After Joe Biden became president, farmers in Yuma County, Arizona, watched as illegal aliens soiled large sections of their crops.
“When the United States Border Patrol lost operational control of the border here in Yuma, we had a lot of people that were making it into the production areas,” farmer Cory Mellon told The Daily Signal.
Among these illegal immigrants, Yuma farmers saw “lactating women nursing their babies in our field” and “people urinating in our field—there was a lot of loss,” Mellon said.
Mellon is a fifth-generation farmer. He and his two older brothers own the family’s 5,000-acre farm, where they grow lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower, and spinach in the winter and cantaloupes, wheat, alfalfa, cotton, and other crops during the summer.
Agriculture is the central industry in Yuma County, with about 90% of North America’s winter leafy greens grown there.
The Mellon farm is located about a mile from the U.S.-Mexico border, so illegal crossings by migrants didn’t damage its crops. But many other Yuma County farmers were not so fortunate.
Yuma farmers estimate they lost about $1 million worth of crops after illegal aliens entered their fields, because “when those people made it through the border, into the production fields, those fields had to be destroyed,” Mellon said.
He explained that food safety laws require farmers to destroy crops when there is a risk of contamination because unauthorized people have entered the fields.
“We’ve got like a 500-page living document of what we can and can’t do, what we can and can’t allow. We have rules about intrusion into the production area,” Mellon said, explaining that for a coyote track in the field, for example, a farmer can’t harvest within 5 feet of each paw print.
The cost of lost crops is “solely on the farmer that was growing the crop,” Mellon said. “There is no insurance for that. There’s no making that money up, so that was a loss to the farmer, and then obviously that crop never made it to market ultimately to feed our nation.”
At Morelos Dam, a central crossing point for illegal aliens because of a gap in the border wall, only a dirt road separates the opening in the wall from farmland.
During the first couple of weeks of the surge in illegal immigrants after Biden took office, Mellon said, as many as 2,000 people a day crossed the border into Yuma County. The Border Patrol didn’t have the resources to handle the surge or quickly transport the illegal aliens from farmland, he said.
In fiscal year 2020, U.S. Customs and Border Protection reported 8,804 encounters with illegal aliens in the Yuma sector, which includes 126 miles of border with Mexico in both California and Arizona. In 2021, the number of those encounters rose to 114,488.
“During those first days, they couldn’t get Border Patrol to pick them up because they didn’t have equipment or the manpower to do it, so they started ordering Ubers,” Mellon said of illegal aliens.
“They literally ordered Uber Eats, they ordered Ubers to town” from farms on the border, he said, adding that “they all have cellphones.”
The Border Patrol tries, “but their hands are completely tied behind their back,” Mellon said. “They can’t do their job. They’re not allowed to do it.”
The initial problem of mass numbers of “give-ups,” or illegal aliens seeking to encounter Border Patrol agents to claim asylum, has slowed dramatically, Yuma farmer Kyle Kuechel says. But, he said, the issue of “gotaways” walking through farm fields remains.
“The give-ups aren’t really a food safety issue now because the Biden administration has catered to them with the bathrooms,” Kuechel said, referring to portable toilets located near many gaps in the border wall in Yuma.
Kuechel’s family owns a lemon farm about 8 miles from the border. The increase in illegal aliens crossing the border has led to more safety precautions on the farm, he said.
“We’re in that section where folks have made it through open desert, and now they’re seeking refuge because the lemon farm is highly dense and there are a lot of places to hide,” Kuechel told The Daily Signal. “So, we’ll come up on people that are just hunkered up under trees.”
“It’s a situation where you’re very aware of your surroundings, are very aware of the current situation,” Kuechel, 36, said of working on the farm.
“In the past,” he added, “it wasn’t as bad as it is now. And it’s not like every field is a, you know, a trap, but you’re definitely more aware.”
There was a time, Kuechel said, when farmers could leave tractors out in the fields overnight and keys in equipment, but now “everything is easily stolen, everything is easily sold.”
Illegal aliens seeking to evade the Border Patrol are “just trying to get to the interstate and get into the interior of the United States,” the farmer said. “So, if anything’s in the way that they can take and make money to do that, it’s gone.”
When Border Patrol agents are asked what they need to do their jobs, Kuechel said, they will say “we don’t need new laws. We need to be able to enforce the laws we have on the books.”
After the Biden administration took over in January 2021, the “floodgates opened” at the border, he said.
“There’s nobody that gets more upset than a legal migrant worker [over] watching the give-ups and watching the get-away,” the farmer said.
He said the foreman on his farm emigrated to America from Mexico legally, and it took the man 23 years to gain his American citizenship.
“He did everything the legal way and he did it the right way,” Kuechel said of his foreman. “And when he sees these give-ups at the border, it’s a slap in the face to everything he’s worked for.”
In fiscal year 2022, which ended Sept. 30, Customs and Border Protection reported a record 2.3 million land encounters with migrants at the southern border. Just since the start of fiscal year 2023 on Oct. 1, agents have encountered more than 1 million migrants at the border.
With large gaps remaining in the border wall in Yuma County, what farmers need, Mellon says, is for the federal government to have “operational control of the border, to fill the gaps, [and] shut down the ability for [illegal aliens] to come through our community unchecked.”
Biden only would need to tweet “We’re closed,” and the flood of illegal crossings “would stop,” Mellon said.
“A tweet from the president would shut this whole thing down, if he meant it,” the Yuma farmer said.
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