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Holiday Wish List for the Dairy Industry
Dec 12, 2011
Unfortunately, 2011 has been much more Grinch than Santa as it relates to dairy and immigration. Rather than compile a specific legislative wish list that is likely to die in another congressional committee, I have instead placed my hope in broader, more fundamental changes for 2012.
By Erich C. Straub, attorney
In the spirit of the season, it is time for gift lists, reflections of the past year and resolutions for a new year. If it were simply a matter of sending a letter to Santa, then I would ask for 60 Senate votes for AgJOBS, or better yet, comprehensive immigration reform.
But unfortunately, 2011 has been much more Grinch than Santa as it relates to dairy and immigration. Rather than compile a specific legislative wish list that is likely to die in another congressional committee, I have instead placed my hope in broader, more fundamental changes for 2012.
An End to Political Vitriol
One of the most disturbing developments in the past year was the tone of the immigration issue in the debates for the Republican presidential nomination. It seemed as if each candidate was trying to out-do the other in being harsh on immigrants. One candidate said the fence at the Mexican border should be electrified. Another said there should be no sympathy for "Dreamers"--undocumented children brought to the U.S. by their parents at an early age. Another candidate, considered a favorite for the nomination, saw his chances decline after he was attacked because as governor he had signed a law to help Dreamers with in-state tuition.
Despite the ugly rhetoric, there are signs that the tone may be changing for 2012. Recently, Newt Gingrich began rising in the polls and decided to strike a moderate position on the immigration issue. His rivals pounced on him with accusations of amnesty, but his stock has continued to rise. Unlike his rivals, Mr. Gingrich seems to have paid attention to polls showing that upwards of 70% of Iowans favor a moderate approach to immigration reform.
No More Arizona-Style Laws
In 2010, Arizona enacted a law that mandated E-Verify and other tough restrictions targeting undocumented workers and their employers. Many other states have followed suit, most notably Georgia and Alabama. Proponents have described these laws as “job creation” legislation, reasoning that unemployed citizens would flock to the jobs left behind by undocumented workers.
The early results have been quite the opposite. In Georgia, 11,000 agricultural jobs went unfilled and crops rotted in the fields. In Alabama, the business community has publically questioned the law after the embarrassing arrests of two foreign Mercedes-Benz executives who were visiting business operations in the state. Most dramatically, Russell Pierce, the state representative who authored the Arizona law, was recalled and defeated by a fellow Republican who advocated a moderate approach to immigration reform.
Increased Popular Understanding of the Business of Agriculture
In my opinion, one of the greatest obstacles to solving the rural immigration crisis is the lack of understanding of most Americans about how food gets to the grocery store. There is a frightening disconnect that allows the advocates of Arizona-style laws to argue that such legislation will create jobs. Here in my own state of Wisconsin, I am struck by how many of my fellow citizens still hold the belief that their milk comes from a farmer who is sitting on a stool and milking a cow by hand. In order to solve the immigration problem, the dairy industry must redouble its efforts to educate the public and dispel such myths.
Is my Santa list too idealistic? I do not believe so. As stated above, there is evidence that the first two items have already started to happen, and dairy producers themselves could have an enormous impact on achieving the last item. I remain optimistic because even the Grinch eventually found the Christmas spirit.
Erich C. Straub is an immigration lawyer who practices in Wisconsin and is listed in The Best Lawyers in America, SuperLawyers, and U.S. News and World Report’s Best Law Firms. Mr. Straub has spoken to audiences throughout the U.S. on immigration, and frequently advises Wisconsin Dairy Farmers on the topic. He has traveled Washington, D.C., to meet with elected officials regarding immigration reform. In 2008, the Milwaukee Business Journal described him as a “national leader on the federal immigration issue.” Contact him at (414) 224-8472 or firstname.lastname@example.org.