Lots of people think the solution to illegal immigration is easy. Just round them up and send them back home.
The truth is, if there was an easy fix, it would have been put into place decades ago. The difficulty of the situation is on display in, of all places, a rural county in Idaho, and it involves an industry many readers are familiar with: dairying.
The dairy industry has withered in Southwest Mississippi and neighboring Louisiana parishes. But it’s booming in Idaho, where milk production has doubled in the past two decades. Dairies are a $10 billion industry in Idaho, which puts the state in the nation’s top five.
But trouble looms, according to the Politico.com website. Hispanics and other foreign-born minorities comprise up to 90 percent of the work force on dairy farms, and many of these workers are in the United States illegally.
Dairy farmers fear that if President Trump’s aggressive policies against illegal immigrants result in deportations, their business will suffer mightily. Their experience is that undocumented workers are far from a drain on the economy, as Trump has said. Without illegals, they say, there would be no one to do the difficult work on dairy farms — even when the jobs are paying $14 an hour, as some do.
Idaho dairy advocates argue that illegal workers are not taking jobs from Americans, and in fact are helping to create other jobs.
The University of Idaho’s agricultural economists estimate there are 8,100 jobs at the state’s dairy farms. These have helped generate another 3,700 jobs in dairy processing and 27,600 jobs in other businesses. For a state like Idaho, with only 1.7 million residents — a little more than half the population of Mississippi — that’s a lot of employment.
Dairy farmers want Trump and Congress to craft immigration laws that would allow illegal workers already here to stay and earn the legal right to work. Eventually, they believe, this should lead to legal permanent residency. They also would like the law to allow temporary work visas for dairies in the future as current employees leave their jobs.
The problem with this is obvious: It runs counter to just about everything the predominant Republican Party wants to do about illegal immigrants. The irony is that Idaho is a deeply Republican state whose voters strongly supported Trump in the 2016 election.
The Idaho dairy industry probably is not alone in its reliance on immigrant labor. What is most unusual about this situation is the economic damage that could be caused if the country moves too harshly against people who are here illegally.
If it’s true that it would be difficult to replace the dairy workers with American employees, it would affect farmers’ ability to repay their loans and perhaps even increase the price of some products due to scarcity.
The trick is to balance this with the fact that the country generally should not reward people who cut in line to get here. A solution to this problem simply is more difficult than it seems.