With the Trump administration toughening its stance on illegal immigrants, dairy producers who employ immigrant workers are being advised to make sure they’re ready if a federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent stops by their farm.
The likelihood of farms receiving an ICE visit is increasing, Kelly Fortier, partner at Michael Best, said in a Feb. 17 webinar hosted by the American Dairy Coalition. The webinar, entitled “Dairy Industry in Panic,” came shortly before President Donald Trump released a new executive order directing his administration to more aggressively enforce the nation’s immigration laws to find, arrest and deport those in the country illegally.
The Trump administration recently redefined who is considered a “criminal alien,” expanding the number of undocumented individuals targeted for deportation. Criminality has been broadened to include anyone who entered the U.S. illegally; who committed acts constituting a chargeable criminal offense; and who have committed fraud or willful misrepresentation in connection with any matter of application before a governmental agency, including use of someone else’s social security number.
“The big change the media is picking up on and people are alarmed by is expansion of who’s now considered a priority for removal,” Fortier said. Anyone convicted of or charged with a criminal offense, even something as minor as shoplifting, could be at risk for removal from the U.S.
“The standard traffic stop may be a bigger deal than it was two years ago,” she said. However, “the focus will still be on those who have committed serious crimes.”
Fortier said the administration has approved the hiring of some 5,000 new border patrol officers and 10,000 new ICE officers, and more arrests, detentions and removals of undocumented immigrants are expected. More work site enforcement also is anticipated, with more investigations into employment situations.
“We still have to see how they’re planning to fund that,” she said, “but we will see more enforcement in the coming year.”
Also, local police are being given more power to perform ICE officer functions, Fortier said. “We would expect to see more local law enforcement getting involved.”
More than 680 individuals were arrested by ICE officials during the week of Feb. 6, mostly in large urban centers and on the coasts, she said. Three-fourths had criminal convictions ranging from false identification and DUI to homicide. Most of these people were arrested at home, but some were arrested while appearing for a scheduled check-in at an ICE office.
While what’s happening now might seem drastic, Fortier said, it’s important to keep in mind that the Obama administration deported a record number of people and, in its early years, removed many with minor offenses. However, in recent years, the administration has limited removal to those convicted of serious crimes or considered a national security threat.
“No one deported more people than President (Barack) Obama,” she said. “Toward the end of his presidency, he backed away from that broad enforcement and looked at specific threats.”
Also, she said, the national media has picked up on the issue recently, and that has incited some fear. With all the rumors and partisan politics, Fortier said it’s important to glean information from trusted news outlets only.
In preparation for an ICE agent visit, Fortier encourages dairy producers who employ immigrants to establish a pre-visit protocol. Keep it simple and limited to one page, with details about who will meet with the agent and contact information for people such as the farm owner, managers and attorney, she said. The farm receptionist, if there is one, should be trained on how to approach the situation. Encourage staff to be cooperative.
Stay calm and ask the agent why they’ve come to the farm, she said. Most likely, they’re there to see a specific individual, but they also could be looking for documents. It’s reasonable to ask to see the agent’s ID and hold them to a waiting area or other non-production space until the farm owner or other person in charge arrives.
“You don’t want them walking around on the production floor,” Fortier said. “It’s not safe, and they don’t have the right to access that without a very specific search warrant.”
The agent should be accompanied at all times, and their access should be limited only to the location of the documents they need to see. Fortier recommends making a copy of any original documents before allowing the agent to take them. If the agent requests I-9 forms, they should provide a notice of inspection; farm owners have three days to provide I-9s after receiving a written request for them.
“I would encourage you to use those three days,” she said.
Legal counsel should be contacted immediately to discuss the timing and location for I-9 turnover and possible corrections to the forms. “That’s appropriate to do,” she said. “You can make corrections as needed,” but don’t use Wite-Out or backdate corrections. Attach a brief memo explaining the changes made.
Fortier advises pulling I-9 forms once a year for an internal audit and checking them against payroll records. Make sure all current employees have an I-9, and use the new I-9, as of Jan. 31, for new hires and re-verifications. A biennial audit by an external auditor is a good idea, she said.
“It really is the most effective thing you can do,” she said. “It’s good to have two sets of eyes on the forms.”
Dairies also can help their workers gain legal status, Fortier said. The dairy industry is “in a bad situation,” with no good, workable work visa available. Farmers are encouraged to contact their legislators about new visa categories or expansion of existing visa programs.
The call for reform
Immigration reform bills continue to make progress but not as much as many people would like, said Laurie Fischer, ADC chief executive officer. “We may be looking at several bills versus just one.” She said the ADC is “not married to one bill” but will work on any bill that leads to the assurance of a reliable labor force for dairy producers.
Reform came up at a Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin Agricultural Community Engagement Program held Feb. 21 in Wisconsin Dells. With state-based immigration policy under consideration, State Agriculture Secretary Ben Brancel said Gov. Scott Walker and other state leaders have had some early discussions about residency criteria and how to manage a state-based program, although questions still remain about how it would be administered.
“We have had some discussions on how to manage it,” Brancel said. “I think the big question is which agency does the managing of that program. That’s not been determined nor discussed at this point. And then, what would be the cost to run that program? It’s one thing to hand out pieces of paper, but if the federal government turns that opportunity over to us and it becomes our responsibility, with all of the good heart and all of the work that they do to do it right, they still would want us to go out and take a look at some of the operations, whether it’s Tyson that’s making tortillas in Green Bay or JBS that’s manufacturing beef or it’s Crave Brothers that might have one employee.”
The Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation last week voiced support for the New American Economy’s National Day of Action and immigration reform campaign, which highlights the power of immigrants in communities nationwide and illustrates the need for immigration reform. The campaign kicked off with the launch of the Map of Impact including updated immigration statistics by state and congressional district.
“Our current immigration system is broken. We are relying on outdated laws that do not address the challenges we face, especially in the agriculture community,” WFBF President Jim Holte said. “Farm Bureau continues to advocate for an agriculture long-term guest worker visa program.”
A 2015 study by the Partnership for a New American Economy found that more than 50 percent of laborers on U.S. dairy farms were immigrants, and more than 274,000 immigrants call Wisconsin home. The newly released Wisconsin immigration statistics can be viewed at http://www.newamericaneconomy.org/locations/wisconsin.
By: Heidi Clausen
Source: The Country Today