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The Limited Effect Of Obama's Immigration Plan On Vermont's Farmworkers

Last week, President Barack Obama announced plans to give undocumented parents of U.S. citizens and permanent residents deportation relief for three years. The plan applies to people who have been in the U.S. for at least five years.

The executive order would also have an effect on younger immigrants who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children.

But the plan will not have a big impact on the immigrant farm workers on Vermont's dairy farm, according to Teresa Mares, professor of anthropology at the University of Vermont, "given that the emphasis is on parents of U.S. born children and granting not any path to citizenship, but temporary relief from deportation for those parents."

Mares studies the local dairy farm workers in Vermont. "The majority of farmworkers here in the state are young men. We know that 1,200-1,5000 immigrants from Latin America are working on Vermont's dairies," Mares said. "There are a handful of families with U.S. born children who have been here for five years, but that's really a small number overall."

Mares said it's going to require quite a bit of outreach and education about the stipulations of the plan to encourage those few to follow through. The process may include background checks, inclusion on a registry and proof of tax payments, which will limit the number of people that attempt to follow through.

Many of the men working on the farms don't have families because they're fairly young. "Or if they have families the lengths to which the immigration process is really taxing on families often encourages people to leave their spouses or children at home," Mares said. "If the emphasis is really on moving to work, bringing additional family members is costly not only economically, but also emotionally."

The president's order is geared toward people who are invested in staying in the United States, and Mares said that's not the plan for everyone. "Certainly I think people want to improve their economic situation, but whether that involves living in the United States permanently is an open question for many."

At the same time, Vermont's dairy farms are dependent upon these workers. So why isn't more being done to allow them to stay?

"There's really no way for dairy workers who are working year-round to go through any sort of a legal pathway in that industry," Mares said. Seasonal workers use an H-2A visa, but there is no similar program for year-round dairy work. "There have been some efforts within Vermont, with elected representatives to expand that program to potentially include workers in the dairy industry but that has not happened yet." Mares said what's needed is comprehensive immigration reform, but so far that has not been part of the political conversation.

She adds that she was supportive of the president's speech, but would like to have seen him go further in bringing deportation relief to the millions more now in the country illegally who need it.

Melody is the Contributing Editor for But Why: A Podcast For Curious Kids and the co-author of two But Why books with Jane Lindholm.
A graduate of NYU with a Master's Degree in journalism, Mitch has more than 20 years experience in radio news. He got his start as news director at NYU's college station, and moved on to a news director (and part-time DJ position) for commercial radio station WMVY on Martha's Vineyard. But public radio was where Mitch wanted to be and he eventually moved on to Boston where he worked for six years in a number of different capacities at member station a Senior Producer, Editor, and fill-in co-host of the nationally distributed Here and Now. Mitch has been a guest host of the national NPR sports program "Only A Game". He's also worked as an editor and producer for international news coverage with Monitor Radio in Boston.
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