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Farmers Fear Immigration Crackdown could Devastate California Agriculture

SUTTER COUNTY -- During the last peach harvest in Sutter County, growers were already scrambling to get pickers as older workers retired and their children got jobs outside of farming.

"A couple of years ago it was very easy to find workers from out of countries, right now it's very hard," said Haron Jhhooti of Jovan Orchards.

Growers now fear that an immigration crackdown without reforms that address farm labor would be devastating.

"The labor really is the backbone to our economy," said Jaimie Johansson.

Johansson is an olive grower and president of the 40,000-member Calfornia Farm Bureau Federation. He said any discussion of relief for immigrants under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program must include farm workers who are in the country illegally.

"Who actually have contributed to not only our farms, but contributed to their communities over generations. How we get them the proper papers and the proper documentation to work in this country," Johansson said.

The House bill favored by conservative immigration die-hards wants a nationwide cap of 450,000 agricultural workers.

"California could use that all up in just one harvest season," Johansson said.

Let alone what's required to support farms year round.

The proposal also requires farm workers to go back to their home country for up to 45 days to get work get United States work visas.

"It's unrealistic to think they're going to abandon their families here in California, go back to Mexico, going back to a country they no longer have ties to," Johansson told FOX40.

Johansson said many growers have developed close relationships with their workers after seeing them climb the economic ladder and provide for their families.

While hard line immigration reformers want to move the House bill forward, so far it's been waylaid by heavy opposition coming from California farmers.

California's agricultural economy is the largest in the country and it's unlikely that any kind of immigration reform will get very far without first addressing the concerns of California growers.