In November 2009, U.S. Homeland Secretary Janet Napolitano told the Center for American Progress that immigration reform would be a priority of the Obama Administration in 2010.
Nearly two years later, we are still waiting for meaningful reform.
In some ways, we may have even regressed. At press time, the judiciary committee of the U.S. House of Representatives was debating whether to require employers to use E-Verify on job applications. E-Verify would have a chilling impact on farms needing to hire workers, because it would link a prospective worker to his or her Social Security number. Since many of the people doing the work that Americans don’t want to do are undocumented workers, it would drastically limit the labor supply.
Dairies are already in a quandary over this. All too often, a dairy will hire an American-born worker only to have that person quit after one or two days. It seems that many people can’t handle the hard work that goes with being on a dairy.
Last month, I was at a dairy in Florida where they have gone to E-Verify because they have a satellite operation in Georgia – where E-Verify is now required of those who employ 10 or more workers, including farms – and they see E-Verify as the wave of the future. Already, it has created some problems. Word has gotten out among immigrant workers that the farm has moved in this direction, so they aren’t showing up and applying as much. The farm had recently hired four local townspeople, and a couple of them lasted less than 48 hours.
Another dairy in Florida cited “immigration reform” as the No. 1 challenge it is facing today. The owner of that operation would like to see eligible workers from other countries be issued photo ID cards, which would show they have employment and don’t have a criminal record.
With an election year approaching, is there any chance that meaningful immigration reform will take place in Congress?
The AgJobs proposal, backed by many of the leading dairy industry organizations, seems to be going nowhere. In fact, the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) really isn’t talking about AgJobs anymore and has moved on to other legislative initiatives. Unfortunately, none of the current initiatives meets the requirements for NMPF’s endorsement. Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) has introduced the American Speciality Agriculture Act (HR 2847) to eliminate the problems plaguing the current H-2A temporary agricultural work visa program and establish a new H-2C program that will help American farmers hire a legal workforce. Although it does many good things in fixing the problems of H-2A, it treats dairy as a seasonal economic sector, which is a non-starter for dairy farmers. NMPF is seeking amendments favorable to the dairy industry to be inserted in any piece of legislation that has a chance of moving the immigration issue forward once and for all.