Governor Kemp, who will milk the cows?

Governor Kemp, who will milk the cows? May 2, 2024

I first wrote this article titled “Who Will Milk the Cows?” in 2013 and unfortunately, the issue it addresses is as pertinent today as it was eleven years ago.  On May 1st, Governor Brian Kemp of Georgia signed a bill into law that will force local sheriff and police departments to check the immigration status of detainees, a job of the federal government.  A person without a criminal record, if pulled over for a busted tail light, could end up being deported.  Victims of crime will likely refuse to contact the authorities or cooperate due to fear of deportation.  A US citizen could be detained if he or she is unable to demonstrate legal presence in the United States to a police officer during a routine traffic stop.  Immigration is always a pertinent topic, but in the end, the root issues are never addressed by those in authority.  The same arguments circle around, and nothing changes.  Today, I address my initial question a bit differently, “Governor Kemp, who will milk the cows?”

Some time ago I heard a news story on the radio reporting that currently two thirds of cow milkers in the United States are undocumented immigrants. Coming from a four-generation dairy family and having spent many hours in a milking parlor, I immediately took interest in the story. Dairy farmers are very attentive to the immigration reform debate since the most basic and most necessary step of their industry is in jeopardy, the milking of the cows. Cows must be milked, and be milked twice a day (and sometimes three times), every single day of the year. Without a labor force, who will milk the cows?

This dilemma points to the heart of the current immigration situation in our country. There is a high demand for low paying, low skilled workers but these workers do not come into the United States through authorized channels. Why don’t they come in legally? Many naively state today, “my ancestors came here legally, these people must go back, get in line and come in legally.” This is a naïve statement because those who say it are unaware of the current immigration system. Asking an immigrant today to get in line like an immigrant one hundred years ago can be compared to asking Saint Peter to show you his iphone. It is impossible. There is no line.

The United States Conference of Bishops issued a statement answering the question “Why Don’t Unauthorized Migrants Come Here Legally?” The answer provided is simple: there are no legal paths for most migrants to enter the United States. Currently one can enter the United States legally under one of three conditions: 1) An immediate family member who is a US citizen or resident petitions you, 2) You are fleeing political persecution in your home country and there is fear you may be killed, 3) You are a high-skilled worker and a US company sponsors you.

Most unauthorized immigrants in the United States are low-skilled workers. They work in agriculture, meatpacking, landscaping and construction industries which do not qualify as high-skilled work. An estimated 300,000 undocumented low-skilled workers enter the United States yearly and the US government officially makes available only 5,000 greencards for low-skilled workers. Temporary work visas exist (66,000 per year), but US companies shy away from these because the red tape is tremendous and the expenses are high. ***(these are 2013 numbers)***

The United States Bishops firmly believe that immigrants should come into the United States lawfully, but they point out that the current immigration system does not recognize the country’s need for low-skilled labor. The demand far exceeds the supply. The Church calls for a reform that increases the number of visas available for low-skilled workers which will decrease the number of unauthorized entries into the country.  The Church does not call for open borders since a country without borders is not a country at all.  The United States benefits from the labor of these workers, yet they remain in the shadows, and mainstream society shuns them.  A solution at the core of the problem would be to provide legal avenues for the workers we currently need to enter the United States – something that currently does not exist.

In 2002 I asked a simple question at the South Carolina Republican Primary Gubernatorial debate at my college. I asked the candidates, “If you enforce the laws which are in the books regarding illegal immigration, where will you find a workforce to replace the deported immigrants?” None of the candidates answered my question. All of them spoke strictly and blindly about enforcing the law.  This same question I posed to the candidates in 2002, I pose today to Governor Kemp as he signs this bill into law, “Governor Kemp, who will milk the cows?”

I encourage you to read this document found under the immigration section of the website of the United States Conference of Bishops. This article titled “Why Don’t Unauthorized Migrants Come Here Legally?” will be a small concrete step to have accurate information regarding the current immigration system and to know exactly what our bishops are calling for in the midst of the immigration debate in our country.

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