Cornell study finds attitudes toward undocumented farmworkers have improved

Attitudes toward undocumented farmworkers in New York have improved over the course of a decade, according to a survey and study conducted by the Community and Research Development Institute (CaRDI) at Cornell University.

The researchers published the findings in a recent issue of CaRDI’s “Research & Policy Brief Series,” in which they compared attitudes in 2008 and 2017.

While in both years a majority of respondents considered the impact of undocumented farmworkers a positive one, in 2017 the positive answers jumped 19 percentage points to 75 percent. Negative perceptions and mixed perceptions both decreased.

In their introduction, the researchers, led by Mary Jo Dudley, a sociology professor and director of the Cornell Farmworker Program, suggested the study’s results may be important because “Public opinion on immigration-related issues can influence public policy.”

Slightly more than half of respondents, in giving answers to the survey’s open-ended questions,  acknowledged that undocumented workers play a significant role in the economy, and some went so far as to note that they help keep food prices low.

The article cited a national study that predicted a 50 percent decrease in immigrant workers would force the closure of more than 3,500 dairy farms and cause milk prices to jump 30 percent. If all such workers were removed, milk prices would jump by 90 percent and more than 24,000 jobs would be lost, including those of citizens who rely on the farm economy for their livelihoods.

About half the people participating in the study came from upstate areas, while half came from downstate. Geography didn’t seem to make much difference in the answers, the study said, but political affiliations, religious affiliations and education levels did.

Democrats were overwhelmingly positive about undocumented farmworkers while a little less than half of Republicans feel positively; the change over a decade was minimal among Republicans. College-educated people were more positive than those who didn’t have a college education. Non-Christians were more positive toward undocumented workers than were Christians.

The report concluded, “The positive views held by a majority of New Yorkers of undocumented farmworkers’ impacts may provide support for … policy changes that would allow undocumented farmworkers to more fully participate and contribute to community life in New York State.” Indeed, since the report was issued, state laws were passed allowing more labor protections for all farmworkers and driver’s licenses for undocumented workers.

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