People who think the US agricultural sector couldn't survive without illegal labour need to look at the Australian example. A helluva lot of food gets produced in Australia without the need for a permanent third-world underclass. How? I guess it's a combination of higher wages (a good shearer can make upwards of $500 a day, frinstance) and greater automation, which presumably increases prices somewhat, but realistically not by much.
(There's also a class of visas for foreigners who want to do some fruit picking as part of a working holiday. These mostly wind up getting taken by backpacking students from Europe.)
People who think the US agricultural sector couldn't survive without subsidies also need to look at the Australian example.
People who think the US agricultural sector couldn't survive without illegal labor are generally less interesting than the people who understand that the US agricultural sector could survive without illegal labor but encourage it anyway.
Sure it does: it's called Indonesia, it has twice the population of Mexico and half the GDP (I know, I was surprised too!). What it doesn't have is a porous border between the two; of course the fact that it's a sea barrier (only ~50 miles though) instead of a land border makes it much easier to close, but if the US had the political will it could make the US/Mexico border a hundred times less porous than it currently is.
There are half a billion people in the USA; there are 20 million in Australia. Thus, the USA needs many more agricultural workers. Plus, our 2nd biggest export is agriculture.
Some agriculture scales, some does not. Grain and meat are reasonably scalable. Everything else is not. You could get rid of the illegal agricultural labor in the USA, you just would no longer have any fruits or vegetables. Australians don't eat such things, so they have no use for illegal labor. :)
There are half a billion people in the USA; there are 20 million in Australia. Thus, the USA needs many more agricultural workers.
And it has more people who could fill those jobs! Funny how that works, isn't it?
You could get rid of the illegal agricultural labor in the USA, you just would no longer have any fruits or vegetables.
I wonder how much fruit prices would go up if we were to pay the pickers a fair first-world wage. Let's do some maths!
If I buy an apple it costs about $1.60 per lb. That includes the picker's labour, plus the costs of land, pest control, irrigation, transport, the farmer's profit, the retailer's profit, the middleman's profit, and the little sticker that tells me what kind of apple it is.
According to this Canadian site: http://www.bctree.com/orchards/picking.php it looks like an inexperienced picker up there makes about eight bucks an hour, getting paid to fill 800-lb bins at $15.60 per bin. Quick sanity check: that's three pounds of apples per minute, an apple weighs about a third of a pound, so that's nine apples every minute on average. Sounds like a plausible sort of rate.
So if pickers are only getting $15.60 for an 800 lb bin, that means that the cost of picking is a mere two cents per pound, for apples that retail for $1.60/lb! So if we were suddenly forced to pay apple pickers $32 an hour instead of $8 an hour it would raise the cost of our apples from $1.60 to $1.66. Or, like, two cents per apple.
Hardly sounds like an unreasonable price increase to me.
So in conclusion, I think anyone who is claiming that decent wages for farm workers would make agriculture impossible is off their fricking rocker.