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Idaho agricultural leaders seek immigration reform

Posted at 4:42 PM, Feb 21, 2017
and last updated 2017-02-21 19:23:39-05

Leaders in Idaho's agricultural community are advocating for immigration reform, but they say threats of deportation and anti-immigrant policies aren't the way to go.

Monday, Rep. Greg Chaney, R-Caldwell, introduced legislation to prevent sanctuary cities from forming in Idaho. 

"It has been presented to the United Dairymen of Idaho and the Milk Producers of Idaho, and their indications are that they would be able to remain neutral on this bill," Chaney told a House panel. 

Tuesday, state agricultural leaders said that might not be their final position on Chaney's legislation.

"We are reassessing what he presented and how he presented his RS yesterday and determining if being neutral is still the right position," Bob Naerebout, executive director for the Idaho Dairymen's Assn., said. "I can guarantee you we would never be supportive of the bill, but we'll reassess whether we can remain neutral on the bill."

Naerebout said any bill that could be considered anti-immigrant raises red flags in the agricultural community.

"When Arizona put in their law that was highly restrictive, we were the net benefit of employees coming into the state," he said. "If we structure this wrong, will we be the net losers? Absolutely."

Agricultural leaders say they do see a need for immigration reform to support their industries.

"Currently, there is no year-round visa program for gues agricultural workers," Braden Jensen with Idaho Farm Bureau said. "Operations such as dairies require year-round labor and do not qualify for seasonal guest worker programs." 

By offering year-round visas to immigrant workers, advocated for this type of reform say they could better fill the employment vacancies in Idaho's larges industries.

"Many people's jobs stand on the shoulders of foreign-born labor," Naerebout said. "We should be building these people up. We should be looking at how we assist them in this country and how we move this country forward."