Opinion

‘America first’ crusade will backfire big time on Colorado agriculture

Author: Jay Stooksberry - July 6, 2018 - Updated: July 6, 2018

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Jay Stooksberry

I live in western Colorado, which is “Trump Country.” My community—which overwhelmingly voted for Trump by a 3:1 ratio — strongly resembles many of the other rural, working-class, predominantly-white communities that carried President Donald Trump to Pennsylvania Avenue in 2016.

The message of “America First”, which strongly resonates with this exuberant base of voters, serves as the ideological foundation of many Trump’s most antagonistic policy stances—more specifically, his aggressive stances on immigration and trade.

However, I am afraid these specific policies also leave my community very vulnerable because they put our local economy on a collision course with Mexico. Much to the chagrin of America Firsters, endangering our once amicable relationship with Mexico will cause irreparable harm to western Colorado’s most vital industries: agriculture and energy development.

You cannot talk about agriculture without first talking about immigration. Immigrant laborers represent a valuable asset to agricultural productivity because, often times, they are willing to do grueling work that natives refuse to do.

But the issue is illegal immigration, right?

So then how many undocumented laborers live out here? There are about 140,000 undocumented laborers in Colorado, according to the Pew Research Center. Roughly 10% of Colorado’s population lives west of the Continental Divide, so we can assume there are 14,000 undocumented laborers. Research suggests that roughly half of nationwide undocumented immigrants come from Mexico. Though I would argue that Colorado probably has a higher proportion due to our proximity to Mexico, let’s just assume that 7,000 Mexican laborers live and work in western Colorado.

What would happen if we deported these 7,000 workers back to Mexico?

For starters, we would likely disrupt a huge labor market that serves as the lifeblood for agriculture. 7,000 may not seem like much, but keep in mind that losing 700 coal-mining jobs devastated our local economy. Agriculture has a 2.1 multiplier effect — meaning every single agriculture job roughly produces two other support jobs — so the economic impact could easily snowball out of control.

“Well, they should just come here legally,” retorts the America Firster. Though his rhetoric revolves around illegal immigration, Trump also shows a troubling disinterest in legal immigration — from his failed travel ban to his proposals to dismantle visa programs.

And it’s not just Trump’s belligerence toward immigration that would economically impact agriculture. His eagerness to enter into a trade war with their country of origin that will cause undue harm.

It turns out that Mexico, after Canada, is Colorado’s biggest trading partner. In fact, while trade with Canada has dipped, trade with Mexico has increased in recent years.

Mexico is a big spender when it comes to Colorado agriculture. In 2016, Colorado sold $103 million in beef, $33.3 million in pork, $11.9 million in chicken, and $26.9 million in cheese across the border.

Mexico also craves natural gas, which, again, presents a unique market connection with the Western Slope. Western Colorado has some of the biggest natural gas reserves in the nation, and — contrary to the campaign promise of “Trump digs coal”— billions of dollars in future natural gas development are already planned for our side of the divide.

But, yet again, all of these markets point in the direction of Mexico.

As Mexico develops, so does the country’s need for affordable energy. New pipelines are delivering American natural gas to the Mexico’s ever-increasing maquiladora sector. Thanks to Mexico, the U.S. became a net exporter of natural gas in 2016 — one of the few products and services not experiencing a deficit in trade. Considering how fixated our president is on trade deficits, this should be a no-brainer.

Plus, economists predict a trade war with Mexico would plunge natural gas prices by 40 percent, and likely would result in significant loss of capital investment and more layoffs for our already-diminished labor market.

Without Mexico, western Colorado — as well as many other parts of “Trump Country”— might struggle more than they would like to admit.

Jay Stooksberry

Jay Stooksberry

Jay Stooksberry is a writer and activist based in Delta. He also serves as chairman of the Libertarian Party of Delta County.