As its workers stream to the U.S., Mexico runs short of farmhands

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For decades, Mexicans crossed the border to pick Americans’ lettuce, grapes, and strawberries. Mexico had a seemingly inexhaustible supply of farmhands — tough, hard-working men who did the jobs most Americans didn’t want.
But the country is running short of farm workers.

The workforce is graying; nearly three-quarters of Mexican campesinos are over 45. Young people are turning up their noses at farm jobs. And those willing to do migrant work have other options. Nearly 300,000 a year travel to the United States on seasonal agricultural visas, a fourfold increase in a decade.

“They’re taking a significant percentage of the available workers,” fretted Aldo Mares, a farm executive here in Jalisco state. He’s had to scramble this season to find workers to pick his juicy strawberries, blackberries, and raspberries.

The worker shortage reflects a paradox often overlooked in the supercharged U.S. immigration debate. Even as American politicians outdo each other in proposals to fortify the border with Mexico, economic forces are pulling the two sides closer. The U.S. appetite for made-in-Mexico goods, from avocados to automobiles to airplane parts, is growing so fast that it’s straining the workforce that produces them.


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