Farm Ireland

Friday 19 January 2018

'They've their papers in order - if they're deported their children are taken care of' - US farm workers fear Trump

Illegal US dairy farm workers and farmers tell of fear and anger over US President Donal Trump's threat of deportations

CEO of NMPF Jim Mulhern received the letter from a dairy farmer in the midwest.
CEO of NMPF Jim Mulhern received the letter from a dairy farmer in the midwest.
Margaret Donnelly

Margaret Donnelly

A dairy farmer in the US midwest recently wrote to the President of the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF), telling of the anger and frustration they feel on hearing of workers being deported from farms.

President and CEO of NMPF Jim Mulhern received the note from a dairy farmer in the midwest last month, who told him of how their farm workers are feeling after hearing of workers being deported from farms in her state.

“Our employees are very jittery. We’ve coordinated driving to grocery stores and outlined ‘safe’ roadmaps (county and town roads) to get to the dentist, doctor and grocery store.

"They’ve gotten their papers in order if they are deported so that their children can be taken care of. They are scared, frustrated, and a little angry. We as dairy farmers are too,” the unidentified dairy farmer wrote to Mulhern.

There are 150,000 employees working on US dairy farms and approximately 51pc are immigrants, although exact figures on how many of these are undocumented it not known.

Jim Mulhern said that too many of US's dairy farmers are facing an ongoing, daunting challenge: finding enough American workers to fill jobs on their farms, even when they provide wages higher than those paid by other local jobs. 

"This 'between a rock and hard place' dilemma has grown more acute as the national unemployment rate has dropped – and will likely get even more dire, now that US Immigration and Customs Enforcement has begun stepping up its efforts to locate and remove undocumented individuals."

Because such a large volume of milk production depends on them, losing even just a portion of foreign-born undocumented workers would have serious implications for both farmers and consumers, he said.

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"In the worst-case scenario, a complete loss of immigrant labor in dairy farming could cut US economic output by $32 billion, resulting in 208,000 fewer jobs nationwide. Not only would farm workers be lost, but those further down the value chain whose jobs are tied to crop, produce and livestock production would be at risk."

He said that it's critical that any effort to solve the immigration quandary will require not just additional law enforcement, but also a means to ensure that farm employers – including dairy operations – have access to a legal, secure workforce.

"Our point to elected officials is that, as important as border security and interior law enforcement procedures are, such measures must be paired with a focus on current and future agricultural labor needs. 

"Creating a guest-worker program to bring in legal employees will allow federal and state governments to focus resources on removing bad actors from the US, and prevent the migration of others who are not coming here for legitimate work opportunities."

The only current means of addressing domestic labor shortages in agriculture is the H-2A temporary and seasonal foreign agricultural workforce program, intended to help employers with short-term labor needs, he said, with many jobs in farming and food processing are not seasonal and thus can’t use the H-2A program at all – which is why dairy farmers need another approach, not one centered on reforming H-2A.

"Agriculture in America can’t grow without a reliable workforce. Immigrant workers are an essential part of that picture today, and they must be part of it in the future. This is a message we will continue to advance so that agriculture can help grow its contributions to America’s economy."

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