The arrest of a farmer for employing migrant workers on his dairy farm shows the absurdity of federal immigration policy, or lack thereof.
John Barney, co-owner of Butterville Farms, was taken into custody at his workplace Wednesday morning by a platoon of federal agents and sheriff's deputies.
The charge is harboring illegal aliens. Previously, federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents had removed eight migrant workers from the farm who were said to lack sufficient documentation.
Mr. Barney and his supporters in the agricultural community say that the workers produced a federal document, the I-9 form, that allows them to be employed in the United States on a temporary basis.
Like several farmers in the area, Mr. Barney found it difficult to hire enough local people to maintain his family-owned dairy operation. But migrant workers were eager for the jobs and the money they could earn, and performed their tasks faithfully and well.
Federal immigration agents charge Mr. Barney broke immigration law. But if an employer checks the paperwork designated for temporary employment and identification, what else can he do? Interrogate the job applicant?
Dairy farmers need competent workers. Migrant workers want to do the jobs and can do them well.
Foreign workers send the money home to their families. Since when did the desire to work hard to support one's family become a crime in America?
Dairy farmers need a guest worker program that works for the industry and eliminates the complexities that criminalize both employer and worker for doing the essential job of food production.
Members of Congress — particularly New York Rep. William L. Owens and Sens. Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten E. Gillibrand — should undertake this as soon as possible.
America needs comprehensive immigration reform. But until then, Congress must resolve regulations the enforcement of which empowered a federal raid on a dairy farm for the apparent crime of milking cows.