Great Wall
January 28, 2019

Dairy Producers Don't Need A Wall

 |  By: Mike Opperman

In the history of human civilization walls have been built for one of two purposes: keep people out or keep people in.

Probably the biggest and most famous wall is the Great Wall of China. It’s massive, covering more than 13,000 miles of Chinese real estate. It’s not actually a wall, but a series of walls built starting around 250 B.C. and ending with the last parts built around 1878. It’s estimated that it took more than a million men to build the wall, and more than 400,000 lost their lives in the process.

Even something that massive couldn’t keep all of the invaders from the north out of China. Genghis Khan breached the wall in the 13th century. The Manchus invaded and brought an end to the Ming dynasty in 1644. More recently people dismantled parts of walls to build roads and buildings. 

Another famous wall was the Berlin Wall. While the official purpose was to keep those from the West out, its real function was to keep people from Eastern Europe in. It was much shorter than the Great Wall of China at 87 miles, and lasted only 28 years. While it offered a formidable physical and psychological border for those trying to cross, it’s still estimated that more than 5,000 East Germans crossed, including 600 border guards. 

When it comes to walls, the one being proposed by President Trump to secure the border between the U.S. and Mexico would be formidable. There is already about 500 miles of barrier in place, which means about another 1,500 miles of wall would need to be built to run the full length of the U.S.-Mexico border.  

President Trump has stated several reasons for building the wall. Some of them include keeping drug smugglers from bringing product over the border. There is also an assumption that the wall would keep out other criminals looking for a jail-free life here in the States. No one knows what the wall will do to keep out honest immigrants looking for a better life in U.S. factories and farms.
I’m not one to get into a political debate over whether a wall should be built. But I think if the wall is seen as a pillar of immigration reform, we’re missing the boat. 

Every dairy producer I’ve talked to about immigration in the last two-plus years doesn’t care at all about stopping the flow of illegal immigrants into the U.S. They only have two concerns: 1) accurate identification of immigrants, and 2) keeping the employees and their families that are already here.  

When immigrants are applying for a job on a dairy farm, the potential employer needs a rock-solid system for making sure that John Smith is really John Smith. We all saw the tragedy that happened last summer when an immigrant was hired on an Iowa dairy farm using false identity.  The E-Verify system is in place to help employers verify a person’s immigration status, and upgrades are being proposed. However, if a person steals another person’s identity and the picture on the official photo ID resembles the person standing in front of the employer’s desk, there is still no existing system that will identify that person as fraudulent.

The biggest scare that ran through dairy country occurred shortly after President Trump took office. In an effort to ramp up the immigration reform debate, a series of raids from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) sought to identify and deport immigrants with a criminal past. This created considerable concern among the population of immigrant dairy employees who suddenly feared that they or their loved ones would be sent home. 

In the midst of the ICE raids and other debate around immigration reform, a series of bills have been proposed to, in general, make it easier for immigrant laborers to work toward citizenship and also keep immigrant employees who are in the U.S. in good standing secured at their homes and places of employment. Yet, as I heard from one political analyst, any bill on immigration reform dies an early death because it’s too hot of a topic to establish a critical mass of support. 

Building a wall isn’t going to solve our issues with immigration. It may keep bad people out, but as history has shown, they will probably still find a way into the country. Let’s put our resources to finding a way to allow the good people in who are just longing for a better way of life, and keeping the good workers and their families here.

What do you think about immigration reform? Should we be building a wall? Let me know at mopperman@farmjournal.com

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