dairy employees
January 16, 2018

How the Budget Bill Impacts Immigration Reform

 |  By: Anna-Lisa Laca

This week Congress is, once again, on a tight deadline to fund the government. As government shutdown looms, the budget standoff is linked to another issue important to agriculture: immigration. Democratic leaders insist on including action dealing with DACA — Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, says Jim Wiesemeyer, ProFarmer’s Washington Policy analyst.

Access to immigrant labor continues to be a hot-button issue farmers and industry leaders wish Washington could help figure out.

“Of highlight to me especially, as we look at the interest in the dairy industry, is what [Congress] does do with immigration and what some of the funding looks like for some of these programs that do impact some of our workforce,” Mike North of Commodity Risk Management Group told Clinton Griffiths on AgriTalk Tuesday. “Frankly that's an issue that really hits close to home for dairy producers and for that matter anyone in the service industry or the food complex more broadly.”

According to Roger Bernard of Informa Economics, the recent road bump related to DACA was the result of a bipartisan group of lawmakers presenting what they thought was a solution for “dreamers” without discussing it with Republican leadership or President Trump. Trump nixed the proposal.

“Yes, folks do need to do something,” Bernard told Griffiths. “You've got to remember these guys have lost sight of the fact that compromise is not a four letter word.”

North agreed. “I just wonder if we have lost sight of the fact in Washington, that the battles that go on there are not to be between two parties, but meant to be one between a problem and the solution that we all should be working together to find,” he said.

While there aren’t clear numbers on how many of the 14,000 DACA individuals working in farming, fishing and forestry work on dairy farms, a map overlaying DACA individuals and dairy cows shows there is certainly a correlation.

Dairy Farms and DACA

(Click on the individual states to see how many dairy cows are in the state as well as how many DACA individuals live there. Data via USDA and USCIS.)

Bernard doesn’t think the budget will be sorted out until the middle of February. Still, keeping DACA individuals safe from deportation won’t solve the shortage of immigrant labor on farms in the U.S.

“We are desperate to have good skilled farm laborers in America,” said Zippy Duval, American Farm Bureau Federation president. “It is one of the biggest restraints that we have in American agriculture. We have to find a solution.”

A fix to the H2-A program, that would enable more year-round industries like dairy to apply, is being debated and discussed in Washington as well. The H2-C program was first introduced in October of 2017 by Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va) and while there’s a good chance it will make it out of the House, Bernard says there’s no chance it will be passed through the Senate.

“You're faced with a situation where the House can move something forward, perhaps knowing full well it isn’t going to go anywhere on the Senate side,” he explained. “We've seen that in several areas where it's been pushed through the House and everything's good, [yet] they know full well the Senate's not going to take it up because in that chamber they've got to have a much bigger majority than the 51- 49 that the Republicans currently have.”