National Immigration Forum Board Member and Executive Director of the Idaho Dairymen’s Association
Last week, for the third Congress in a row, the House Judiciary Committee marked up and passed a bill mandating all employers use an electronic verification system (E-Verify) to verify their employees are eligible to work legally. For the dairy industry and its roughly 50,000 dairy farms, this type of legislation, absent broad immigration reforms to address agriculture’s workforce needs, is unacceptable.
In Idaho, the No. 1 agriculture business is dairy. At present, there is not a visa program available to the dairy industry to utilize. The dairy industry is different from other agriculture industries. The labor is intensive, and handling cows from milking, feeding, raising young stock, etc., requires a trained, skilled labor force. Our workers are not seasonal and our positions are not temporary, we do not qualify and are forbidden from utilizing the H-2A program, a temporary agriculture visa system.
A stand-alone E-Verify mandate will affect more than farmers and their workers. It will have a negative impact on the U.S. economy. For every dollar of product a dairy farmer sells, it generates economic activity of $3, and every $1 million of U.S. milk sales generate 17 jobs.
Today, compared to just a few years ago, a strong portion of the U.S. fruit and vegetable agriculture industry is dependent on being raised outside of the U.S. If more of our agricultural production is moved to foreign countries, we will become more dependent on imports and spend more money to import our food but lack the quality controls that, as consumers we demand of American agriculture producers.
Simply put, passing broad immigration reform would boost our economy and reduce our deficit. Continuing down the partisan path and doing nothing only constricts our gains in economic recovery and has a strong negative economic impact for our rural communities.
For these reasons, a stand-alone E-Verify bill is the wrong approach. Our immigration problem is a national problem that deserves a broad approach. In the end, reform does not have to be passed in one comprehensive bill. If Congress feels the need to pass individual bills, that is a workable approach as long as Congress considers and addresses the entire package of reforms. Otherwise, we will not fix what is truly broken in our immigration system and will need to revisit immigration issues over and over again in the future.
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