You are here

How a “Day Without Immigrants” Affects the Agriculture Community

On Thursday, thousands of immigrants from across the country participated in “Day Without Immigrants” events. Despite the .5 million immigrants that work in farming, there weren’t many reported protests specific to agriculture.

The organized protests were in response to President Trump’s immigration policies and executive orders. As part of the protest, immigrants refused to work and business owners, in an act of solidarity, closed down shops and restaurants from Atlanta to Detroit to Palm Springs.

That included three restaurants owned by acclaimed chef Silvana Salcido Esparza in Phoenix, Arizona.

“You know what, my restaurants don’t function without immigrants. That starts in the field, people who pick our food, the processing plants, the slaughterhouse, I could go on,” she said.

Number of Immigrants Working on Farms

There are more than 26 million foreign-born people in the U.S. labor force, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ data from 2015. That’s about 17% of the total workforce. From that 26 million, 31% work in management, professional, and related occupations; 23% work in the service industry; 17% are employed in sales or office roles; 15% make a living through production, transportation, and material moving; and the last 14% are employed in natural resources, construction, maintenance, or farming.

Digging into the number of immigrants working specifically in farming, the USDA ERS reports that of the 1 million hired farmworkers, 42% are foreign born. Looking specifically at farm operators, 100,000 are of Spanish, Hispanic, or Latino origin, according to the 2012 USDA census data. (The census data does not differentiate between foreign-born or U.S. citizens.) This puts a rough estimate of immigrants working on farms at 500,000.

Protests for “Day Without Immigrants”

Protesters in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, were a bit early to the “Day Without Immigrants” events. An advocacy group called Voces de la Frontera organized a rally on Monday, which shut down one of Abbyland Food’s plants as well as slowed down production at other factories, according to a report from USA Today.

While the company itself has not taken a political stance on immigration, Abbyland allowed employees to attend the rally. “We do believe in the American right to participate in such things,” Ericka Rossani, Abbyland, told USA Today. Abbyland has 1,000 employees working in eight divisions.

On Thursday, 30 farm workers that normally go to the Border Farm Workers Center did not show up, said Carlos Marentes, the center’s director. The employment center in El Paso, Texas, connects farm workers with ag contractors.

“At our monthly assembly last week, workers said they would not go to work today to join the cause,” said Carlos Marentes, the center’s director, in an interview with USA Today. It is a slow time in farming, so “we may do a boycott” later during chile harvest, added Marentes, when 5,000 workers are needed.

Farmers also found other ways to highlight the importance of immigrants to farming. Wisconsin dairy farmer and advocate Carrie Mess added immigrant stories to her Humans of Agriculture series on her blog. The stories feature immigrants that work in the dairy business.

If you know of other instances where protests or events were held specifically for immigrants working in agriculture, please email Jessie.Scott@meredith.com.

Read more about