Reaction to undocumented migrant farmworkers presents dilemma
By DAVID GRAM
Associated Press Writer
MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP): Gov. James Douglas acknowledged Thursday that undocumented migrant farmworkers—many form México— are working on Vermont’s dairy farms, but said they are addressing a severe farm labor shortage.
The governor said state agriculture and law enforcement officials were faced with a dilemma, concerned both with following immigration law and with allowing Vermont farms to keep on hand the labor they need to stay in business.
“I don't know what the answer is,” the governor said. “We’re constrained by the federal law, frankly, and we’ll continue to respect it. But we have a real farm labor shortage in Vermont.”
Douglas’ comments followed a series of reports on Vermont Public Radio examining the increasing role undocumented migrants have been filling as necessary workers on Vermont’s farms. State agriculture officials estimate that there are as many as 2,000 undocumenteds working on Vermont farms.
The governor’s remarks followed the arrest last month of eight undocumented Mexicans living and working in Bennington County. The arrests came in a police investigation triggered when one of the immigrants drove a car off an icy road.
Douglas said dairy farms, where the hours are long and the work is hard, are the first to feel what state officials fear is a coming labor shortage in many lines of work, especially if H.R. Bill 4437 becomes law with the passage in the U.S. Senate.
“It’s part of the demographic challenge we were talking about earlier,” the governor said. “Farm families are smaller than they used to be. There aren’t as many kids to do the work. And it’s becoming increasingly challenging for farmers to find workers.”
Many believe that migrant workers fill this need as illustrated in the activities in many states and in economic areas such as agriculture. Some fear that agricultural prices will dramatically increase if such migrants are not allowed to work in the United States.
Editor’s Note: Rico de La Prensa contributed to this report.