Dairy farmers want access to foreign labor

As the immigration reform debate heats up, dairy farmers are entering the mix, demanding better access to foreign workers. To get Republicans to back the controversial bipartisan “Gang of Eight” proposition, senators need to earn votes from conservative leaders. To do this, they’ve decided to rely on the dairy farm industry, which Reuters says is a $35 billion business. Votes from those who support a growing economy are what senators are after, and with the dairy industry’s potential to employ many new workers, this could be a deal they can’t pass up.

“It is a way of giving something to those who may see parts of the bill as undesirable and let them say, ‘At least I’m going to be helping the agriculture industry in my state,'” Mel Martinez, former Republican senator of Florida, told Reuters.

The dairy industry needs access to skilled foreign workers at different times of the year, and having workers on hand to complete tasks would allow farmers to have more flexibility, according to The Manchester Enterprise.

“This would enable [farmers] to plan ahead and not wake up in the middle of the night wondering if they’ll have enough workers to pick their crop,” Ryan Findlay, national legislative counsel for the Michigan Farm Bureau, told The Manchester Enterprise.

If the proposed immigration bill passes, agricultural workers who have visas would be able to extend their stays in the U.S. by another three years. Dairy farmers told Reuters that the demand for immigrant workers has increased because U.S. citizens aren’t interested in filling the open positions.

“Before I started hiring immigrant workers, it was nearly impossible to keep all positions full,” Tony Brubaker, a farm owner, told Reuters.

Because conservatives are worried about giving what they call “amnesty” to 11 million immigrants without citizenship, the ploy for dairy farmers could end up working to get 60 votes in the Senate.