Eliminating illegal farmworkers, by shrinking the pool of available labor, likely would raise wages for those who remain. Philip Martin, a professor of agricultural economics at the University of California, Davis, noted that two years after the old bracero program ended in 1964, the United Farm Workers union won a 40 percent increase for grape harvesters.
A decade ago, two Iowa State University agricultural economists estimated that removing all illegal farmworkers would raise wages for seasonal farmworkers by 30 percent in the first couple of years, and 15 percent in the medium term.
But supermarket prices of summer-fall fruits and vegetables, they concluded, would rise by just 6 percent in the short run — dropping to 3 percent over time, as imports took up some of the slack and some farmers mechanized their operations or shifted out of labor-intensive crops. (Winter-spring produce would be even less affected, they found, because so much already is imported.)
If illegal workers disappeared from the apple harvest and wages for the remaining legal workers rose by 40 percent in response — and that entire wage increase were passed on to the consumer — that still would add less than 3 cents to the retail price of a pound of apples.