Idaho dairy farmers to ICE: No room at the inn

ICE wants to rent beds in an Idaho county jail. A group of dairy farmers hope the deal won't go through.

Not in my county jail. Dairy farmers in Idaho have sent a letter to their county commissioners in protest of a plan to lease beds in their county jail to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Capital Press reports. A not-yet-signed contract between Jerome County and ICE has drawn protests outside county meetings and the ire of the Idaho Dairymen Association. The farmers are worried that the presence of an ICE holding facility in their community will scare their employees.

A one-percent decrease in productivity could mean $27 million in lost revenue.

Dairy workers are not part of the popular H2-A guest worker program, and a “significant percentage” of Idaho’s dairy farm labor comes from Hispanic workers without legal work status, Bob Naerebout, executive director of the Idaho Dairymen’s Association, told Capital Press.

Though ICE plans to rent 50 beds at a rate of $75 per day, bringing $1.34 million in additional income for the county each year, farmers say the economics don’t work out. Naerebout said a one-percent decrease in productivity could mean $27 million in lost revenue according to an economic analysis by the University of Idaho.

The agency’s plans to relocate come amidst reports that deportations are on the rise. But it’s important to note that ICE’s proposed contract doesn’t necessarily represent an expansion in planned detentions. The agency is looking for new digs after nearby Utah County terminated its contract in December 2016. ICE rented 300 beds at the county jail, but officials said a growing population meant they needed to use the entire facility for their own purposes.

It remains to be seen what kind of power the Dairymen’s Association wields in Jerome County. Surely, the dairymen and their employees are holding out hope they’ll be able to freeze ICE out.  

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H. Claire Brown is a senior staff writer for The Counter. Her work has also appeared in The Atlantic, The Guardian, and The Intercept and has won awards from the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing, the New York Press Club, the Newswomen's Club of New York, and others. A North Carolina native, she now lives in Brooklyn.