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NY's dairy industry paying price for immigration policies, advocate says

Current U.S. immigration policies pose an economic threat to New York's struggling dairy industry, according to the director of a farmworker program at Cornell University.

Mary Jo Dudley made that observation following the recent arrest of an undocumented immigrant worker on a central New York dairy farm. 

Dudley says the gridlock over immigration reform in Washington puts further stresses on New York dairy farmers whose milk production costs are higher than the federally controlled price. Unlike other agricultural workers, there is no temporary guest worker visa for immigrants who work on dairy farms.

"Were there to be a way to document workers who are successfully working or to establish a path to citizenship for those people who've been here for many years, that is the direction we need to take rather than being caught in this stalemate where the focus on immigration is on enforcement rather than solutions," Dudley said.

John Collins, the owner of the Rome, NY farm that was raided by federal agents earlier this month, said the agents did not produce a warrant before they arrested Marcial de Leon Aguilar, 31.

The Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency later claimed it did have a warrant for Aguilar’s arrest. ICE said Aguilar unlawfully re-entered the U.S. three times following deportation, most recently in January 2014.  According to ICE, Aguilar was previously convicted of reckless aggravated assault, a felony.

While Dudley does collect statistics about the arrests of New York farm workers, she said anecdotal reports have increased since the start of the Trump Administration in January 2017. The Cornell farmworker program offers workshops for documented and undocumented agricultural workers in the event that they encounter immigration authorities.

Dudley said what is unusual about the arrest on the Collins farm is the fact that the owner witnessed the arrest. John Collins said ICE agents grabbed his cell phone and threw it when he tried to record them and handcuffed him and threatened to arrest him.

Typically, Dudley says the cases her program hears about involve farmworkers who have seemingly disappeared. She speculated that arrests are made when no one is around to see them happen and when federal agents show up looking for one individual and encountering another who cannot produce documentation.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo threatened to sue federal immigration officials following Aguilar’s arrest.  Cuomo sent a cease and desist letter to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency last week. 

A spokesman for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security responded to Cuomo’s letter, calling it a “slap in the face to the hardworking men and women of ICE whose mission it is to uphold the laws Congress passed.”

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