Plan Would Create Dairy Farm 'Guest Worker' Program

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North country Congressman Bill Owens (D. - 21st District) is introducing legislation to create a guest worker program for immigrant workers on working illegally on dairy farms.

"A quote that I'm very fond of coming from a dairy farmer down in the Hudson Valley is - 'You either import the labor or you import the food.' We don't want to be importing the food," said Owens.

Owens and fellow Democratic Congressman Peter Welch of Vermont say their proposal would allow immigrants to work on U.S. dairy farms for up to three years, with another three-year extension possible.

"It gets people here for a long enough time to be trained and to give some consistency to our farmers," said Owens.

Owens and Welch say they have the support of Republican Congressman Richard Hanna of New York.

"It demonstrates this bill is bipartisan and it demonstrates that what we're doing is acting in the interest of our constituents as opposed to acting politically," said Owens.

Many dairy farms in the region depend on immigrant labor, but many of those workers are in the country illegally.

Some local farm owners are applauding the proposal.

Michael Kiechle, owner of Garden of Eden Farm in the town of Philadelphia, says it's hard to find local workers to milk cows, which is why the majority of his workers are immigrants.

"If I take care of the cows, they take care of me. They give milk, and give enough so that I can make a profit. And that's the idea. This is a business that needs to make a profit," said Kiechle.

Owens says there are thousands of immigrant dairy farm workers in New York.

Saturday, October 25, 2014
, Watertown, NY

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