Leadership needed on immigration reform

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On April 15, President Obama promised to pursue immigration reform if re-elected.

“I can promise that I will try to do it in the first year of my second term,” he told the Spanish-language TV network Univision.

Haven’t we heard that before? In June 2009, President Obama pledged to push for immigration reform, tapping a top Cabinet official to work with Congress and make it a priority.

Back then, he didn’t have the excuse of blaming Congress for any inaction on the issue. Both houses of Congress were controlled by Democrats at the time.

In November 2009, in a speech at the Center for American Progress, U.S. Homeland Secretary Janet Napolitano said immigration reform would be a priority of the Obama Administration in 2010.

Two and a half years later, we are still waiting for meaningful reform.

Dairy farms continue to operate in legal limbo.

In February, while attending the World Ag Expo in California, I heard an incredible story about a Michigan dairy farmer who had three immigration raids occur at his place. The last time, law enforcement came in with a helicopter and tank, he said. The raids, along with being put on probation and fined $2.7 million for hiring illegal immigrant workers, left the farmer in a tough spot. He realized he had to start hiring Anglos, and that proved daunting just trying to find enough Anglo workers to stick around and do the work.

The fact of the matter is, very few American-born workers are willing to do the hard, physical work associated with dairying. If it weren’t for immigrant workers, many dairies would be in major trouble.

Cows need to be milked; consumers need a reliable supply of dairy products, and billions of dollars flow through state and local economies because of it.

It’s time that the government came up with some sort of clarity on this issue.

It’s time someone stepped up and took a leadership role.

Addendum: I realize both political parties are at fault. Nothing meaningful got done during the Bush Administration on the subject of immigration reform. The editorial that appears here originally appeared in our online newsletter, Dairy Herd Network — and a number of people commented. I had to agree with a comment by “Stewart” from New York, who wrote:

“What is the point in delaying and not wanting to fix a problem? Both parties are fake when it comes to getting anything sensible done. To have such a major issue and only talk, talk and talk about it, and do nothing, makes absolutely no sense to the well-being of our country. If any reform is required, we must first start with the Senate and Congress… None of the blokes in DC feel any of it because they are so far away from the reality of things.”

It’s not a scientific sample, but on May 11 we asked readers of the Dairy Herd Network newsletter whether Obama or the presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney would be the most aggressive in pursuing immigration reform, if elected this November. Of the 106 people who voted, 59 percent said it would be Romney, 25 percent Obama, and 16 percent weren’t sure.

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New York  |  June, 01, 2012 at 07:05 AM

I agree with the commenter Stewart who said that we must start with the Senate and Congress. The way to do it to explain to your Congressmen that unless they support and help pass comprehensive immigration reform (because there will be no farm visa reform as a stand-alone bill due to the many other stakeholders), they cannot count on your votes. Politicians only really care about votes and getting reelected, so if they risk losing votes (and campaign contributions), they will hopefully step up to the plate.

Indiana  |  June, 01, 2012 at 08:30 PM

Are our farmers not smart enough to use the legal means (worker visas) to fill these positions. Theses farmers are not small operations, they are a big Corporate type big money business.Surely it has nothing to do with, if they did, they might have to pay a decent wage and a place to stay? The politics of this issue is one side wants future voters and to destroy our Country, the other side wants to make sure the cheap slave labor is available. Both political parties work a lot harder helping others break our laws than doing the right thing for our Country and citizens.

SD  |  June, 05, 2012 at 01:59 PM

In response to NOTMYVIEW's comment that dairies should use worker visas- anyone familiar with the farm visa programs knows that H2A visas are for 10 months only and are nearly impossible to renew as they were designed to fill seasonal cropping needs (vegetable and fruit harvest, sugar beet weeding, etc.) These visas do not fill the needs for year around livestock operations - beef feedlots, hog and poultry operations or dairy. It has nothing to do with the wages paid by the employer. In fact, the H2A mandated wage rate is often less than what is typically offered on a farm. The other visas available for livestock are limited to those with university degrees such as animal scientists or veterinarians.

St. Paul, MN  |  June, 05, 2012 at 03:10 PM

I agree with most of what Tom has written. I do, however, think as an industry we can do much more to create positions that attract documented workers. I can look out my office window and watch American workers collect the trash and recycling in all kinds or weather. I can look out my window and see American construction workers working in heat and rain. I have trouble believing that we cannot create milker and other dairy position with much better working conditions that any of those jobs. Let's try spending as much time working to become an employer of choice industry as we spend asking for help from the government.

Pennsylvania  |  June, 05, 2012 at 10:15 PM

Quote from the piece, "The fact of the matter is, very few American-born workers are willing to do the hard, physical work associated with dairying." This is a lie. There is NO work that American-born workers will not do. Americans will the most difficult labor if they are compensated with a living wage. Corporate agriculture wants to undercut the bargaining power of US workers by hiring illegal immigrants. It's that simple. The above column is an example of an apolgist for this appalling behavior. The cheap labor lobby will be scrambling when E-verify becomes the law of the land.

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