How Trump’s immigration crackdown could raise food prices for Canadians

A worker picks strawberries in Plant City, Fla. in March of 2014. GETTY IMAGES

Mass deportations of undocumented workers from the United States could make fruits and vegetables unaffordable — or unobtainable — for Canadians, a food expert warns.

On the campaign trail, president-elect Donald Trump promised to create a deportation task force that would target up to five million people who had overstayed their visas, or had criminal records. Others would be forced to leave the U.S. and reapply for admission.

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He has also said he would “immediately terminate” amnesties that outgoing President Barack Obama offered to undocumented immigrants.

As sweeping as that would be, it was a softening of an earlier promise to deport all 11 million people now living in the U.S. without status.

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Dalhousie University business professor Sylvain Charlebois sees a direct connection between Trump’s deportation plans and the produce aisles of Canadian supermarkets.

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“There are millions of illegal workers supporting agriculture in America right now,” he points out.

Without armies of farm workers, many undocumented, produce can’t be tended, picked and shipped — at least at prices that consumers are used to paying.

In 2014, Canada imported $2.7 billion worth of produce from California alone — more is shipped to this country from Texas, Florida and other southern and southwestern states.

Much of the hard, tedious work involved is done by illegal immigrants. If they didn’t do it, it’s not clear that anyone else would. (As things are, American farmers complain of labour shortages.)

“It’s hard labour, and most Canadians don’t want to do that job, or Americans, either.”

“The reason farmers have to hire all these people is that nobody else wants to do the job.”

The prices of fruits and vegetables are rising. Reid Fiest explains why.

In a worst-case scenario, unpicked produce will be left to rot in the fields, he warns.

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“You need the people in the fields to make sure that all the food is collected. If you miss the harvest, you end up wasting a lot. It will push prices upwards.”

If it’s seriously pursued, Trump’s immigration plan would meet resistance from farm interests in Congress, leaving its final shape, and its practical effects, in doubt.

A 2014 study from the U.S. Farm Bureau predicted that a widespread immigration crackdown would cause U.S. fruit production to fall by up to 60 per cent. In 2011, a state-level immigration enforcement push in Georgia hobbled that state’s production of vegetables, fruit and berries.