• This is a corrected version of the article that was posted online Aug. 2, which misattributed comment.
By Carol Ryan Dumas
A pending contract between Jerome County in south-central Idaho and Immigration Customs Enforcement allowing ICE to lease bed space at the county’s new jail is fueling trepidation in the local dairy community.
Bob Naerebout, executive director of the Idaho Dairymen’s Association, said there’s cause for concern considering the trend in increased ICE enforcement since President Donald Trump took office.
The dairy industry doesn’t qualify for the H2-A program, or any other visa program for foreign workers, and a significant percentage of the Hispanic community that came to the area to work in agriculture arrived without legal work status, he said.
He quotes statistics by the Department of Homeland Security that show a 37.6 percent increase in ICE enforcement and removal operations from the end of January through the end of April compared to a year earlier. And The Atlantic magazine reported non-criminal arrests during that period were up 150 percent, he said.
“You can see there is reason for fear,” he said.
In a letter to county commissioners in opposition to the contract, he said, “The fear of families being broken up and friends being removed from the community they grew up in and love is real.”
With talk of the ICE contract, some workers have told dairy producers they no longer feel this is a safe area and they’re going to move on, he told Capital Press.
They see a contract with ICE for jail space as the first step in increased enforcement in the area, he said.
ICE spokesperson Virginia Kice stated in an email to Capital Press that federal regulations preclude the agency from speculating about possible future detention contracts.
The Jerome County Sheriff’s Office, however, provided Capital Press with an ICE memorandum dated Jan. 26 which states the county would provide all personnel and services relating to detentions, including escort and transport. It further states the Jerome facility would house no on-site ICE compliance personnel and that existing staffing at the ICE field office in Salt Lake City is adequate to support the Jerome facility.
Charlie Howell, chairman of the Jerome County Commission, said the county sheriff entered into discussions with ICE about six weeks ago but commissioners have not yet seen a final proposal.
The county facility already houses inmates from other counties, and the plan being discussed is to lease 50 beds to ICE for $75 per bed per day. The proposal would generate additional county income of about $1.34 million annually, he said.
Naerebout counters that economic gain with a much larger economic jeopardy from the loss of Hispanic workers.
While the impact would be broader than just dairy or agriculture, an economic analysis from the University of Idaho shows that a 1 percent decrease in milk processed in a local market for cheese alone would result in an annual loss of $27 million in local revenue, he said.
“This is not a contract that is needed,” he said.
He maintains the Hispanic community has brought a large amount of value to the area, and the dairy industry wants to support that community. Both IDA and Idaho Milk Processors Association are united in their opposition to the proposed contract with ICE, he said.
There is little commissioners can do about the immigration problem, but they need to weigh the potential benefits of the contract with ICE against the potential consequences and consider the harm to the community, he said.
Howell said dairymen are concerned that “more presence by ICE in the local community is going to intimidate their workers,” who think ICE “will be looking for them, raids in the cornfield,” he said.
Reactions from the broader community are across the board, with most residents in support of the contract and most businesses opposed, he said.
About 40 protesters showed up at the commission’s July 3 meeting, but comment is coming in on both sides. One concern is that illegal parents of legal children will get picked up, he said.
In the dairy arena, he said he’s heard from one Hispanic worker in support of the proposal because he says dairymen are getting foreign workers to “fix their employment problem.” He’s heard from a dairy owner who is opposed because all of his workers are illegal. And he’s heard from another in support because he’s worked hard to get his legal workers the correct paperwork.
The ICE memorandum said a loss of 300 beds for detainees at the Utah County jail prompted consideration of a contract with the Jerome facility, noting that it is strategically located between the Boise and Twin Falls sub-field offices.
ICE estimates the annual cost for contracting with Jerome County at $1.46 million, including $1.37 million for housing and services at the correctional facility and $92,710 for transportation.
The agency is also looking at the potential for a future 60-bed expansion and adding infrastructure to conduct detainee hearings at the Jerome facility.
An earlier version of this article attributed comments made by Howell to Naerebout. Capital Press regrets the error.