PRESCOTT - The president of Arizona’s leading fruit and vegetable farming association says immigration reform that’s handled poorly could place America’s food supply under the control of China and other foreign agriculture powers.
National security has been a driving force behind a movement to beef up border enforcement and to discourage illegal immigrants from staying in the United States. But Tom Nassif turned that argument on its head Tuesday during a lunchtime speech to members of the 86th Arizona Town Hall.
Truly sealing the U.S.-Mexican border would remove up to half of this country’s agriculture workers, Nassif said. Farming companies could respond by increasing their field wages to attract more American workers. But they would have to raise their prices for fruits and vegetables as well, he said.
Customers likely would turn to cheaper produce from other countries such as Mexico and China, Nassif said.
American farms unable to compete eventually would be replaced with more lucrative housing developments and shopping malls, which has happened throughout the East Valley in the past 20 years.
Once those farms are gone, they can’t be replaced, Nassif said. If such losses occur on a wide scale, the United States could become as dependent on other countries for food as it now relies on the Middle East for oil.
Nassif has faced a great deal of criticism this year for making such comments as the leader of Western Growers, which represents most of the fruit and vegetable farmers in Arizona and California.
But the former U.S. ambassador to Morocco found a largely receptive audience among the 150 participants in this week’s Arizona Town Hall. The group of government officials, business leaders and college experts has been meeting since Monday to discuss immigration reform and Arizona’s role in a global economy.