In Rep. Kathy Hochul's New York district, a generally conservative dairy farmer said either party could gain his support by pushing forward on immigration reform.
“It’s safe to say that anything on comprehensive immigration reform right now is not in the cards whatsoever,” a Democratic Senate aide said, noting that if it couldn’t get done with a Republican White House late in the past decade, it’s going to be very hard with a Democratic White House — or even a Romney White House. “Democrats, as a general rule, they would be happy to do something on immigration, but they just don’t know that they have a partner in it on the other side,” the aide said.
Back in western New York, Lamb is still pondering whom he will vote for. And as someone who will be voting with a focus on immigration reform, he’s not alone, especially in the agricultural community.
“More and more dairy farms are hiring foreign labor, that’s the trend,” said Jaime Castaneda, a senior vice president at National Milk Producers Federation, which supports immigration reform with changes to allow more legal immigration and a path for unauthorized workers to get the ability to work within the law. “The majority of the milk being produced in the United States is produced by farms that have immigrant labor,” he said.
The current H-2A guest worker program does not apply to dairies because the program is for seasonal work and cows need to be milked year round. A bipartisan bill to make H-2A visas available to dairy farm workers has gone nowhere.
One Democratic aide noted that Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), a former chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, is almost certainly coming to the helm of the Judiciary Committee next year, a sign that bodes well for agricultural visa issues.
But the aide still sees limited potential in a Republican Conference that includes many staunch anti-immigration Members because any solution would have to deal with the status of current undocumented workers as well as prospective workers.
“Goodlatte probably cares a lot more about the agriculture issue and will try to get something done there,” the aide said. “Here’s the problem: They have come to define amnesty as anything that gives any undocumented person legal status.”
The standstill in Washington, D.C., leaves Lamb bearish about the months and years ahead.
“These past couple weeks we’ve taken the step of selling heifer calves — these calves are our future, they’re tomorrow’s milk,” he said.
“We’ve just got no confidence in the future of the labor,” Lamb continued with a touch of sadness. “If that gets solved, we’ll go back to building barns.”