rotary milkers
March 28, 2017

Fear Rampant Among Employees, Dairy Needs Immigration Reform

 |  By: Anna-Lisa Laca

Imagine one of your employees came to you and asked, “If my wife and I are deported, are you going to take care of my children?”

That actually happened to a dairy farmer in Idaho this month, and immigrant employees around the country are living with the same kind of angst and fear following the anti-immigrant rhetoric and increased ICE enforcement coming from Washington, D.C.

“On a scale of 1-10, how serious is the fear level? It’s at a 10,” says Bob Naerabout, executive director of the Idaho Dairymen’s Association. “Unlike construction jobs, cows have to be fed every day, so there is some economical fear but what we’re seeing is more of a moral fear.”

In part, that fear is being spurred by rumors of immigration raids among these communities, according to Juan Saldana, community research development specialist with the Idaho Commission on Hispanic Affairs.

“People are saying there are raids when that isn’t true,” he says. “Our agency has met with Boise PD and they have told us nothing is going to happen any time soon as far as raids.”

Even so, the fear of increased deportations and immigration raids is creating a destabilization of the workforce in several industries, including agriculture and technology, according to Charlie Garrison, founder of the Garrison Group, a public affairs firm that specializes in immigration.

Destabilization not only causes decreased productivity at work because employees are worried about what might happen in the future, it also causes public safety issues because immigrants are fearful of law enforcement.

“The cop on the street relies on having a trusting relationship with their entire community – documented or not,” Garrison says.

He says the Trump administration is “adamant” that their deportation priorities are criminals and individuals who pose a threat to national security and so far that’s shown true.

“There’s no evidence that workplaces are some kind of target,” Garrison says. “That’s important for [employees] to know.”

Immigration Reform

While it’s an urgent problem in rural America, which relies on immigrant work forces to keep the economy running, immigration reform is not likely to be looked at in D.C. until the fall, according to Na. President Trump has moved healthcare and tax reform priorities ahead of immigration. Still, Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, says legislators must understand the depth of the problem for anything to happen.

There are about 600,000 cows in Idaho that need to be milked every day. The unemployment rate in the Magic Valley is around 3%, so Noorani explains, “it’s an incredibly tight labor market with a huge demand for skilled labor” to this product to market.

“The question I’d ask of [Idaho lawmakers on the immigration reform committees] is how will they look their dairy producers in the eye and say ‘You know what, I can’t do anything to help you survive,’” Noorani says. “Without immigrant labor and without a dynamic visa system that meets immigrant needs in the dairy industry, farms are really going to struggle in the coming days.”