on all Mexican imports and likely be within the letter of the law,” he said.

One such statute was last invoked by president Richard Nixon in 1971 in response to a balance of payments crisis involving Japan.

“Nixon imposed a 10% surcharge on Japanese imports for one year under this law. Trump might claim that the loss of manufacturing jobs or the influx of illegal immigrants from Mexico is a national security crisis that justifies his invocation of this law, and imposition of the tariff. Whether the action would pass muster in a Nafta panel or at the WTO is another matter. There has never been such a case brought to dispute settlement,” he said.

“I suspect that if Trump acts in this manner, the Mexicans will most certainly retaliate. We are in very dangerous waters here.”

The rift with Mexico comes at a time when there are significant gaps in the US foreign policyestablishment that would otherwise be working to heal the divide.

The nominee for secretary of state, former oil executive Rex Tillerson, has yet to be confirmed and there are still no announced candidates for scores of top posts at the state department.

Meanwhile, key people in the department’s senior management are leaving this week. Most of them are political appointees, who routinely submit their resignations at the beginning of new administration.

A former senior state department official pointed out that what was not routine was that there was no one in line to replace them.

 

1-5-17

Los Angeles Times

Trump's deportation vow spurs California farmers into action

Associated Press

http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-farmers-deportation-20170105-story.html

Days after Donald Trump won the presidential election vowing to deport millions of people in the country illegally and fortify the Mexican border, California farmer Kevin Herman ordered nearly $600,000 in new equipment, cutting the number of workers he'll need starting with the next harvest. 

Herman, who grows figs, persimmons and almonds in the nation's most productive farming state, said Trump's comments pushed him to make the purchase, larger than he’d planned to buy otherwise. 

 “No doubt about it,” Herman said. “I probably wouldn't have spent as much or bought as much machinery as I did.” 

Others in California's farming industry say Trump's tough campaign talk targeting immigrants in the country illegally — including a vast number of farm workers — spurred them into action, too. 

They're calling on congressional representatives to educate the president-elect on the workforce it takes to feed the country, and they're assuring workers they'll protect them. 

San Joaquin Valley farmer Joe Del Bosque recently gathered about 20 year-round employees at a steakhouse in Los Banos for their annual holiday lunch. 

The festivities began on a serious note. The topic of immigration took a bigger part of the conversation this year because of Trump, he said. 

Del Bosque told his crew he'll make sure the new administration knows their vital role in the farming industry. It's a message Del Bosque wants his managers to spread to the 300 seasonal workers needed at the harvest's peak. 

Leticia Alfaro, a food-safety supervisor at the farm, said in an interview that many of her friends who work in the fields don't have proper documentation like she does, and they take Trump's threats seriously. 

“They're terrified by his comments,” Alfaro, 53, said in Spanish. 

They fear being deported and torn from their children who were born here, she said. They wonder whether, after Trump takes office, it will be safe to even make a trip to the grocery store, fearing checkpoints where they'd be pulled over and have to show their documentation. 

Trump's remarks were felt sharply in California, which produces nearly half the country's fruits, vegetables and nuts, valued at $47 billion annually. But his words resonate elsewhere too. 

Texas, Florida and Georgia also have large migrant communities that dominate the home construction, healthcare and food service industries, said David Zonderman, a labor historian at North Carolina State University. 

“California might be ground zero,” he said of immigrant families living in the shadows. “But it's not a unique California issue.” 

The fear stems from Trump's campaign rallies, where he received a rousing response each time he vowed to deport people who are in the country illegally — up to 11 million. That position softened after Trump won the election, when he said he'd start with 3 million who have criminal records. 

Some farmers point to Trump's post-election shift as a sign that his campaign bluster won't become reality. He is, after all, a businessman like them, they say. But others believe this shift underscores the president-elect's unpredictable nature. 

“Our workers are scared,” said Joe Garcia, a farm labor contractor who hires up to 4,000 people each year to pick grapes from Napa to Bakersfield and along the Central Coast. “If they're concerned, we're concerned.” 

Since election day, Garcia's crews throughout the state have been asking what will happen to them when Trump takes office. Farmers also are calling to see if they'll need to pay more to attract people to prune the vines, he said. 

Garcia tells farmers not to panic. “We'll plan around what we have,” he tells them. “That's all we can do.” 

Roughly 325,000 workers in California do the backbreaking jobs that farmers say nobody else will do, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Manuel Cunha Jr., president of the Nisei Farmers League farming association, estimates 85% of California farm workers live in the United States illegally. 

Farmers for years have scrambled to adjust to a shrinking labor pool. 

Mexico's improving economy has slowed the flow of migrant workers. The dangerous border, controlled by drug cartels and human traffickers, keeps away others. 

Herman, the farmer who bought three new almond sweepers, said that in addition to Trump’s election, he was influenced by California's rising minimum wage and a new law giving farm laborers overtime rights that are equal to those for workers in other industries. 

Plus, Herman said, he heard too many workers expressing doubts about whether they would return to California after their holiday trips to Mexico. “It's stories like that that have motivated me to become efficient and upgrade my equipment,” Herman said. 

Tom Nassif, a Trump advisor and president of the powerful Western Growers trade association, said farmers shouldn't fear the president-elect. Trump isn't interested in deporting their workers, he said. 

Nassif said he isn't privy to the details of Trump's immigration policy. He has recommended that Trump allow otherwise law-abiding farmworkers who are in the country illegally to stay if they serve a period of probation, pay taxes, learn English and obey all laws. 

“I think he's looking at people who have committed more serious crimes and start with them first — and rightly so,” said Nassif, picked by Trump's campaign team to serve on an agriculture advisory committee. “I think there's less reason to worry than most people believe there is.” 

 

1-19-17

Bloomberg News

Robot Crop Pickers Limit Loss of Farm Workers to Trump Wall

Alan Bjerga and Mario Parker

Decline of immigrant labor has spurred agricultural automation

Tighter borders may mean more fruit, vegetable farms in Mexico

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-01-20/robot-crop-pickers-limit-loss-of-u-s-farm-workers-to-trump-wall

 

Robotic devices like lettuce thinners and grape-leaf pullers have replaced so many human hands on U.S. farms in recent years that many jobs now held by illegal workers may not exist by the time Donald Trump builds his promised wall.

For many American farmers, the automation push isn’t just about the President-elect’s goal to seal the border with Mexico, the traditional source of cheap migrant labor for the world’s largest agricultural exporter. There just aren’t enough crop pickers around as immigration slows, deportations rise and the prospects of congressional reform look remote.

That’s what prompted Steve Tennnes, a fruit and vegetable grower in Charlotte, Michigan, to buy a $138,000 machine that can collect up to three times as many apples per hour than workers who currently use ladders and buckets, and do so more safely. He will be able to harvest more with fewer workers, and the benefits will expand as he replants his orchard over the next decade to make it easier for the device to operate among the trees.

“The trade-off isn’t, do you want a machine or do you want workers,” Tennes, 39, said by telephone from his 120-acre farm, where he employs 72 workers and produces apples, peaches, blueberries, cherries, pumpkins and sweet corn. “It’s do you want to be in business or do you not want to be in business.”

After three straight years of declining U.S. farm income, sources of labor are becoming increasingly unreliable and costly, especially with illegal immigration likely to face a crackdown in the Trump administration. That’s forcing more growers to invest in machines that reduce human involvement in the production cycle.

More than 300,000 U.S. farm-workers don’t have valid immigration papers, according to a 2009 survey by the Pew Hispanic Center. Other studies suggest the number may be more than 1 million, based on the seasonality of the work and historical trends. That would be a sizable chunk of the more than 2.6 million jobs that the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimated for domestic farms last year.

Bottom of Form

But the supply of immigrant workers has been tightening. According to a Labor Department survey, in 1998, about 22 percent of foreign farm workers were in the U.S. for the first time. By 2013, that figure had plunged to 2 percent. Fewer are arriving illegally, and those who do come don’t want farm work, said Craig Regelbrugge, co-chairman of the Agriculture Coalition for Immigration Reform, a group of employers based in Washington.

The consequences are potentially dire, and could mean higher prices for some foods, according to a 2014 study from the American Farm Bureau Federation. An immigration policy focused on closing the border would shift up to 61 percent of fruit production to other countries, sending jobs to Mexico and other nearby competitors, according the the biggest U.S. farmer group. 

The government should create a new agricultural guest-worker program and streamline an immigration bureaucracy that currently keeps legal workers from entering the U.S., said Kristi Boswell, a Farm Bureau lobbyist.

“We support border security,” Boswell said. “We will be looking for opportunities to use the enforcement pieces to make sure that agriculture has access to a new program.”

In the meantime, the prospect of tougher restrictions is ginning up more interest in machines from farmers who previously shied away from such big investments, according to Tony Koselka, the co-founder of Vision Robotics Corp. in San Diego. The company sells lettuce-thinning machines for as much as $430,000 that reduce the need for hand-picking of the perishable crop.

The vineyards in Lodi, California, owned by Brad Goehring are adding mechanical leaf-pullers to the automated harvesters that already reduced his need for migrant grape-pickers by 95 percent. While his non-harvest workforce remained stable, he now needs just 15 people to pick the grapes, down from 300 before the machines.

 ‘De-Incentivizing Labor’

“The machine shows up to work every day,” said Goehring, 52, a fourth-generation farmer who started mechanizing in 2008. “The government is de-incentivizing ourselves from having labor,” said Goehring, a one-time Republican congressional candidate who said he voted for Trump for his pro-business views.

Machinery manufacturers are likely to keep focusing on reducing costs for robotics and automation, according to a report from Boston-based Lux Research Inc., written by Sara Olson and Laura Lee. For example, Case IH, the agricultural-machinery unit of CNH Industrial NV, last year unveiled a concept for an autonomous tractor.

While the slow march of mechanization is hardly new in the U.S. -- where John Deere’s steel plow revolutionized Midwest farming almost two centuries ago and helped give birth to a global agricultural powerhouse -- many innovations have been tied to stricter immigration policies.

Mechanical tomato-pickers began showing up in California in the late 1960s, after the end of a program that allowed temporary Mexican harvest workers into the U.S. In American dairies, which operate year-round and struggle to find workers under the government’s six-month H-2A farmworker visas, farmers have been shifting to robots that do everything from milking to feeding to cleaning the cows.

Even with all the technological advances, there are many crops that still require human hands, at least for now, said Wallace Huffman, an agricultural economist with Iowa State University in Ames. Machines typically work better for foods grown for processing rather than those sold in grocery stories, because many consumers demand an unblemished appearance, he said.

“The soft fruits, the berries, the strawberries and blueberries are very delicate,” Huffman said. “They can easily be bruised and smashed, even by hand. Trying to move to mechanical picking is difficult.” 

Still, with new devices being developed and Trump’s push to limit illegal immigration, the industry is accelerating its shift to automation.

“Labor shortages are the main driver of the economics of what we’re doing,” said Charles Grinnell, the chief executive officer of Harvest Automation Inc. in Billerica, Massachusetts, which produces robots for $32,000 apiece designed to harvest plants in greenhouses. “It’s hard to know if it’s the election of Trump or something else. But there really is a sense from our customers that, ‘Hey, let’s get this done.’ ”

 

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