By Lauren Victory
Reps. Bill Owens, D-N.Y. and Peter Welch, D-Vt., unveiled a proposal to protect migrant workers and dairy farmers alike on Tuesday.
They hope to alleviate the stress in the industry. Many dairy farmers rely on migrant workers, who may be here illegally.
Welch, Owens and Rep. Richard Hanna, R-N.Y., want to expand the temporary agricultural worker program, H-2A to include those laboring on dairy farms.
"There is no provision for temporary workers in that industry," said Owens.
The proposal would grant three-year visas to migrant workers, with the chance to renew for another 3 years.
"What it would do is give the farmers some clarity and continuity and it would give the guest workers some security that everything was on the up and up," said Welch.
"I know it's a worry for them whether these workers will be taken away," said Pat Fitzgerald, a dairy farmer from Colchester, Vt.
He regularly puts in 15-hour days and is grateful to have help from his sons and the occasional University of Vermont student with his 30-plus cows.
Fitzgerald understands why dairy farmers need extra help from migrant workers and said the proposal by Owens and Welch would be both an emotional and physical relief for farmers.
"To do it by yourself, by the time you make the crops and the feed, there's just not enough hours in a day," said Fitzgerald.
Owens and Welch said they're open to changing some of the details, but are adamant about including dairy farm workers in the federal immigration reform bill.
"I've made it very clear that I will not vote for a reform bill that does not include a farm labor piece," said Owens.
The measure is similar to one proposed by Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., last session.