immigration
May 29, 2018

Immigrants Are Our Backbone

 |  By: Mike Opperman

Last spring during a trip to New York City my family had the chance to visit Ellis Island. It was fascinating to think of the millions of immigrants that came through that facility. Each had their own unique story, but all shared a desire for a new life.

Most had nothing when they arrived. When ships came in bearing European passengers, the first and second-class citizens could get off the boat and immediately assimilate into society. Everyone else who didn’t have the proper status were shipped to Ellis Island for processing. If you had money and status, you were in. If not, you might get sent back home.

Once they made it through the processing and were free to leave, the new immigrants took a ferry from the island back to the mainland. One can only imagine what was going through their minds as they sat at the bow of the ferry, looking at the buildings of the mainland, wondering what their new life would hold.

Most had nowhere to go, nor a job to pay them wages. Most couldn’t speak English. Many ended up taking jobs other Americans didn’t want. Their meager paychecks offered a life in the States, plus helped support families still in the homeland. Over time other family members came, too.

The courage and fortitude to start a new life drove immigrants to surpass barriers. Those immigrants, and those that came before and since, have formed the backbone of our country. The ones that made it settled down to start families and strengthen new branches to their family tree.

You can find many of the stories of people and families that came through Ellis Island here. As you read those stories, you will note that many aren’t different from the stories of the immigrants who milk and care for our cows every day.

Now, there’s no Ellis Island for today’s immigrants. The people working on today’s dairy farms came to America through a much different path, albeit many choosing to enter the U.S. illegally. But they share the same “new life” aspirations as those early immigrants.

And those immigrants have become the backbone of our industry. Workers that started milking cows as teenagers are now 40-something middle managers with 20 years of experience. They manage teams of other immigrant employees. They put their families through the local school system and pay taxes like any other citizen. And new immigrants milk, feed and breed the cows that make the milk that support dairy businesses across the country.

In the early 1900’s the U.S. government put restrictions on immigration for a variety of political and non-political reasons. Today, the government continues to struggle with how to manage immigration issues to protect rights while still maintaining a stable workforce. Most of the producers I talk to aren’t worried about border regulation—they want to make sure they can keep the workers they already have. President Trump vows to lead us to an immigration solution

Whatever the resolution it will be another step toward providing those that want to enjoy our way of life the opportunity to do so, while protecting the rights that make that way of life possible. It’s a difficult journey, and one that America has been on for decades.

What do you think? What are your thoughts on immigration reform? Send me your comments at mopperman@farmjournal.com

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