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Immigration Agents Investigate S.D. Dairy

Immigration Agents Investigate S.D. Dairy

SDDPA president says the farmer was trying to do the right thing and hire workers through a federal visa program.

A South Dakota dairy has gotten into trouble with immigration officials for trying to do the right thing, says Marv Post, a Volga, S.D., dairyman and president of the South Dakota Dairy Producers Association.

Who can milk cows? Apparently not guest workers who enter the U.S. through the H2A program. A South Dakota dairy is being investigated.

In an opinion piece published recently in the Wall Street Journal, he says a dairy in Brookings County came under the scrutiny of the U.S. Department of Labor for its use of the H2A visa system. The family (who Post did not identify, he said, out of concern for government reaction), brought in foreign employees under the H2A agricultural guest worker program in an attempt to properly source the workforce. However, the H2A program is only for seasonal work, such as harvesting fruits and vegetables. Since cows produce milk 365 days a year, the government said the H2A workers were not allowed to milk cows.

"As this dispute grew, law enforcement agents with badges entered the dairy, demanding employee files and information relating to their housing, transportation and payroll. Federal agents spent two days interrogating employees in an effort to build a case against this family, despite all their efforts to do the right thing. The cost in various fees to this dairy farm just to use the program was thousands of dollars, a price tag that is now escalating, with many more legal bills to come. "

Post says that when hiring employees, farmers are forced to pick the lesser evil from a series of bad options.

"They can hire willing, foreign-born workers, who present appropriate work papers -- like a Social Security card or a photo I.D. -- that aren't verified by an official agency," he says. "[Or] they can hire American-born workers who aren't reliable and often quit. Or they can use the only official government program permitting agriculture guest workers, which wasn't designed to generate year-round farm employees."

South Dakota has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country, Post wrote.

"The reality is that most people born in South Dakota, like most other Americans, do not want to milk cows for a living. Absent a visa program, then, the choice for farmers comes down to either employing such people -- and in the process, becoming a revolving door for individuals who display a poor work ethic or lack discipline -- or hiring dependable but possibly undocumented employees who want to work hard for a better life.

To read the complete letter, see

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