April 12, 2017
US immigration clampdowns threaten to weaken dairy sector
US President Donald Trump is making his hardline position on immigration felt, with the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement increasing efforts to hunt down undocumented immigrants, even as a travel ban against visitors from some Muslim-majority countries fell through in February.
Ramifications from these clampdowns could severely impact the American dairy industry which had 150,000 employees working on dairy farms as of 2014 - 51% of them were immigrants, based on estimates by Texas A&M.
"Losing just a few of foreign-born undocumented workers could have serious implications for both dairy farmers and consumers," John Parker, an independent writer for local farm groups, writes in an article for Star Beacon.
The entire loss of immigrant labor in dairy farming will struck a heavy blow to US economic output, with a staggering loss of US$32 billion, Texas A&M's research revealed. Additionally, there will also be 208,000 fewer jobs in the country.
A part of the dairy industry's woes is that many Americans are uninterested to take up dairy jobs despite these professions paying more in wages than other jobs. This makes even more necessary the reliance on immigrants, and solving the underlying problems - according to the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) - requires "more than just law enforcement," Parker highlights. "It will mean that farm employers, including dairy farmers, have access to a legal, secure workforce."
Furthermore, dairy farms will be economically vulnerable until a workable immigration policy is formulated, the NMPF said.
The organisation is working with officials on two key principles: an affordable and efficient guest worker programme availing immigrant labor for all agriculture sectors, including dairy farms; and a provision to permit ongoing employment of current immigrant workers or those with an employment history in the US, regardless their legal status.
Importantly, the policies of secured borders should also be aligned with farm labour needs, NMPF noted.
"By working together, we can find an equitable solution to the immigration problem," Parker concludes. "If local help were available to work on farms, immigrants would not be needed. But that is not the case; local help is not available."