``It's the worst year for immigration that we've ever had,'' said Robin Root, whose family farm lost 17 of the 60 seasonal workers it takes on during its peak harvest from July through September.
The mostly Mexican workers, hired to pick cucumbers, cabbage and pumpkins, were found to have false papers in two raids in May and August by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, Root said in Monday’s Daily News of Batavia.
More than half of all farm workers in the country are undocumented immigrants, according to U.S. Department of Labor statistics. Last year, amid heightened immigration enforcement, California's seasonal migration was marked by spot worker shortages, and some fruit was left to rot in the fields.
Western New York has a reputation in farmworker circles as being aggressive in enforcing immigration laws, said Dale Stein, president of the Genesee County Farm Bureau.
Stein visited Washington, D.C., last week with seven other agricultural officials from western New York to push for a bill for agricultural workers. He's hoping Congress will support a plan to allow 1.5 million guest workers to work on American farms.
While many core groups of farmworkers have returned to the region this year, farms haven't had much luck convincing newcomers to come for about two months or so during the peak season, Stein said.
``They don't want to come here—it’s too risky,'' he said.
Many farmers just want to get through the season without scrambling to fill a void from lost help.
``We're on pins and needles,'' said Peter Gregg, spokesman for New York Farm Bureau. ``The harvest could be disrupted at any time. It's iffy. A raid is always the underlying worry.''