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Photo: David Sommerstein
Photo: David Sommerstein

Farmers ratchet up pressure for immigration reform

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Prospects for comprehensive immigration reform are growing slim as Congress is running out of working days in 2013.

That's a huge concern for dairy farmers. Several thousand undocumented Latino immigrants are estimated to work on dairy farms in New York and Vermont. Farmers say they can't find local people to milk the cows reliably.

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Reported by

David Sommerstein
Reporter/ Producer

Dairy farmer Maureen Torrey of Elba says it’s getting hard for farms to expand to meet the booming demand for Greek yogurt.

"The banks have told at least 6 of my peer farmers that they will not finance them unless they have a secure labor force," Torrey said Wednesday on a phone call with reporters.  ''We’re up against a wall. We don’t sleep at night wondering what are we going to do for a labor force."

Torrey joined U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on a phone call with reporters to put pressure on the House of Representatives to tackle immigration reform this fall.

"The key here is for folks to understand is that, one this is having an impact on American agriculture," said Vilsack, "and that we’re not operating on all cylinders in American agriculture, that we have tremendous momentum that has built up in American agriculture that will be thwarted by not having a secure work force and not having a five year Farm Bill, something that Congress also needs to pass."

The Senate has already passed an immigration reform bill that would give dairy farms a legal supply of immigrant labor.

But the House is deeply divided over a provision that would give the 11 million people already in the country illegally a path to citizenship.

Even though Washington is expected to be driven this fall by a bruising battle over the budget and the debt ceiling, Arizona Senator and immigration reform crusader John McCain said yesterday he’s “guardedly optimistic” the House will take up immigration before the end of the year.

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