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Letter to the Editor: A dairyman’s response to ICE arrests on dairies

PD Staff Published on 27 April 2011

Editor’s note: Marc Laribee from Graceway Farms in Lowville, New York, submitted the following letter in response to the recent arrest of John Barney, a dairy producer in Upstate New York, by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in late March.

It is time for leadership, not politics, on the issue of immigration in this great nation. The recent events surrounding a tragic event at a local agricultural business are evidence of the great need for a clear and unambiguous policy to be enacted and consistently enforced regarding the immigrant labor force that, for our nation’s entire history, has been the backbone of our agricultural and service industries.

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We can no longer accept people in positions of power playing politics with issues that affect the average person’s life and livelihood in very direct and tangible ways. The immigration policy of this nation is a complex and tangled web of laws and directives that are confusing and widely misunderstood.

All too often, our immigration law is randomly and inconsistently enforced, oftentimes only as a show of government force or for the political gain of one side or the other. The people caught in the middle of this governmental malpractice are real.

They are among the most hard-working and underappreciated people among us and deserve better treatment from those in positions of power who have been entrusted with the leadership of our nation.

I believe the reason this issue has not been adequately addressed, like so many others, is because, by purposely keeping the law ambiguous and confusing, it allows people in positions of power to wield their power and influence by punishing enemies, rewarding friends and making valuable media opportunities for themselves when it fits their agendas.

Immigration in this nation could be easily addressed by an open and honest discourse on the ideas from both sides of the aisle and a simple and easy-to-follow guest worker program. This would serve the interests of employers and employees alike by putting a worker’s eligibility out in the open where enforcement and compliance would be simple and effective.

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Within the current atmosphere, employers are caught between the fear of non-compliance and punishment, and the threat of a discrimination lawsuit. With neither option enforced in a clear and consistent way, employers face risks no matter what they do.

Employers are told that they must accept whatever form of identification is presented to them and complete an I-9 form on all employees. They are provided with a long list of potential forms of identification that qualify, and are expected to be able to recognize the difference between legitimate and illegitimate documents.

To question an employee’s identification opens up an employer for charges of discrimination based on race or ethnicity.

Undereducated, yet skilled and ambitious, potential workers are faced with the choice of staying in their own countries and living in poverty or risking all they have, including sometimes their lives, in search of the opportunity to make a better life for themselves and their families.

Navigating a path to legal immigration is a complicated and costly legal obstacle course that does not meet the demand for labor in our country and therefore leaves a vacuum that is filled by people making their way into our country in the shadows, instead of out in the open where they should be.

It is time for leadership. This is not a political issue, it is a people issue. It is a societal issue. We, as a society, need to address this issue and provide a clear and manageable way for guest workers from other nations to fill the needs of American businesses.

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Not adequately dealing with this issue is just one of the many reasons that jobs and businesses have moved out of the U.S. and taken profits and opportunity with them.

Agriculture has to stay here. There is a great need for us to use the abundant natural resources that this country has to produce our own food and fiber and continue to export these products to the rest of the world’s population.

We cannot do this without a consistent and reliable source of labor. It is negligence on the part of our “leaders” to not solve this problem, and provide a clear and simple course that will serve the needs of our nation and its people. PD

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