Federal immigration officials target Vermont farms

AP News
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Posted: Nov 20, 2009 11:09 AM

Federal immigration officials are cracking down on Vermont dairy farmers as part of a national effort, asking them to provide records to prove their workers are legal.

Kelly Loftus, a spokeswoman for the state Agency of Agriculture, said immigration officials visited four farms on Thursday.

In an "emergency notice to all dairy farmers in the northeast," a Vermont group called Dairy Farmers Working Together said that up to 100 Vermont dairy farmers have been served with subpoenas seeking payroll records from November 2008 to November 2009.

Loftus said the move creates another level of anxiety and stress for the state's dairy farmers, many of whom are already suffering financially because of low milk prices.

In Washington, Homeland Security officials described the effort as one aimed at encouraging businesses to use an electronic program to check workers' immigration status. The department's Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency plans to audit the hiring records of about 1,000 employers nationwide.

The audits are based on investigations and intelligence and include some businesses connected to public safety and national security, ICE said.

Dairy farmers in Vermont and elsewhere have turned to imported help because of the difficulty of hiring people locally to do the work.

U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy said the crackdown was poorly timed.

"I'm disappointed that this comes amid a crisis in dairy prices and at the start of the holiday season," said Leahy, D-Vt. "We have a broken system that does not work well for anyone, and especially for dairy farmers and the workers they need to keep their farms running. This is all the more evidence that we need workable reform of the agriculture visa system, and it can't come soon enough."

The announcement from Dairy Farmers Working Together recommended that dairy farmers affected by the crackdown call the state Agency of Agriculture for assistance from an immigration attorney.