Why are individuals, organizations, and media outlets surprised when Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) audits of dairy operations find that a significant amount of our foreign-born labor are here without proper authorization? Why would anyone anticipate anything else in an industry that does not have access to a visa program to provide for our labor needs?
In agriculture, we continually hear about the need to be transparent in food production to keep the trust and support of consumers. We should be equally as transparent on our industry’s dependence on foreign-born labor. That includes the economic risk to our communities if we fail in our efforts to obtain legal status for our current workforce, their spouses, and dependent children.
In Idaho, the Idaho Dairymen’s Association (IDA) has gained support from other businesses, local Chambers of Commerce, the Catholic Church, local law enforcement, and most importantly the Hispanic community by openly discussing our dependence on foreign-born labor. Through the University of Idaho and the McClure Center for Public Policy Research studies, we developed the ability to openly discuss at community events the value added to the social fabric of our rural communities, our schools, and Idaho’s economy by foreign-born labor.
Immigration has been and is being fiercely debated in Washington D.C., which has placed it front and center in the media. Now, the farm bill vote by the House of Representatives is potentially being held hostage until there is a debate on immigration. This provides all of us an opportunity to be transparent about our industry and our nation's dependence on a labor force that we, along with other segments of the economy, have come to rely on. Since 2013, when the U.S. Senate took up immigration, the opportunity to educate lawmakers and the general public on the critical needs of immigration has never been as great as it is now.
Let’s not squander that opportunity.
IDA’s position is quite simple . . .
First we must have legal status for our current workforce. It has become apparent that if their spouses and dependent children aren’t included, our workers simply won’t take advantage of any new program.
Second, we must have access to year-round workers.
Third, there must be a visa program that allows access to new legal workers with adequate numbers to provide for our future labor needs.
Lastly, we recognize that to achieve our goals, there will be enhanced border security and workplace enforcement that is included. We’ve accepted that reality for a long time, but those are both roles for the federal government, not additional demands placed on farmers. None of the bills currently before Congress provide these assurances. Until they do, we will continue our efforts to make those necessary changes.