Monday, October 01, 2018

Supporting Trump and Needing Undocumented Labor

Ryan Lizza has a long article in Esquire that perfectly highlights the hypocrisies of immigration policy. It was about Devin Nunes and how his dairy farm actually moved from California to Iowa, but that fact has been hidden. That's mildly interesting but the bigger point is that in rural Iowa, two things collide: support for Donald Trump and dire need for undocumented labor.

Devin Nunes' family panicked when a reporter looked into this, not necessarily for the political fallout but because a story on undocumented immigrants could destroy everyone.

In every conversation I had with dairy farmers and industry insiders in northwest Iowa, it was taken as a fact that the local dairies are wholly dependent on undocumented labor. The low unemployment rate (it’s 2 percent in Osceola County), the low profit margins in the dairy business, and the global glut of milk that keeps prices low make hiring outside of the readily available pool of immigrants from Mexico and Guatemala unthinkable.
The truly depressing thing about this quote is that the anti-immigrant argument is that "Americans will do those jobs" while the pro-immigrant argument is "immigrants should be paid legal wages" but the reality may be that fixing the current situation could in fact bankrupt the dairy industry. Both arguments require wages to go up from current levels, but if there is a global milk glut, then wages will price U.S. milk out of international markets.

Incidentally, this is why Trump has been hitting Canada so hard on milk. It is an industry in trouble, where large scale production has led to razor thin profit margins.

So what do we do? I don't have a ready answer but clearly we cannot move forward without more honesty. Everyone in Sibley, Iowa knows that their town will cease to exist without the same immigrants their preferred candidate is attacking. As a country, we need to have honest and public conversations about how Americans are simply not filling certain jobs. They just aren't. And let the discussion go from there. Let farmers talk about their realities, which are different from the idyllic rhetoric we often hear.


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