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A brewing immigration battle drawing lines in Washington and Wisconsin is feared to hurt the state’s main dairy farming industry. The proposed legislation would require dairy farmers to use the E-Verify system to confirm a prospective employee’s immigration status.

According to farmers, about forty percent of the current labor force are immigrants with many of them are undocumented. With the new system in place, this would force dairy farmers to not employ illegal immigrants, leaving a huge gaping hole in the workforce that can cripple the industry as a whole.

The Legal Workforce Act proposed by US Rep Lamar Smith (R-TX) is designed to require companies to employ only legal immigrants. The main impetus of the law is that illegal immigrants were taking away jobs that Americans who need them. The E-Verify system is an Internet based system maintained by the Department of Homeland Security and the Social Security Administration through checking Social Security numbers. This determines if an individual can legally work in the United States.

With the law, the E-Verify system would be required and the law further provides criminal penalties imposable on employers hiring illegal immigrants as part of their workforce. In a statement, the National Milk Producers Federation said the proposed law is “undesirable” if there is no comprehensive immigration reform to complement the law or a visa program specifically designed to address the needs of dairy farmers and the agricultural industry as a whole.

Many dairy farmers turn to Mexican immigrants to help the farm milk the cows round the clock every day for a year. Overall, according to a study conducted by the University of Wisconsin-Madison found that Mexican immigrants comprise forty percent of the total number of dairy employees in the state. For the whole country, foreign-born workers total to forty one percent of farm workers.

The law would affect a $26.5 billion a year industry, as each cow in Wisconsin averages an income generation of about $20,000 a year. Local dairy farmers say that nearly 60% of the milk is harvested by immigrants. With E-Verify, there is a strong possibility that the Wisconsin dairy industry would be jeopardized.