The United States faces two stark choices: grow and control U.S. food security within our borders or import from abroad often with zero or little environmental oversight.
In 2022 the United States fell backwards on food exports for the first time – now importing more food for the American consumer than exporting food. America’s family farms, small and large, provide for here and abroad, but America’s agriculture-based economy is being threatened.
The Russia-Ukraine war has drawn a harsh reminder that in a globalized food economy we’re vulnerable. Compromising America’s food supply has irreversible, long-term U.S. national and regional security implications when we can’t guarantee stable food supply and agriculture jobs.
Stemming from the nation’s capital, federal staffing shortages at the state department began during COVID-19. Permanent hiring freezes for staff were replaced by contractors to process foreign worker visas. A lack of continuous permanent staff, contractor training turnover coupled with 50,000 more worker visas in 2022 compromised the initial structural integrity in our food supply.
In Washington, the 118th United States Congress, politically divided, is tasked with the seismic challenge to re-balance U.S. imports/ exports while protecting and preserving agriculture jobs, half of which is done by Mexicanos and 2nd generation Mexican-Americans. Key is the other half of performance: Mexicanos (90%), Central Americans (5%), and the remaining overseas (5%).
Thus U.S. food security is directly dependent on the H-2A program, a federal, nonimmigrant visa program that allows agricultural employers to hire foreign workers for tough-to-fill seasonal jobs which augment full timers to seed, plant, prune, thin, and harvest crops.
On the Mexican side, the U.S. consulates re-shifted those northern state consulates which had generational visa processing application experience, keeping Monterrey intact, but opening Guadalajara and Mexico City to process guest worker visas. January and February arrivals have already been delayed due to consulate re-locations, re-staffing and re-training challenges which is resulting in mounting economic losses to American farms, and for Mexican workers for missed days who re-invest back in their home country.
Failure for elected leaders to prioritize these regional security challenges have grave long-term strategic implications, including:
- American purchasing strength and power. The U.S. dollar is fiat currency that is not backed by a commodity such as gold or silver. As the United States sells less, we lose GDP power as it’s tied directly to our output. As imports flood American grocery stands from goods and services globally, the U.S. GDP goes down while those country’s abroad become more valuable.
- Decrease in American family farms valuations which fast tracks climate change as hedge funds buy farmable land and convert to pavement for urban sprawls. Farms’ valuations are based on a calculation that considers land value, coupled with sales, profits and net margins. When a family farm produces and sells less, when mother nature is compressed due to labor shortage farm valuations decrease. Small farms already reeling from COVID-19 policies nationally are being targeted by an endless barrage of hedge funds and large multinational corporations.
The Farmworker Modernization Act (FWMA), a bipartisan legislation that died sine die at the end of 2022, spearheaded by Congressman Newhouse (R-WA) provides undocumented farmworkers and their family members that have been in country for years with a pathway to citizenship, makes investments in technology for better government oversight, closes human trafficking loopholes as highlighted in USA v. Patricio, and imposes mandatory e-verification in agriculture.
This legislation while not perfect falls short of 2023 economic losses to American family farms who many will fail to start on time.
To no one’s surprise Mexicans have been at the center of the American agriculture economy since before the 1942 Bracero Program, and today’s Mexican farm workers underpin the nation’s agriculture labor shortage providing stability. While the open border, illegal immigration and food security should be legislatively considered separately, they each intersect and touch on every American community, tie the United States back to Mexico’s economy and highlight how important it is to coordinate, integrate and synchronize regional security.
Securing the U.S. border, preserving food sovereignty, expanding H-2A visas, closing the human trafficking loophole, providing continued economic opportunities for foreign workers, and ensuring American consumer food safety requires the Progressive and Freedom Caucus to prioritize American food sovereignty.
U.S. Food Security depends on it.
David Molina is a former Army Captain and founder of veterans nonprofit Operation Code. He is a native of Skagit County, Washington and serves as government affairs counselor for Fuerza, a boutique H-2A government compliance firm in support of American family farms, U.S. food security, and economic opportunities for foreign workers.