GEM COUNTY, Idaho -- Idaho has had an active role in the immigration debate in Washington D.C. over the past decade.
With migrant workers playing a large role in Idaho s massive ranching and farming industries the Gem State is not an uncommon destination for Hispanic workers. It s the main reason, Eagle immigration attorney Raul Labrador said he wanted to become a congressman.
However, he and his colleagues may be farther from immigration reform than they were when he first went to Washington D.C., and some Idaho farmers and ranchers say it is hurting their business in a way their fathers before them never had to worry about.
Terry Jones owns a dairy north of Emmett with about 2,000 cows, and says he could double it if he could find people to work.
A dozen employees take care of the 2,000 cows on Jones' dairy farm. One of them is Juan Rivera, who came to the U.S. from Mexico more than 20 years ago.
I ve been working here for almost, here on this dairy for almost 4 years, but I ve been working for the owner for almost 16 now, Rivera said.
When he first came to the U.S., a cousin who was already in the country helped him find his first job. Rivera said it's much easier to find steady work in the U.S. than in Mexico.
Here you can have everything you want like a car, a house, Rivera said. There are jobs over there (in Mexico), but not all the time, just a little bit, just to buy food and clothes and that s it.
The day KTVB was at the dairy, Rivera was artificially inseminating cows, and says his job on the dairy is easy for him.
LACK OF LABORERS
Most of the workers on Jones' dairy, like Rivera, are Hispanic. Jones said that is because people in the domestic labor pool don't have the skills he need. He said he has tried going to the unemployment office to find laborers, but has not had much luck, and has a hard time hiring and retaining Idahoans.
They last maybe one, two, three days at the most, said Jones. The way we get it is, we go to the Spanish language radio stations, we tell them, We need X-Y-Z, and within hours they re lining up at our door.
Jones said the current state of America's immigration system is keeping his dairy from expanding.
What you see down there is half of what we re permitted for, he said, gesturing to a sprawling dairy. We re permitted for 4,000 head, so we could double the size of this operation, and the biggest controlling factor today is labor.
Doubling his dairy operation would produce an additional $3 to $4 million of milk every year.
The study 'No Longer Home Grown' uses data from the Department of Agriculture, Department of Commerce, and University of Georgia, and says that Americans are eating about 80 percent more fresh produce than they did 12 years ago. Further, that produce is increasingly coming from outside the US. From 1998 to 2012, produce imports grew from about 26 percent of the supply, to nearly 80 percent.
That s what America produces- agriculture, and it s home-grown, said Jones. All we need is a domestic supply or a labor pool that will allow us to grow. With that growth, we can move that job growth into the domestic pool.
The study also says for every billion dollars of economic growth in agriculture, more than 7,400 jobs are produced. However, this growth isn't happening for many farmers, like Jones.
That domestic growth is not here, that s a multi-billion dollar industry that s lost out, said Jones. Why? Because we do not have the labor pool to support the growth that is available to us.
Jones considers himself a conservative, but he said immigration reform is not about Republicans or Democrats.
The will in Congress is the left, and the right are playing tug of war with this pool of voters, said Jones. All we want is a pool of labor that will do what America needs to get done and that is producing a safe, fair-priced food supply that s home-grown.
This issue does not just hurt the farmers. It has a big impact on the American consumer.
The real loser is the American consumer, Jones said. When they go to marketplace this year and see the value of their shopping dollar shrink, one of the big reasons is we cannot get the help to make it happen down here.
The real sticking point for Jones, and he said many other folks in agriculture, is the lack of labor.
Every morning I wake up, I got a thousand cows that have to be milked, I got 150 head of calves that need to be fed, regardless of whether it s 2 degrees outside or it s a nice sunny day. I need that workforce, he said. America wants safe, they want high-quality, they want a reasonable priced food sources. There it is (gestures to dairy), if I can get the help to do it.
Jones is not in favor of legalizing all the aliens in this country, but he thinks the solution lies in some sort of work visa program, similar to the H-2A program.
STATEMENT FROM REP. RAUL LABRADOR
Rep. Labrador believes that we must reform our broken immigration system, but he opposes any legislation such as the Senate bill - that is based on the philosophy of legalization first, border security later. Right now, he is working with other members of Congress on ways we can reform the system, including securing our nation s borders, giving our federal immigration enforcement officials the resources they need to enforce the laws that are currently on the books, and modernizing our guest worker programs. Guest workers are vital to keep industries in America, especially in Idaho, competitive internationally. By providing a legal avenue for foreign workers to enter the United States, a guest worker program is critical to secure the border and eliminate illegal immigration. Rep. Labrador will continue to be a leader in the fight for immigration reform.
STATEMENT FROM REP. MIKE SIMPSON
While I recognize that legal immigration is in the long-term interest of the United States, I strongly believe that we must ensure that the borders are secure and discourage illegal immigration by fixing our broken immigration laws. Congress must find a solution to this problem, but it must be a solution that is fair for those who have attempted to comply with the law and waited years, sometimes decades, separated from their families in an effort to live in the United States.
STATEMENT FROM SEN. JIM RISCH
Broken immigration policy in America has a tremendous impact on a number of sectors in the Idaho economy, particularly agriculture, high-tech, construction and hospitality sectors. This is an issue crying out for a solution and it could easily be fixed by undertaking each of the four parts separately. The majority in the Senate refuses to do that. We greatly need a resolution to this problem.
STATEMENT FROM SEN. MIKE CRAPO
I agree with the need for a sensible solution to these issues, and I support the creation of a temporary worker program that is fair, workable and focused on employment, said Crapo. Preservation of the integrity of our borders is essential to both a sensible guest worker program as well as our national security. Unfortunately, the most recent Senate immigration bill lacked crucial border security and interior enforcement provisions, and amendments to increase surveillance and apprehension rates were tabled. Any comprehensive immigration reform measure must ensure that those who come to our country, whether they seek to come as a temporary worker or to obtain permanent residency, do so in compliance with our rule of law.