“Undocumented on the farm: inside the life of a Vermont migrant dairy worker,” by Terry Allen, appeared on Vermont Digger. Here are some nuggets from the best reporting I’ve seen on unauthorized workers at time of the Trump administration.
A thousand- plus dairy workers
Carlos [not his real name] just wanted a job. “It’s hard, hard work,” he says. “But you came to America to make money and go back quick. So you come to Vermont.” At his previous job, construction for a large company in a mid-sized Texas city, the hourly wages were comparable to dairy, but the potential earnings and the cost of living were not. The Vermont jobs include housing with heat and other utilities, isolation that brings fewer spending temptations, and an opportunity to work up to 90 hours a week.
Older Vermonters still remember when, in the 1940s, some 11,000 small, family farms the dotted the land…..The number of farms continues to decline — from 1,030 to 825 just in the last decade.
Nonetheless, milk production is up….What keeps the owners awake at night — besides the vagaries of weather and fluctuating milk prices that sometimes fall below costs — is finding and keeping cheap labor. Most have tried locals, and some have turned to former prisoners. But few stick it out.
It is little wonder that Americans with other options do not last. With two milkings a day, 12 hours apart, farms must be staffed 14 to 16 hours a day. Cows don’t get Christmas off, and neither do dairy workers.
Latino migrants are filling a gap and saving America’s farms. Nationwide, immigrants, many undocumented, comprise 51 per cent of the nation’s dairy industry, according to a 2015 study by Texas A&M University for the National Milk Producers Federation. If these workers were deported, the report concludes, milk prices would rise 90 per cent, and cost the U.S. economy more than $32 billion.
Without “our guests,” as then Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin called migrant farm workers, much of the state’s milk industry would likely dry up. Say goodbye to affordable Cabot cheddar; kiss Vermont-sourced Cherry Garcia sweet adios.
A few times a year, officials from the Mexican consulate in Boston travel to areas with unauthorized Mexican citizens and, after careful screening, provide legal identification papers. The document allows migrants to buy a plane ticket to return to home, to prevent their being mistaken for criminals if picked up by authorities; and, in Vermont and 11 other states plus DC, to obtain a restricted “driving privilege” license.
While the Mexican IDs are useful, they do nothing to change U.S. legal status. And impediments to obtaining lawful visas are nearly insurmountable….Temporary H-2A agricultural visas last for months and are only for strictly seasonal jobs like planting and picking crops.
Recently Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents targeted and detained the three prominent activists with Migrant Justice, a Burlington-based group advocating for dairy workers’ rights. The detentions were denounced in public demonstrations and a sharp letter from the state’s congressional delegation and Republican Gov. Phil Scott.
Support for the migrants is not universal among Vermonters. Some workers at the Department of Motor Vehicles contacted authorities to drop the dime on people with “South of the Border” names who applied for the special driver’s licenses, according to emails obtained through a public records request by Migrant Justice, a local farmworker advocacy group.