WUD spells out key immigration reform principles at Modesto meeting

Former Western United Dairymen President Ray Souza, a Turlock dairyman, spelled out WUD’s support for key immigration reform proposals before a packed house at an immigration forum yesterday in Modesto. Souza was invited to speak at the listening session hosted by Congregations Building Communities, Rep.  Jeff Denham (R-Turlock) and special guest Congressman Trey Gowdy, Chair of the House Immigration Subcommittee. WUD is a founding member of the Agricultural Workforce Coalition (AWC), the broad-based group working with members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives to draft a workable solution for the labor needs of U.S. agriculture.  

souza testifySouza told the audience AWC has developed key principles to guide efforts to negotiate agriculture provisions for immigration reform legislation. Those principles include legalization of the current workforce that includes a commitment to a number of days of future employment in agriculture and a guest worker program that recognizes both the seasonal and year-round needs of a widely varied agricultural economy.  The AWC also proposes that the guest worker program offer both contract and at-will employment opportunities, again to address the broad-based needs of U.S. agriculture.

“The principles of the AWC match the needs in immigration reform for dairy producers like me,” said Souza. “There are three key areas that must be addressed for immigration reform to be effective for our industry.  First, we must have legalization for our current experienced workers.  Second, we must have access to year-round visas for our workers.  And, third, an effective program to provide future new workers is a must.

Here are more details on AWC’s three key areas to be addressed in immigration reform:

  • Legalization of current experienced workers.

No one knows how many improperly documented workers are employed on dairy farms in this country but for me and many dairymen like me some of our employees have been with us for as long as 20 years or more.  In cases of I-9 audits that I am aware of, one dairy was forced to terminate 75% of its employees and another 80%.  Legalization of our current workforce is simply a must to avoid further disruptions to an industry already facing some of the toughest economic challenges of our careers with flat to negative operating margins for the majority of months over the past five years.

  • Access to year-round visas for our workers.

As ineffective as the H-2A program has been for those who are eligible to use it, the fact is dairy farmers have been left out of the only legal guest worker program for agriculture.  Work on dairies is year-round and requires year-round workers.  The current H-2A program requires both the job to be seasonal and the employee temporary.

  •  Effective program for future new workers

The key word here is effective. Expanding H-2A to include dairy workers is not the solution.  H-2A provides well less than 10% of the workers needed by those who are eligible to use it.    The need on dairies could as much as double the number of workers the program currently documents.  That is why we support the AWC approach of creating a new guest worker program with the USDA certifying agriculture’s needs and writing the regulations necessary to run a successful program.

Posted: April 3, 2013