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Immigration raids could send milk prices soaring

If the Trump administration conducts immigration raids on dairy farms that result in the deportation of workers, the price of a gallon of milk could soar to $8 per gallon, Jaime Castaneda, senior vice president for strategic initiatives and trade policy, National Milk Producers Federation, said on April 12.

On a panel on immigration at the Consumer Federation of America's National Food Policy Conference, Castaneda said that 80 percent of milk comes from farms that have foreign labor and that "if there were an attempt to remove workers you would have a significant shortage of milk and high prices."

Castaneda said that the price could rise to $8 per gallon. That is compared to the national weighted average of $2.45 per gallon that the Agriculture Department's Agricultural Marketing Service reported the first full week in April.

He also said that fluid milk might come from Mexico, where farm workers have fewer rights than in the U.S.

But Castaneda said the dairy industry had "very high expectations" that Congress could resolve the farm worker immigration problems, but that "We see what happened with the health insurance fiasco. The probability of having something else pass is diminished."

Also on the panel, Angel Gonzalez, campaign coordinator, Civil Rights Department, United Food and Commercial Workers, said that UCFW opposes guest worker programs because farm workers "should be a permanent part of the society" rather than "shipped home" when it is not convenient for employers to retain them. The workers who are currently in the U.S. should be able to regularize their status, Gonzalez said.

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Laura-Anne Minkoff-Zern, assistant professor for food studies at Syracuse University, said that the H2A visa program has been set up for the benefit of the employers, not the workers.

Robert Guenther, senior vice president for public policy, United Fresh Produce Association, noted that there have been proposals to move the responsibility for farm workers from the Labor Department to the Agriculture Department. The Trump administration might raise that idea as part of a government reorganization, but "is there a will to move the farm worker program to USDA?" Guenther asked.

On April 13, The Washington Post reported that the Homeland Security Department is moving quickly to build a deportation force and has identified 33,000 beds to detain undocumented immigrants.