TWIN FALLS, Idaho (KMVT/KSVT) As immigration talks in Washington D.C. ensue, dairy leaders in Idaho watch.
Lawmakers on Capitol Hill are working to avoid a government shutdown. Part of that will likely include some immigration reform.
Key issues include the future of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, President Trump’s Border Wall and chain migration.
Some of the decisions made could have a big impact on a key Magic Valley industry: dairy.
“You have to understand that the success of the Magic Valley stands on the shoulders of foreign-born labor,” said Bob Naerebout, a government affairs representative with the Idaho Dairymen’s Association.
Naerebout said there are a few key points that would help dairies in new immigration legislation.
“Number one is recognizing our current workforce,” he said.
That workforce is largely from outside of the U.S. Naerebout speculates that about 85 to 90 percent of dairy workers in Idaho are foreign born. Most of that labor force is Hispanic.
Naerebout said he would like to see legislation recognize that to protect that workforce. He also points out that labor availability in Idaho is tight. Unemployment in Idaho is below three percent.
“It’s not only looking at our current workforce but in the future our needs for additional workforce if they’re not going to come from within the United States,” Naerebout said.
He said to address that, dairy workers need multi-year visas. Naerebout said for full-time positions like on dairies, three-year programs are a possible legal way of bringing workers to the U.S.
He said dairies don’t qualify for temporary work programs like the H-2A visa program.
The third point the Dairymen’s Association wants to see is border security. Naerebout points out most individual employers aren’t going to immigration experts, and they may not know if all of their workers are here legally.
“We want to always make sure that the responsibility of that falls with the government and not on the individual employers,” Naerebout said.
Those are all issues that a Dairymen’s lobbyist met with Idaho Rep. Raul Labrador about.
Labrador co-wrote an immigration bill in the House last week. The Securing America’s Future Act aims at addressing a handful of immigration issues before the Jan. 19 spending deadline.
In a statement about the bill Labrador said: “The purpose of our legislation is simple: to help President Trump keep his promise to the American people to fix our broken immigration system. Our bill will modernize America’s immigration system for the next generation, enacting conservative reforms that will make our nation strong.”
He said the bill includes funding for the border wall, stronger interior enforcement, ending chain migration and providing a legislative solution for DACA.
Naerebout didn’t speak to Labrador’s bill specifically. Though he did say they have worked with him for years on immigration issues.
“We obviously are appreciative of congressmen Labrador’s work on immigration,” he said. “We’ve had multiple meetings across his time as congressmen for the state of Idaho on immigration.”