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South Carolina Farmer Discusses Use of Immigrant Workers

The third conversation in a series on immigration in the United States features an interview with Chalmers Carr, a South Carolina peach farmer.

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  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Tonight, a voice on the role of the employer in the immigration debate. Titan Peach Farms is in Ridge Springs, South Carolina. It’s the state’s largest commercial peach operation and relies heavily on the work of migrant laborers. Titan’s owner and CEO is Chalmers Carr. He joins us from now Columbia.

    Welcome, Mr. Carr.

  • CHALMERS CARR, South Carolina Peach Farmer:

    Good to see you, Ray.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Now, in the debates over illegal immigration to the United States, agriculture is often spoken of as one of the most intense users of illegal labor in this country. Is that a fair comment?

  • CHALMERS CARR:

    That is a fair comment. We’re one of the largest proportionally using undocumented workers, but we’re not the largest segment using them. But percentage-wise of our work base, that is a fair comment.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Maybe we can get a feel for the size of your business, the acreage, the crop, how many people you employ?

  • CHALMERS CARR:

    My operation is about 2,600 acres of peaches and about another couple of hundred acres of fruits and vegetables, as well. I employ up to 330 seasonal workers. We have about 360 full-time or seasonal and full-time workers altogether.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Can a farmer still manage if he plays all the applicable payroll taxes, the federal minimum wage, all the applicable insurances and so on, and only use legal residents of the United States in the workforce?

  • CHALMERS CARR:

    We’re already doing that, Ray. We are part of the H-2A program, and all of our foreign migrant workers are legally visa’d, permitted to come into the country with passports and visas.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    And has that worked out for you?

  • CHALMERS CARR:

    That has worked out for us, but it has proven to be very expensive and very cumbersome to use. That’s the reason why a lot of farmers across the country do not use this program. And something that we’re hoping to see will come out of this debate in Washington is we’re hoping to get some true reforms to these guest-worker programs that will allow employers to use legal workers and not force them to use underground workers, so to speak.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Cumbersome in what way?

  • CHALMERS CARR:

    It’s very cumbersome in paperwork, getting the workers to the consulates. In the last couple of years since 9/11, going through the interview process in the consulates in Mexico has proven to be very difficult. They now have to interview every worker coming into the country.

    So if you can imagine, between the business and agriculture community, we’re probably right now processing about 110,000 to 150,000 visas, and those are low-tech visas, low-skilled visas. That does not include the H-1A visas, which are the high-skilled visas.

    And so there’s extreme delays right now. And the paperwork on our end as a producer, we have to actually hire an outside source to do our paperwork. It’s just very cumbersome to get this paperwork through the Department of Labor, through everybody else now, the State Department, to get these workers into the country.

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