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22 Mar 2019

Christina Goldbaum, The New York Times

USA: Immigration crackdowns harm dairy farm workers & farmers

"Trump Crackdown Unnerves Immigrants, and the Farmers Who Rely on Them", 18 March 2019

...[T]he dairy industry [in New York] has been able to survive only by relying on undocumented immigrants for its work force...This year the labor shortage has been compounded by Mr. Trump's trade war and extreme weather, forcing some small farmers to switch to higher-value crops, to reduce their acreage and to consider selling their farms... Advocates for undocumented immigrants said ICE agents target immigrants indiscriminately in...public spaces. But ICE disputes those claims... Supporters of stricter immigration policies... argue that while immigration crackdowns could force farms to consolidate and mechanize and may be hard for individual farmers, it would make the industry more competitive globally.

Dairy farmers face particular challenges because without American workers, they have no alternative to migrant labor. The government program that brings in legal temporary workers does so only for seasonal workers and dairy farming is a year-round activity... [T]he H-2A program [is] the legal foreign worker program that brings agricultural labor to the United States for temporary work. Critics of the program argue that workers are often exploited by employers and risk deportation if they complain about mistreatment. Farmers complain that it is costly, complicated and laden with bureaucracy... Without a legal alternative to informal migrant labor, the competition between dairy farms to retain migrant workers is so fierce that farm owners, once notorious for underpaying and mistreating workers, are now improving working conditions and wages to entice employees to stay on their farms, workers said.