Panel discusses the future of migrant labor

copyright the Chronicle May 24, 2017

 

by Elizabeth Trail

 

HARDWICK — “Who will milk the cows?” asked panelists at a farm forum held at Hazen Union High School on May 17.

But the real question on the table was what happens on Vermont dairy farms if President Trump makes good on his promise to step up deportations of undocumented workers?

If deportations are stepped up in Vermont, it could be devastating to Northeast Kingdom dairy farmers. The vast majority of dairy workers in Vermont these days are Hispanic, mostly Mexican, said former farm worker Abel Luna, the campaign and education coordinator for the Burlington-based organization Migrant Justice. And most of them are undocumented.

The issue has united Vermonters from all sides of the political spectrum. Recently, all three members of Vermont’s congressional delegation, along with Governor Phil Scott, Attorney General T.J. Donovan, and Vermont Farm Bureau President Joe Tisbert jointly signed a letter to the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

“This is an urgent issue in our small state — when Vermont farms struggle, so too does Vermont’s entire economy,” the letter says in part.

In a far-ranging conversation that spanned the threat of deportations, treatment of farmworkers, and the economic challenges facing dairy farmers, the four panelists at last week’s meeting in Hardwick answered questions and traded observations with about 40 people.

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