President Donald Trump campaigned on taking a strong stance against individuals who are undocumented and living in the U.S., and recent executive actions have taken his promises to a new level of injecting fear in the countryside as well as buckling down on those who provide false documents.
This week, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security issued a memorandum that greatly expands policies designed to stem illegal immigration and facilitate the detection, apprehension, detention and removal of aliens who currently reside in the U.S.
“The result of that memo calls for vigorous enforcement. An employee was apprehended walking into Walmart,” Laurie Fischer, chief executive director of the American Dairy Coalition, said.
This new guidance dedicates significantly more federal law enforcement agents to immigration enforcement and includes an expansion of the "287(g) program," which allows DHS to deputize state and local law enforcement officers to enforce the immigration laws by way of apprehending, detaining and deporting individuals.
“Police officers can determine if someone they see could be a criminal, and all they have to do is ask for documentation," she said. "It appears the best protection to ensure a reliable labor force for the dairy and agriculture industry is to pass new legislation that will allow guest workers with visas."
Fischer said fear of the unknown is prevalent among her dairy producer members. They have a lack of desire to grow and expand simply because they don't know who will milk the cows. "Time and time again, my members reach out to domestic workers and have increased wages in order to secure domestic workers -- without any luck. They just won’t milk the cows," she said.
“As this process continues to unfold, we will continue to lose our workforce,” Fischer said. “Not in my entire career have I witnessed so much fear from employers and owners of operations on where we’re going to get our workforce from.”
The U.S. is currently home to an estimated 11.4 million undocumented immigrants, the vast majority of whom have lived in the country for more than five years, according to estimates from the New American Economy.
In Wisconsin, an estimated 71,126 immigrants are undocumented out of the 274,000 total immigrants who call Wisconsin home. In Idaho, 39.7% of all dairy workers are foreign-born, as are 33.9% of all agricultural workers.
Immigrants hold 35% of the 441,000 animal slaughtering and processing jobs in the U.S., according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Fischer said the increased focus on undocumented workers only solidifies the need for immigration reform. Agriculture desperately needs some kind of legal mechanism or guest worker program for those who work in agriculture.
Fischer said the American Dairy Coalition is working on several different immigration reform bills. There is no "one-solves-all" approach to immigration reform at this time, so the coalition is working to move several pieces of legislation in order to arm the U.S. dairy industry with the appropriate tools it needs to ensure a viable workforce. One approach is a state visa bill; also, House Judiciary Committee chairman Bob Goodlatte (R., Va.) introduced a bill in 2013-14 on the agricultural visa updates.
“We need to figure out a way to save the dairy industry, and that can only be done with a viable workforce,” she said. This doesn’t mean amnesty, but there does need to be a pathway to providing visas and allowing those who want to stay in the U.S. to be able to work and continue to take the jobs that others won't.