That Sioux Falls paper picks up a March 23 article from the Tri-State Neighbor that repeats a cry we’ve heard before from other CAFO dons: South Dakota’s big dairies want Uncle Sam to make it easier for them to access cheap immigrant labor.
Janelle Atyeo reports that Turner County Dairy operates with a half-Hispanic workforce, most earning $10 to $11 an hour. Dairy manager Steve Bossman says that even at those relatively low wages, he can rely on his Hispanic workers to find him extra bodies when he needs them:
They are all great workers, he said. And if he’s short on help, “I could ask that guy and he’d have three guys here tomorrow,” Bossman said, motioning toward a Hispanic man who was sweeping out a calf pen [Janelle Atyeo, “S.D. Dairy Operators Call for Immigration Reform,” Tri-State Neighbor, 2015.03.23].
…which comment I find fascinating alongside this estimate of how many agriculture workers are actually breaking the law:
By some estimates, anywhere from 50 percent to 70 percent of agricultural workers are not authorized to work in the U.S. Getting access to a legal, stable workforce is a priority issue for the American Farm Bureau [Atyeo, 2015.03.23].
But Turner County Dairy makes sure it’s not facilitating illegal activity, right?
Like any employer, the Turner County Dairy collects three documents when a new employee is hired. The employee provides a driver’s license, a Social Security card and an I-9 tax form, which they sign to attest that they are working in the U.S. legally. [Dairy part-owner and former South Dakota Secretary of Agriculture Walt] Bones said the employer must have these documents on file, but it’s not up to them to verify that their workers are telling the truth and working in America legally [Atyeo, 2015.03.23].
Bossman, Bones, and our entire Congressional delegation don’t say much to Atyeo about these illegal workers and the law-breaking employers who exploit them. They certainly don’t talk about ways to help these hard workers become permanent members of our workforce and our nation, because holy cow, if we let them stay permanently, eventually we might have to give them raises and let them vote, and oh my goodness, we can’t have more brown people voting!
No, no, no, the solution is to streamline the guest-worker visa process and make it easier for Big Ag to access cheap foreign labor without risking letting those laborers become citizens with rights…
…which all seems odd to me when I think of how Rep. Kristi Noem defends her self-serving positions on agriculture. Rep. Noem, whose brothers, as Mr. Kurtz puts it, sustain their farm profits by exploiting immigrant labor, has defended farm subsidies as an investment in national security. In advocating (weakly, fecklessly) for the long-delayed Farm Bill, Rep. Noem warned, “the moment we let another country feed us is the moment we let another country control us.”
In Rep. Noem’s word-world, agriculture is a vital national-security industry. But right now, quite possibly more than half of the workers in that industry are criminals from other countries. And even in her and her GOP and Big Ag pals’ proposals to decriminalize certain illegal immigration, she still supports a system in which we let workers from other countries feed us… which by Rep. Noem’s formulation means those other countries, to some extent, control us.
Subsidies, Farm Bill, immigration—Congresswoman Kristi Noem is not talking about principles of good government. Noem is back-rationalizing positions that financially benefit herself and her family.
If our leaders really meant the words they say, they would support smaller-scale, locally-oriented agriculture that would support more workers, better wages, and healthier eating. But just like offering immigrants an easier path to citizenship, expanding local agriculture and paying better wages would empower more workers and decentralize the control on which corporations base their profit projections. Instead, expect our leaders to continue their focus on protecting their Big Ag donors’ access to easily exploitable and disposable immigrant labor.