Immigration is a complex issue that can impact almost every facet of an immigrant’s life. For farm worker communities, immigration status varies greatly, but many in the community are undocumented. Being undocumented or having family members who are undocumented brings a plethora of problems, including being more vulnerable to exploitation. Additionally, there is currently no reasonable path to citizenship for undocumented farm workers. (Sign up for “Farm Workers & Immigration Webinar” to learn more.)

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The path to obtaining a green card in the U.S. is very complex and arduous, with many lacking an authorized way to come here. The authorized process can take years or even decades, depending on the immigration pathway. The vast majority of authorized immigration to the U.S. is through a family visa. There are also employment-based visas and diversity-based visas. Additionally, people can immigrate to the U.S. through humanitarian programs or pathways. It is legal for any alien who is physically present in the U.S. to seek asylum whether or not they arrived at a designated port of entry within one year of arriving in the U.S. The majority of migrants arriving at our southern borders are seeking asylum. Learn more about seeking asylum in the U.S.

For those who think it is easy to immigrate to the U.S. the “right way,” this graphic demonstrates the confusing path to legal immigration. It highlights why so many cross our borders without documentation or overstay visas. While there has been a significant increase of migrants at the U.S. border, that is not the only route for unauthorized immigrants to enter the U.S. From 2007 to 2017, the undocumented immigrant population grew more through visa overstays than unauthorized border crossings. Learn more about shifting trends in immigration.

Additional Facts: 

  • To seek asylum, a person has to prove they are seeking protection because they have suffered persecution or fear that they will suffer persecution due to their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular group or political opinion.
  • From WOLA: For fiscal year 2023 in U.S. immigration courts, 49 percent of asylum cases that reached a decision resulted in grants of asylum or other protection. 31,459 people between October and August have avoided death, torture, or severe harm because of existing asylum laws and procedures. 
  • In the last couple of years, there has been a rise in the number of migrants at the U.S. southern border because many countries are experiencing socio economic crises, authoritarian governments, and/or extreme violence. For example, one in four Venezuelans have fled the country since 2015. The number of Chinese migrants at U.S. southern borders is increasing due to people wanting to escape China’s increasingly repressive political climate and sluggish economy.
  • Under a federal law passed in 1996, asylum seekers are required to wait at least half a year after filing an asylum petition before being able to obtain authorization to work.

For decades, people have debated whether or not immigration helps or hurts the U.S. economy. Bottomline, immigration is good for the economy. Here are some facts that demonstrate the positive fiscal impact of immigrants (as well as some ways to support immigrant workers). 

  • While farm workers run the gamut of being U.S. citizens, legal permanent residents, seasonal laborers on special guest worker visas, or undocumented workers, most are affected by immigration status. The majority of farm workers–70%, according to the most recent National Agricultural Workers Survey– are foreign-born. Immigrants also make up 21% of workers in the U.S. food supply chain. 
  • Immigrants can help reduce deficits. The Cato Institute recently found that all immigrants individually will pay about $267,000 more in local, state and federal taxes than they will consume in benefits over the next 30 years. Learn more about the fiscal impact of immigration in the U.S.
  • According to the Economic Policy Institute, the share of prime-age U.S.-born individuals with a job is at its highest rate in more than two decades, which means immigrants are not stealing jobs from U.S. citizens.
  • There is minimal competition for essential jobs between immigrant groups and native-borns who lack a high school diploma, and evidence suggests that the impact of immigrants on these wages is relatively small and contained.
  • H.R.1325 – Asylum Seeker Work Authorization Act of 2023 (and other similar policies), would allow asylum seekers to more quickly join the U.S. workforce by reducing the current 180-day waiting period for a work permit to 30 days.  

Download Combating Myths About Immigrants or Combatir los mitos de la inmigración to learn more. We encourage you to use these facts to help change the conversation around immigration in your communities.

The majority agree that immigration is good for our society. In the most recent Gallup Poll, 68% think immigration is a good thing for the U.S. Immigration is foundational to the country, where we  proudly claim to be a melting pot/salad bowl of cultures. And successful integration of immigrants into society isn’t just a thing of the past. According to the Penn Wharton Budget Model, immigration leads to more innovation, a better educated workforce, greater occupational specialization, better matching of skills with jobs, and higher overall economic productivity. 

Below are additional facts related to immigrants and society. 

  • According to a 2023 Gallup poll, 47% think immigrants make crime worse in the U.S. However, studies consistently find that immigration and crime are either negatively related or not related at all. Check out this podcast episode from Christian Science Monitor about the myth of the dangerous immigrant with guest speaker Charis Kubrin, a criminology professor at the University of California who specializes in immigration and crime. Read even more about how immigration and crime do not go hand in hand.
  • Immigrants are not more likely to commit crimes than those born in the United States. According to research out of Stanford University, immigrants are 30 percent less likely to be incarcerated than are U.S.-born individuals who are white. A study from the Department of Justice found that relative to undocumented immigrants, U.S.-born citizens are over 2 times more likely to be arrested for violent crimes, 2.5 times more likely to be arrested for drug crimes, and over 4 times more likely to be arrested for property crimes.
  • A study published in the American Journal of Agricultural Economics found that “labor intensive agricultural activity
    is not associated with increased violent or property crimes and thus, concerns to the contrary are largely unwarranted.”
  • Immigrants are categorized into “qualified” and “not qualified” for welfare and government benefits; undocumented immigrants are considered “not qualified” for these programs. However, some states have enacted health programs and other benefits regardless of a person’s status. 
  • Immigration plays a key role in growing or sustaining the U.S. population and way of life. Without more immigrants, the economy and social programs could suffer in the coming decades.

Download Combating Myths About Immigrants or Combatir los mitos de la inmigración to learn more. We encourage you to use these facts to help change the conversation around immigration in your communities.

Immigration can literally divide families, but the gravity of that divide is often enforced by U.S. policies. Family separation can happen at the border due to “zero tolerance” policies, such as criminally prosecuting parents and separating them from their children as we saw in the U.S. in 2018. At least 5,000 families were forcibly separated during the administration of Donald Trump, and according to a NY Mag article from February 2024, as many as 2,000 still haven’t been reunited.

Many families are also separated because undocumented immigrants cannot risk crossing a port of entry or border again to see their families. Here one immigrant farm worker shares their experience about why they chose to immigrate to the U.S. and what that means to his family:

“I have been working for over six years on a farm here in the state of Vermont. I believe one of the reasons I emigrated to the United States is the need we have in Mexico, the lack of jobs, the lack of opportunities in Mexico—there simply aren’t any. Like me, many immigrated to this country seeking a better dream, seeking a better life, and, above all, to support those who stayed in Mexico. I have other siblings, I have a family; one of my goals is to support them because I know the situation in Mexico is very difficult.

In my case, it’s been more than six years since I’ve seen my dad, my little brothers, and my mom. I could go to Mexico to see my little brothers, greet them. It’s something that affects me, that I can’t do that. I have to suppress those feelings.” -Emilio 

For Emilio and many others, although they desperately want to see their families, they cannot risk not being able to re-enter the country and no longer being able to work to support themselves and their families. Our agricultural system relies on Emilio and countless other farm workers just like him. Congress has the power to create just and humane immigration policies so undocumented workers who have proven themselves essential to our economy and society can become residents (and eventually citizens) with full rights.

Farm workers have numerous risk factors for poor mental health, including economic hardship, food insecurity, inadequate housing, and extreme working conditions. Sadly, the cultural isolation, fear of deportation, and family separation associated with immigrating means many undocumented immigrants have an even greater risk of suffering from mental health issues. Due to fear of going to health facilities where they might be reported and limited culturally-appropriate health resources, immigrant farm workers often lack the mental health services they need and deserve. 

Take action by advocating for communities nationwide to provide greater access to culturally appropriate mental health services, including services for migratory and seasonal farm workers. Learn more by exploring Justice for Migrant Women’s Healing Voices Project.

NFWM has focused on Farm Workers and Immigration, recognizing that the majority of farm workers are Hispanic and cross our border to the South, but we also realize that there are Black Farm Workers who have a similarly challenging experience with immigration in the US. For this we rely on the Black Alliance for Immigrant Justice and recommend this resource.

For more information on immigrant issues through a faith-perspective, we recommend exploring Interfaith Immigration Coalition’s resources and educational materials. 

To read first-hand accounts from dairy workers and farmers about the dependence of immigrant labor on the U.S. agricultural industry, read the book Milked: How an American Crisis Brought Together Midwestern Dairy Farmers and Mexican Workers.” 

Use American Immigration Council’s interactive map to get comprehensive state and local immigration data.

To learn more about cross-border solutions and advocating for more just societies in the Americas, please visit WOLA.