Texas state senator Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa remembers the day when he was five years old — picking tomatoes with his mother in the Rio Grande Valley.

His mother, who was undocumented, was arrested and deported to Mexico. It took a year for her to gain legal residency and return to the United States.

Hinojosa’s father was an American citizen.

“A lot of people simply do not understand the culture of the border,” Hinojosa said during a labor issues panel discussion at the recent Texas Produce Association annual conference in San Antonio. “We have a long history of interaction with Mexico, back and forth.”

The problem, he added, is that government uses a “hatchet or an axe” approach to immigration instead of focusing on “people committed to work. The people up north don’t know what’s going on at the border,” he said. “Washington D.C. is out of touch with our needs on the border. They are willing to listen to rhetoric from a small minority and hurt small communities.”

(See Severe immigration laws weaken the economy).

Maids cross the Texas/Mexico border daily while border patrol agents, “look the other way. They are familiar with what happens locally,” he said.

“We need a guest worker program. I know we have the right to secure our borders. That’s a federal issue, but on a state level, we need to push for help.”

Instead, the Texas legislature has passed legislation to restrict the labor force.

“We have a short labor force that’s willing to do hard work,” Hinojosa said. “Agriculture, construction, hotels and other industries get employees from Mexico. That may not always be the case. In the future, we will not be able to depend on Mexican labor.”

The birth rate in Mexico is declining. And more workers are staying home, partly because of improved job prospects in some areas but also because of border violence and immigration crackdowns.

Employers may have to look to Central America in the future to find labor, “when it’s no longer available in Mexico.