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ID Dairy Industry Hopeful Congress Will Act on Immigration

The dairy industry relies on foreign-born labor, although it isn't eligible for the H-2A visa. (Kenneth Freeman/Flickr)
The dairy industry relies on foreign-born labor, although it isn't eligible for the H-2A visa. (Kenneth Freeman/Flickr)
September 11, 2017

BOISE, Idaho -- Idaho's rural communities rely on agriculture. And that means these communities also rely on foreign-born laborers.

Idaho Dairymen's Association director Bob Naerebout said the number of undocumented workers in dairy isn't certain, but according to national audits, the number could be as high as 70 percent. He said he’s also not certain how many workers will be affected by the Trump administration's decision to stop the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, but he hopes that decision will push Congress to act.

"So if there's any sign of benefit of the Trump administration's reversal of the Obama administration's declaration on DACA, it would be hopefully that Congress is now challenged to a greater degree than it ever has been challenged before to address immigration,” Naerebout said.

The dairy industry often is in a tough spot when it comes to labor, Naerebout said, because the industry isn't eligible for the H2A visa, which is a temporary work visa for foreign-born workers. He said he doesn't support amnesty for undocumented immigrants, but he does support a path to legal status.

The IDA came to the support of undocumented immigrants in July when it was discovered that the Jerome County Sheriff's Office might rent out beds to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Naerebout said his association opposed the contract because ICE agents in Jerome County could scare the immigrant community and hurt the dairy industry.

"Anybody involved with foreign-born labor, they know of individuals who are their friends whose legal status might be questioned, and it puts their friends in jeopardy or family members in jeopardy,” he said. “So it became a huge issue to the Hispanic community not only in Jerome but all of the Magic Valley."

Naerebout said along with being vital to Idaho's agricultural economy, allowing immigrants to come out of the shadows will let them be more engaged in their communities. And that's a plus for everyone.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - ID