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By Eric Johnson
Published May 15, 2023

A farmworker takes a break from picking raspberries inside a hoop-house in the Salinas Valley. A farmworker takes a break from picking raspberries inside a hoop-house in the Salinas Valley. Image credit: Photo by David A Litman, Shutterstock

California Agriculture & Immigration

As the decades-long immigration crisis makes headlines once again, with tens of thousands of desperate people amassing at our southern border, I want to spend a few minutes considering one maddening statistic.

There’s a disturbing fact buried in Jon Vankin’s explainer about California’s agriculture industry, which is truly one of the Golden State’s great gifts to the nation and the world: Fully 75 percent of the people who work in our most valuable industry (measured in gross revenue) are undocumented immigrants.

Let’s put that fact in context. 

We have known that our immigration system is out of alignment with our economic needs and our values for a long time. And we have known what to do. 

In his 2007 State of the Union Address, President George W. Bush called for comprehensive reform of our immigration laws. “We should establish a legal and orderly path for foreign workers to enter our country to work on a temporary basis,” he said. “As a result, they won’t have to try to sneak in, and that will leave Border Agents free to chase down drug smugglers and criminals and terrorists.”

That idea still makes sense, and it’s at the heart of President Joe Biden’s reform proposal. When the House of Representatives last week passed a doomed bill with no such provision, it was opposed by every Democrat and two Republicans. One of those was Rep. John Duarte of Merced, who witnesses the pain caused by the federal government’s failure on this topic in his district.

Duarte’s opposition to the punitive bill, authored and carried by Texas congressmembers, was that it is not a good-faith effort to solve anything, because his colleagues chose ideological posturning over legitimate problem-solving. He said he would have preferred a bill that could “bring some Democratic support and have a chance in the Senate.”

There is still hope that this will be the year that the US Congress will get something done. As the stories below show, the situation’s history is long and the stakes are high.

Doing the Work that Feeds the Nation

California’s ag industry does not have the glitz of Hollywood or Silicon Valley, but it feeds the nation. And as has been the case since the Gold Rush, much of the value is created by immigrants.

How California Feeds the Country

They help feed the whole country, but life for California’s farm workers remains a struggle.
California stands as America’s agricultural powerhouse, growing half of its fruits and vegetables. Here’s how California farming has shaped the state, from the early missions to today’s “factories in the field.”

California’s History of Immigration: How Immigrants Built the State

Immigrants continue to shape the face of California today.
From long before it became a state, to the present day, immigration has shaped California—but they have often been treated poorly. Here’s how immigrants helped build California, through the state’s mixed history with immigration.

Farming Amidst Climate Crisis

California farmers are adapting to drier, hotter weather by turning to crops not seen here before. 

Mangoes and Agave in the Central Valley?

Gary Gragg examines buds on one of the mango plants he's growing in the Sacramento Valley.
The future of farming in California is changing as the planet warms, altering the rain and heat patterns that guide which crops are grown where. “We’re adjusting for survival,” one grower said.

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(05/13/2023) → Citrus Heights Sentinel

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(05/12/2023) → Read the full Elk Grove Citizen report

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(05/12/2023) → Read the full The Sacramento Bee report

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(05/12/2023) → Read the full The Sacramento Bee report

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(05/10/2023) → Read the full The Sacramento Bee report

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(05/10/2023) → Read the full The Galt Herald report

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(05/11/2023) → Read the full The Sacramento Bee report