September 16, 2011
The National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) cannot support H.R. 2847, the "American Specialty Agriculture Act" or H.R. 2164, the "Legal Workforce Act," it said in a recent publication.
NMPF has had a long-standing opposition to any enforcement legislation that it is not directly linked to a strong solution to the foreign labor issues currently affecting dairy farmers across the country. H.R. 2164, the "Legal Workforce Act" is an example of such enforcement-only legislation. While this piece of legislation does extend the implementation period for agricultural employers, NMPF does not support any type of legislation that is enforcement only and does not address the flow of future employees to farms across the country. Until dairy farmers have access to a legal and reliable foreign workforce, NMPF will continue to oppose any enforcement only legislation.
H.R. 2847, the "American Specialty Agriculture Act." attempts to address the unique concerns of agriculture with regard to foreign labor. The bill does allow for the dairy industry to participate in a new H-2C visa program. NMPF cannot support this effort because it prohibits year-round farm labor, which is essential to the successful functioning of dairy operations. Forcing foreign-born workers employed on a dairy farm to leave the United States for a two-month period each year will cause enormous operational disruption. The dairy industry requires a constant, well-trained workforce.
Neither H.R. 2164 nor H.R. 2847 addresses our current experienced labor force actively working in the United States. NMPF is not requesting an immediate path to citizenship, but merely a chance for those employees currently in the United States to have an opportunity to participate in any new guest-worker program.
The American Sheep Industry Association has been monitoring the House legislation to track any impact it might have on the H-2A program, a program the sheep industry has used for more than 60 years. The legislation does not clearly identify how the sheep labor program would be maintained.