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American Industries Need Immigration Reform – A Look at the South Dakota Dairy Industry

196716_files.jpgThe United States economy continues to struggle to rebound to its pre-2008 recession strength. One of the reasons why this struggle persists nearly seven years after the recession is that many of America’s most highly valued industries are trying to balance their employment needs with the country’s exceedingly complex immigration laws and regulations.

While foreign workers bring inestimable benefits to all facets of American industry, there are certain sectors of the economy that rely on foreign workers more heavily than others. One example is the agricultural industry. Currently, the South Dakota dairy industry is experiencing a shortage of workers that is greatly detrimental to the state’s businesses and in turn, to the dairy supply for the large segments of the country that these businesses serve.

Dairies Warn that Immigration Laws May Jeopardize America’s Food Production

Mr. Steve Bossman is the manager of the Turner County Dairy, which houses 1,600 cows that require milking by the dairy’s employees. Mr. Bossman personally oversees more than 30 foreign employees and makes his opinion on the U.S. work visa programs quite clear when he told the local news, “Our federal system is absolutely screwed up.” In fact, Mr. Bossman believes that the system is so broken that if its problems are not fixed soon, America’s ability to produce dairy-related food items may be adversely affected, resulting in shortages of these goods around the country.

According to Mr. Bossman, his workers are paid at the rate of $10 or $11 an hour, receive health insurance, and may also receive housing assistance. Mr. Bossman affirms that his employees have integrated themselves into their local South Dakota communities by attending churches and purchasing their household goods locally. However, the process to sponsor these workers has become increasingly cost- and time-intensive, and with comprehensive immigration reform stalled in Congress, there seems to be no change in sight.

The Current Process for Hiring a Worker

The South Dakota dairies are just like any other employer in the U.S. in that they must collect from each new employee three documents: a driver’s license, a completed I-9 form, and a Social Security card. The I-9 form requires the new employee to make a signed statement confirming that they have U.S. work authorization. While the employer must retain these documents in each employee’s personnel file, the employer is presently not required to verify that the information contained in the I-9 form is true and correct.

The Proposed New Process

However, soon employers may find that they are required to fact-check all of their new employees’ documents, a process that will likely be both time-consuming and administratively burdensome, especially for smaller businesses or for businesses located in more rural areas of the country. Recently, a Congressional committee took action on proposed legislation that would require all employers to use the electronic employment verification program called eVerify. This program compares the information provided on the I-9 form to any information about the employee’s work authorization status that may be found in Department of Homeland Security or Social Security Administration records.

Many companies and lobbyists in the dairy and other agricultural-based industries have roundly opposed the legislation because it imposed liability on the employer. Congress is expected to vote on the measure sometime in 2015.

The Rant

Congress would serve the national interest to a much more significant degree if, instead of increasing the burden on employers who hire foreign workers, it instead eased the unnecessarily complex and confusing immigration regulations by passing meaningful reform. Continue to check back with our blog for the most up to date immigration news.

Additional Blog Posts:

The Government’s War on H-1Bs, ImmigRantings, October 11, 2012
Obama Signs Immigration Executive Order, ImmigRantings, June 15, 2012
Problems with the H-1B visa: From Work Horse to Show Pony, ImmigRantings, February 13, 2012