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Immigration Reform: What Would It Mean for Your Employees?

Aug 08, 2011

Consider the reaction of immigrant dairy employees if immigration reform were passed.

Duvall, Shaun pro photo 1 11   CopyBy Shaun Duvall, Puentes/Bridges
Imagine being invited to a close friend’s wedding. You are thrilled to share the day with them. You buy the best present you can think of, and wrap it and take it with you. You get all dressed up, and arrive at the church, and you have to sit in the back. Then you go to the reception, and you can come in and eat the meal, but you aren’t allowed to have wedding cake, nor can you participate in the dance.
I believe that is how some of these employees feel -- as if they are not quite good enough.
We all have read about the various attempts at reforming our very broken immigration system. We all have our opinions, either pro or con. I don’t advocate any particular legislation. Rather, I try to promote understanding between our culture and that of the immigrants who now (and have always) come here to seek a better life.
Many people are for reform, many are against, and legislators are hesitant to take a stand. Understandably so. This is one of the issues that stir people up in seconds. Just mention it, and you’ll have folks lining up on both sides, ready to argue.
I am not going to do that today. One of my dairy producers suggested that I write about how the immigrant dairy employees would feel if reform were passed. So, I asked several employees on farms in the Midwest. Some are documented, some are not.
When I asked how they would feel with a change in their status, they all said that it would be like a dream come true. There is a real fear of leaving their houses to go grocery shopping. “Every time I get in the car, I wonder if this will be the time I am stopped.” “We’d be able to talk to the police without fear, go to the doctor and to school to learn English.”
Long separations from family also create hardship for employees here. According to a recent bulletin of the Pew Hispanic Centerfewer are coming, and those who are here are staying longer, sometimes 10 years or more. I wonder how we would like being separated from our children for that amount of time.
I asked one employee to describe how it feels to be apart for so long. His eyes welled up with tears, and he said, “Well, we don’t have another choice, so we try not to think about it too much. We try to think about how we are helping them make a better life.” Another commented that it would be so great to be able to go home once a year to see them.
These young men speak with pride about how the money they send home has made a big impact in the development of their hometowns. “Now we have phones in our homes, and the bank is only 15 minutes away.” “My children can go to school and learn a career, so that they don’t have to leave home to provide for their future families.”
Maybe most important of all is that those young men and women would give almost anything to have legal status. Very few choose to defy laws merely to break a law. As they all say, “I come here for necessity, not because I want to.” “No vengo por gusto, vengo por necesidad.”
I wonder how we would feel if we were only partly invited.
Puentes/Bridges is a nonprofit organization that, under Shaun Duvall’s direction, promotes cultural understanding, particularly in the dairy industry. Duvall also operates SJD Language & Culture Services, LLC, a translation and interpretation business. For more information, contact Shaun Duvall at or (608) 685-4705.
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