July 2023, Volume 29, Number 3
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed into law in May 2023 a package of bills that make the hiring, transporting, and sheltering of unauthorized foreigners felonies, require hospitals to ask patients about their immigration status, and bar state agencies from recognizing out-of-state licenses issued to unauthorized foreigners.
Employers of 25 or more workers must use E-Verify to check new hires, which led to complaints from farmers and construction employers after the law took effect July 1, 2023. Some unauthorized workers left Florida for midwestern states in summer 2023. Wages are higher and there is more farm work in these states during the summer months, making cause-and-effect hard to determine.
DeSantis blames President Biden for out-of-control migration, and says that Florida spent over $300 million on health care for unauthorized foreigners in 2020-21. Florida has an estimated 800,000 unauthorized foreigners.
H-2A. A bus carrying 38 H-2A workers employed by Overlook Harvesting crossed the highway in April 2023 and crashed head on into a truck, killing one worker and injuring 10. Overlook was certified to fill over 3,000 jobs with H-2A workers in FY22.
The 2016-17 Florida Citrus Harvesters Survey interviewed 210 H-2A and 40 unauthorized workers. The H-2A workers were an average 31 with eight years of schooling, while the unauthorized were an average 41 with six years of schooling. Two-thirds of each group were employed by FLCs and all were paid piece-rate wages, but H-2A workers earned 18 to 25 percent more than unauthorized workers, suggesting higher productivity.
Citrus. Florida’s production of the seeded Valencia oranges used to make juice is declining due to citrus greening, while California’s production of non-Valencia oranges such as navels is increasing. Florida orange production peaked at 240 million boxes or 11 million tons in 2003-04, and was 16 million boxes or 725,000 tons in 2022-23. Almost two-thirds of the oranges used to make US orange juice are imported, and the import share of orange juice is likely to rise as more Florida juice processors close.
The bright spot in citrus is tangerines, mandarins, and tangelos, whose production is rising toward a million tons a year, with almost 90 percent in California.
The US imports almost 40 million boxes of fresh citrus a year, half from Mexico, and exports 10 million boxes. Brazil produces a third of the world’s oranges, China a sixth, and the EU an eighth; the US accounts for five percent of world orange production.
Tomatoes. The Florida mature-green tomato industry continues to shrink, prompting growers to ask that the 2019 Tomato Suspension Agreement be ended and duties imposed on Mexican tomato imports. Florida growers regularly accuse Mexican growers of “dumping” their tomatoes in the US at low prices; five agreements since 1996 allowed Mexican tomatoes that that sold in the US above a reference price to be imported.
Growers say that Mexico provided 20 percent of US tomatoes in 1994, and almost 70 percent in 2023. Mexican growers say that they produce the vine-ripened tomatoes US consumers prefer under protected structures, while US growers refuse to innovate.
Southern Florida received record rains in April 2023, which is normally a dry month.
Georgia. Some 24 people were charged with trafficking H-2A workers in South Georgia under Operation Blooming Onion in 2021 (USA v. Patricio et al). Over 100 H-2A workers received a deferred action status that allows them to remain and work in the US so that they can testify against the traffickers.
In April 2023, a class-action lawsuit was filed against brothers Enrique and Jose Duque and blueberry grower MBR Farms for allegedly enslaving 200 H-2A workers from San Luis Potosi in 2020 and 2021. The H-2A workers said they paid $1,000 each for their jobs, were housed in substandard quarters, and were “rented out” to other employers, and are seeking T-visas that would allow them to settle in the US in exchange for their testimony.
Southeastern states including Georgia had a very small peach crop in 2023 due to freezes in late March. California produced 475,000 tons of peaches in 2022, followed by SC with 67,000 tons and GA with 25,000 tons.
Mississippi. DOL in June 2023 announced that MS farm employers agreed to pay over $505,000 in back wages to 161 workers and an additional $340,000 in CMPs for giving preferential treatment to H-2A over US workers and violating H-2A regulations. Operation Delta Force investigated complaints by US Black workers who alleged that white H-2A workers from South Africa received preferential treatment.