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July 25, 2014 - 4:39pm

New documentary highlights immigration policy that harms local dairy farmers

posted by Howard B. Owens in business, agriculture, immigration.

Via Orleans Hub, a documentary on the difficulty WNY dairy farmers face because of current immigration policy.

Fruit and vegetable farms have access to legal foreign workers through the H2A program, but the federal government hasn’t made that possible for dairies because the work isn’t considered seasonal. Dairies haven’t had much success finding local Americans to work the night shifts.

Many dairies say they have been forced to hire Mexicans who don’t have proper documents. They are hard-working and dedicated, but they are also vulnerable to sudden removal by immigration officers. Germano interviews one dairy farmer who will soon have long-term milking employees deported.

“I am tired of the inaction in Washington,” a WNY dairy farmer tells Germano. “We’re trying to run a business. We’re the ones caught in the crosshairs between the government that makes the laws and the other agency that has to enforce the laws.” 

Lincoln DeCoursey
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Obviously a lot of effort went into this film and it does a good job of conveying the area farmers' and workers' viewpoints. It's never been a secret that farm work is hard, never-ending, time-critical work -- I don't disagree that it's well-suited to Mexican laborers who are young, strong, dependable and hungry for jobs. A solution to keep dairy prices low indeed might be, as the piece suggests, to provide an avenue for dairy farmers to use guest workers who would otherwise not be eligible for employment or residency in the US. It would be nice to see income taxes paid out of these positions.

The question of whether to allow that is a political one. Currently the law states that these jobs ought be kept for Americans. I think an alternative solution may be to get very tough on farmers caught using under-the-table labor. Think criminal court or serious fines. If farmers were kept from under-the-table hiring, farms would have to compete on wage with each other and with other job sectors in order to attract eligible workers.

While I don't begrudge public assistance to those people who need it, I suspect more could be done to match healthy people to available jobs. Yes it might mean moving out of the city to the country. It's always been a good place to have a family and raise children.

C. M. Barons
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Dave Olsen
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If any foreign workers want to come here to work, why couldn't they apply for a visa. Make them fairly easy to get and for a limited time, say 90 days. Then leave a $200.00 deposit at the border. They can renew it every 90 days if they have proof of employment and have not broken any of our laws. No job? get into trouble with the law? the $200 gets spent on a bus ticket to wherever they entered, and they get the bum's rush. Then banned for at least a year for non-employment or more depending on the crime. They would be subject to our laws and would have to serve any jail time the court sets, then evicted. No anchor babies, no welfare. If they get injured, they would be covered under compensation law. They would pay taxes like everyone else, and get refunds if due like everyone else. They should be treated no different than a worker that is also a citizen. If they want to become citizens, they can apply, but the visa rules apply during the process. If they want to work a few years and go back to their homes, great.

Its called a free market and open competition and it works.

Of course if we eliminated income tax by repealing the 16th amendment, then payroll tax fraud wouldn't be a problem.

Greg Rada
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Well put Dave. As an add-on, I think anyone who is "able bodied" and on Gov. Assistance should be directed to these farms as part of a Welfare - to - Work force program. There are countless things you can learn on a farm that can be reapplied to the rest of the world.

Dave Olsen
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I get your point, Greg, that could helpful, but only if they are willing; I don't think a dairy farmer wants or has the time for slugs who don't want to be there. I also don't like forcing people to do things they don't want to.

I'd much rather have open borders, but it's not feasible with the welfare system we have. Systemic change across our whole society is needed, but one step at a time.

Gale Conn-Wright
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I worked for Genesee County for five years and worked with a few "Welfare-to-Work" clients as well as volunteers. It was labor intensive working with this group. They need a lot of supervision and guidance and have issues outside of work that cannot always be addressed satisfactorily. Child care and frequent illnesses are two of those issues that came up frequently.

I imagine it would be a pleasure to employ such motivated, hard-workers as the immigrants seem to often be. Probably it is worth the risks of them being illegal for employers who just want hard-workers.

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