To: The Honorable Governor Scott Walker, Honorable Speaker Robin Vos and the Honorable Scott Fitzgerald
Re: The Dairy Industry and Immigrant Labor
I am writing to you today to urge you to speak out publicly against AB190/2B275 and 287g, two initiatives that threaten the entire dairy industry.
The dairy industry in Wisconsin is a $43 billion dollar business, one of the largest industries in our State. Of that $43 billion, close to 80 percent is produced by larger dairies that rely on immigrants for the majority of their labor needs. These dairies are the basis for more than 12 percent of the Wisconsin state gross product. The industry includes cheese factories, distributors, transportation companies and all of the associated industries that support them but none of them would be around without the milk produced on Wisconsin dairy farms.
Wisconsin dairy farms have been the backbone of rural Wisconsin since the early 20th century and most Wisconsin citizens can trace their heritage somehow to those farms. In the last 20 years those farms have changed and have grown larger due to economic necessity. This dynamic has also changed the landscape of who is now milking and caring for those cows. Today approximately 80% of the milk flowing from those farms everyday, filling cheese plants and providing cheese for our pizzas is produced mostly by immigrants. Many, if not most, of the employed people milking and caring for cows on Wisconsin dairy farms are immigrants unlike just 20 years ago when maybe 1-3% were immigrants. According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel 80% of Wisconsin dairy workers today are immigrants. No matter what any uninformed person tells you, immigrants are not going to be replaced by willing Wisconsin citizens any time in the near future. We farmers know that.
Several initiatives that are now under way hurt our chances of retaining and hiring needed, hard-working, and reliable employees. The initiatives include
- SB275 and AB190 state bills that make immigrants more fearful of law enforcement by allowing all public employees-including law enforcement- to profile, inquire about immigration status and contact Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)
- 287G status that has local jurisdictions doing the work of the Federal government on immigration law enforcement which undermines the trust the immigrants have in law enforcement once again at a net cost to the jurisdictions. Currently, Waukesha was approved to enter into this voluntary program, but we encourage state leadership to speak out against bringing this program to Wisconsin.
There are ways the State of Wisconsin can help dairy farmers and their employees thus helping the whole industry thrive. They include;
- Finding a way for immigrants to drive legally in Wisconsin which would give the dairy industry in Wisconsin a competitive advantage with other states.
- Wisconsin could make it a priority to be an immigrant welcoming state to fill the large labor shortages we in rural Wisconsin are experiencing now which will only get worse as baby boomers retire.
Some say that the immigration laws must be enforced even though almost everyone admits they are broken. Enforcement is a federal responsibility, not a state problem, and we should not be diverting our public servants and police to acting as federal agents. Until Congress comes to grips with reality and fixes them, Wisconsin must find ways to fill the labor shortages by being a leader in immigration. Wisconsin will only become stronger if we embrace the immigrants milking our cows as a much needed addition to our heritage.