Business owners, including dairymen, felt the pinch when an estimated 20,000 people converged on Wisconsin's state Capitol last Thursday, February 18 during the "A Day Without Latinos" rally. Attendees were there to show their concern over legislation that could impact immigrant workers.
Two bills in particular have raised a red flag within the state's immigrant population. The first, SP 533, would place more restrictions on towns and counties from issuing local photo identification to people, including immigrants.
The second bill, AB 450, bans municipalities from passing laws that prevent law enforcement officers from questioning the immigration status of people who have been arrested.
Agriculture, and dairy in particular, is one industry in Wisconsin that relies heavily on an immigrant workforce. A University of Wisconsin study from a few years ago found that 40 percent of dairy farm employees were immigrants. Around 90 percent of those 5,300 employees were from Mexico.
Even if the proposed legislation doesn't directly impact a large number of immigrants, the state's dairy industry fears it may send a signal to Hispanic employees that they are not accepted or appreciated.
In a statement released by the Dairy Business Association, President Gordon Speirs said, "It's critical that Wisconsin be a welcoming place for Latino and other immigrant workers who play such an important role in many parts of the economy."
The need for an immigrant workforce goes beyond Wisconsin dairies. A Texas A&M study found that farms across the country using immigrant labor produced more than three-fifths of the nation's milk.
(c) Hoard's Dairyman Intel 2016
February 22, 2016