Washington--President Donald Trump says he'll keep his tough immigration policy from hurting the U.S. farms and its large migrant workforce, according to farmers who recently met with him.
Trump said he did not want to create labor problems for farmers and would look at programs that would allow temporary agricultural workers on legal visas.
"He assured us we would have plenty of access to workers," said Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, one of 14 participants at last months meeting with Trump and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue.
During a farm roundtable farmers brought up labor and immigration and they told Trump they can't cannot find Americans willing to do farm jobs and that finding workers has reached a crisis point.
American farmers say they're worried about stricter immigration enforcement and frustrated with the H-2A visa program. That Visa program is the one legal way to bring in temporary seasonal agricultural workers into the US right now.
The US Department of Labor says that at least half of all U.S. crop workers are in the country illegally and more than two-thirds are foreign born.
Trump expressed a willingness to help out and directed Secretary Perdue to look into the issues and come back with recommendations.
While other issues such as trade, infrastructure and technology were also discussed, Ag leaders meeting with Trump were more positive after the foreign labor discussion, "than about anything else we talked about," said Bill Northey, a farmer and Iowa's secretary of agriculture.
But there's still too much red tape according to farmers, for instance Employers who import workers with H-2A visas must provide a plane ticket to and from the United States as well as a place to live and food for workers. Wage minimums are set by the government and often higher than local wages.
Ag leaders said that farmers are worried about stepped up enforcement on the immigrant workforce, but Trump assured them that his administration was focused on deporting criminals, not farmworkers.
The farmers at the meeting said they stressed to the president the need for both short-term and permanent workers. They said there should be a program to help long-time farmworkers without criminal records, but who are in the country illegally, to become legal residents.
Last Tuesday, Democrats in the House and Senate said they would introduce a bill to give farmworkers who have worked illegally in the country for two consecutive years a "blue card" to protect them from deportation.