The Senate voted 62-36 to pass a new immigration reform bill on Thursday.

The bill “is a workable compromise that recognizes the need that America’s dairy farmers have for qualified immigrant employees,” says Jerry Kozak, President and CEO of the National Milk Producers Federation.

Senate leaders forged a compromise approach to updating U.S. labor and immigration laws, one that NMPF supports “because it both recognizes the need for enforcement and employment provisions,” Kozak said.  “There have to be two sides to the coin on this issue, which is the approach taken by the Senate,” in contrast to the House of Representative’s version of immigration reform, which is focused only on enforcement.

 A conference committee of House and Senate leaders will now be meeting to fashion a compromise approach between the two versions.  Kozak said NMPF will work aggressively with other farm and agribusiness groups to ensure that the resulting bill will most closely resemble the Senate version. In particular, he noted that NMPF strongly supports inclusion of a guest worker program for agricultural employees, a key feature of the Senate bill.

 “NMPF has a three-pronged approach to immigration reform, and all three elements of our position are reflected in the Senate version,” Kozak said.  Those elements include:

  • An affordable & efficient guest-worker program that ensures the continued availability of immigrant labor for all of agriculture, including dairies. This also has to ensure that dairies have access to workers year-round, and not just seasonally, which is what some employers need.
  • A provision that allows those currently employed or with recent employment history in the U.S. to earn the right to work here legally, regardless of their current legal status. Dairy production entails training and skills development, and employers need to be able to retain workers they currently employ.
  • A provision that specifies that the responsibility for ultimate verification of the legal status of a worker lies with the government, not with employers.   Employers have enough challenges without being asked to perform the job of government immigration agents.

Kozak said that NMPF would now begin communicating both with the members of the joint House-Senate conference committee, and the rest of the members in both chambers, expressing NMPF’s support for an approach to immigration reform that doesn’t adversely affect the ability of dairy farmers to run their farms.

“Poorly done, changing our immigration policies in ways that harshly penalize both immigrants and their employers would be detrimental to the economic viability of all dairy farms, and would not enhance our national security,” Kozak said. “Our food security needs to be as much of a focus in this debate as border security.  The entire food industry, from farm to fork, has a huge interest in ensuring that Congress passes a bill that realistically addresses the concerns of everyone working in agriculture.”

National Milk Producers Federation