The dairy industry is hopeful President Trump's recent decision to phase out the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, will force Congress to enact immigration reform.
Rural communities rely on agriculture, according to the Idaho Dairymen's Association director Bob Naerebout. He said these communities also rely on foreign-born laborers.
The number of undocumented workers in the dairy industry isn't certain, but according to national audits the number could be as high as 70 percent. He's also not certain how many workers will be affected by the Trump Administration's decision to stop the DACA, but he hopes the decision will push Congress to act on immigration reform.
"So if there's any sign of benefit of the Trump Administration's reversal of the Obama Administration's declaration on DACA,” Naerebout said. “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 is often in a tough position when it comes to labor because the industry isn't eligible for the H-2A visa, which is a temporary work visa for foreign-born workers. Naerebout said he doesn't support amnesty for undocumented immigrants but he does support a path to legal status.
The Idaho Dairymen’s Association came to the support of undocumented immigrants in July when it was discovered that the Jerome County Sheriff's Office in Idaho 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,” Naerebout said. “So it became a huge issue to the Hispanic community not only in Jerome but all of the Magic Valley."
Not only are immigrants vital to the agricultural economy, Naerebout said letting workers out of the shadows will let them be more engaged in their communities.