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People like Evaristo would become much more visible members of North Country communities if immigration reform passes. Photo: David Sommerstein.
People like Evaristo would become much more visible members of North Country communities if immigration reform passes. Photo: David Sommerstein.

How would legal immigration reshape the North Country?

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Congress remains deeply divided over the shape of immigration reform. A split within the House GOP caucus endangers any kind of new legislation.

But let's imagine for a moment that the several thousand Latinos working on dairy farms in New York and Vermont could get legal working papers.

How would that change the region's rural communities?

Tom Maloney of Cornell University has been talking with dairy farmers and Latino dairy workers about this for years. He told David Sommerstein farmers are ready to guide their undocumented workers towards legal status.

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David Sommerstein
Reporter/ Producer

Tom Maloney: "Helping them get signed up to have a legalized status and supporting them and trying to keep them on the farm for as long as they can."

David Sommerstein: "There was one farmer who I was talking with and he was like, you know... they're just there all the time when you need them. Part of that is because they have nowhere to go right now. In many places they can't go off the farm. For fear of getting caught up and deported. They can't go back home. It's a big benefit for the farmers. Do you think that farmers have really thought about what having these guys be legal would mean?"

TM: "I think farmers would understand that when the workers that are undocumented now have a legalized status, those workers will have options. One of the things that we've been talking with farm managers about is the whole idea of employee retention. And having the wages benefits and working conditions on the farm be such that the people, when they have a choice to go elsewhere, will want to stay on that farm and stay with that employer."

DS: "These visas, correct me if I'm wrong, but these visas allow workers to sort of change employers if they want to right?"

TM: "Yes. The farm managers understand that the workers are going to have the freedom to move from employer to employer. I think the other big change... I mean we are talking about rural jobs in upstate New York... and one of the other things that's going to happen is that people are going to want to get driver's licenses. Most of these employees do not have driver’s licenses now and do not have cars now. And that will be a big change for all involved and a very welcome change likely for the workers who spend most of their time on the farm."

DS: "What do you think the impact would be on the rural communities?"

TM: "I think that the workers today are somewhat visible in the rural communities. I think that in the future we will see them far more visible in the communities. I think that there could be a lot of positive aspects of that. Certainly the contribution that they make to the dairy economy and to the agricultural economy in general is huge. And we already see them interacting with the community. Going to church, some of them, and especially joining local soccer leagues when they have some time off. They've already begun to engage and become integrated in the community, but that integration will likely go to a much different level. As a community, I think there will be many of these communities who assist in that integration."

DS: "Are you fearful that there may be a backlash to that as well?"

TM: "Along the way we have seen racism and resistance to immigrants, but I would not say that that is the overwhelming feeling in the community. I would say that many people in these rural communities understand the dedication and the hard work that the workers bring to agricultural jobs and the boost that they give to the agricultural economy."

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