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Immigration Worries Have WNY Farmers Cutting Back on Crops; Deportation Debate Rages

The president of the Niagara County Farm bureau tells WBEN he isn't harvesting as many cherries this year, and as immigration reforms stall in Congress with a flood of children at our southern border (Pictured above at a processing center) , Jim Bittner says several other farmers along the Lake Ontario shore are opting for more crops that can be harvested by machine, rather than with the use of more migrants.

COMPLETE COVERAGE:  One Niagara County Fruit Farmer's View | HEAR John & Susan With Immigration Attorney Matthew Kolken | SHARE YOUR COMMENTS

(WBEN/AP) A top Obama administration official says no one, not even children trying to escape violent countries, can illegally enter the United States without eventually facing deportation proceedings.

But Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson basically acknowledged Sunday that such proceedings might be long delayed, and he said that coping with floods of unaccompanied minors crossing the border is a legal and humanitarian dilemma for the United States.

AP Photo"Our border is not open to illegal migration, and we are taking a number of steps to address it, including turning people around faster," Johnson told NBC's "Meet the Press." At the same time, he said, the administration is "looking at ways to create additional options for dealing with the children in particular, consistent with our laws and our values."

Repeatedly pressed to say whether thousands of Central American children will be deported promptly, Johnson said, "We need to find more efficient, effective ways to turn this tide around generally, and we've already begun to do that."

The immigration debate is hitting home along the Lake Ontario shore, where fruit farmers, citing concerns over the availability of migrant labor, have begun to cut back on some of the crops they harvest.

"On our farm, we have cut back on half our sweet cherries," says Jim Bittner of Bittner- Singer Orchards in Appleton.

"Sweet cherries are a high labor product to grow.  And we've just decided that we are going to do with the people we have, work with the people we have on the farm currently," Bittner, president of the Niagara County Farm Bureau says.

In any other year, Bittner says by now he would have approximately 35 migrant workers in the orchards. Today he has only 18.

Farm organizations - and individual farmers like Bittner-- have been pressing for a guest worker visa program as part of the much larger immigration reform debate.  Without it, Bittner says most of his colleagues aren't taking any chances.

"Labor remains the top concern of New York farmers. The majority of New York's fruit and vegetable farms, and increasingly dairy farms, depend on immigrant seasonal and year-round labor. These employees are critical to the success of family farms in New York State," The New York Farm Bureau wrote in March when it issued it's list of legislative priorities for the year.

"Reform should allow for current, trained workers to stay on farms and maintain a consistent workforce ," the bureau policy statement says.

Bittner says while the sudden influx of children from the southern border is not directly affecting farms here, it is making it even less likely that immigration reform will be adopted in time to help ensure the steady flow of workers this season.

"The farmers are more frustrated than ever that there will be no immigration reform. The farmers are finally working under the new paradigm of ' how can we work with what we've got.' So most  farmers are looking at their crops, and looking at what's high labor, what's the most profitable thing they grow, what's the least profitable thing they grow. And I think you'll find on a majority of farms in Western New York, they have actually cut back on (migrant) labor."

Buffalo's Early News In Studio In-Depth: 
Immigration Attorney Matthew Kolken

A conversation in four parts
with WBEN's John Zach & Susan Rose
On The Local Impacts
The Process is "a mess"
Enough Blame For All

Final Thoughts

More than 50,000 unaccompanied minors have been caught on the U.S.-Mexico border this year. Most are from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, where spikes in violence and poverty are prompting parents to send their children on difficult and dangerous journeys north.

Their numbers have overwhelmed federal agencies. When 140 would-be immigrants - mostly mothers with children - were flown to southern California to ease an overcrowded Texas facility, angry residents of Murrieta, California, greeted the bus as it pulled into town, complaining that they were being saddled with more than their share.

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"This is a failure of diplomacy. It is a failure of leadership from the administration," said Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who sought the 2012 GOP presidential nomination.

Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, said the administration "is one step behind" a major dilemma that was foreseeable. The number of children coming from Central America without adults has been rising dramatically for several years.

A George W. Bush-era law to address human trafficking prevents the government from returning these children to their home countries without taking them into custody and eventually through a deportation hearing. Minors from Mexico and Canada, by contrast, can be sent back across the border more easily. The administration says it wants more flexibility under the law.

Johnson said the administration has dramatically sped up the processing of adults who enter the country illegally, and it is opening more detention facilities. He acknowledged that the unaccompanied children from Central America, some 9,700 taken into custody in May alone, pose the most vexing problem.

AP Photo
A Guatemalan child deported from the United State poses for photo in front of a map of the Guatemala City at an immigration shelter in Guatemala City
AP Photo
A toddler sits on the floor with other detainees at a U.S. Customs and Border Protection processing facility, in Brownsville,Texas, also pictured below

(AP Photos)

Unaccompanied Central American children generally are being released to relatives already in the United States. Mothers with their children often are released with a notice to appear later in immigration court.

Meanwhile, word of seemingly successful border crossings reaches their home countries, encouraging others to try.

Johnson said the U.S. government is trying to send the message that all people who enter the country illegally will face deportation proceedings eventually. In Central America, he said, "the criminal smuggling organizations are putting out a lot of disinformation about supposed free passes into this country" that will expire soon. "We're cracking down on the smuggling organizations by surging law enforcement resources," Johnson said.

Johnson and others are warning of the dangers that immigrants, and especially children, face when the try to reach the United States on their own. Johnson is scheduled to meet with Guatemalan officials later this week.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said children entering the country illegally must be sent home.

If not, Graham said, "you're going to incentivize people throughout that part of the world to keep sending their children here."

Graham said foreign aid should be cut off to countries that don't do more to discourage illegal immigration to the United States.

Perry appeared on ABC's "This Week"; Cuellar was on CNN's "State of the Union"; Graham was on CBS' "Face the Nation."

07/07/2014 6:25AM
Child migrant crisis has legal, political hurdles
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