East End farmers express concern over immigrant labor

Some East End farmers say they are concerned that they don't have enough laborers as the growing season begins. Some East End farmers say they are concerned that they don't have enough laborers as the growing season begins.
RIVERHEAD -

Some East End farmers say they are concerned that they don't have enough laborers as the growing season begins.

Farmers say about 75 percent of their workers are immigrants, and they make sure they have working papers and documents before being hired.

Bayron Perez for the past six years has lived and worked at Wickham's Fruit Farm in Cutchogue from spring through fall. He goes back to his native Guatemala for the winter. Perez says the money earned in the states is much better than anything he could make in his home country.

The workers usually live on Long Island all year. Others get special H-2A visas that allow them to live on Long Island for six to eight months before they have to go back to their own country.

Farmer Tom Wickham says that although he pays for the workers' transportation and housing, it's the best way to ensure a reliable, documented workforce.

However, other farmers say the current program is so expensive and burdened with red tape that it does not work smoothly. In addition, they say that the anti-immigration sentiment has made it harder for them to find labor.

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin, who represents eastern Suffolk, says he is working with the Department of Labor in an effort to streamline the guest worker visa program.

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