U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador said recently that 90 percent of the approximately 8,300 people on these farms' payrolls are illegal immigrants. "There is no visa for them to be able to work here and nobody else will do those jobs," he told the Bonner County Daily Bee.
Bob Naerebout, executive director of the Idaho Dairymen's Association, said he uses a slightly lower figure, based on U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates and Idaho's experience with audits by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
"The number falls between 75 and 80 percent," Naerebout said. "Each operation is going to be different - some won't be that high."
After an ICE audit finds incorrect documentation of a Social Security number or work visa, employees have an opportunity to provide evidence of legal status.
With so many undocumented workers harvesting milk, Naerebout said, there are social as well as legal consequences, including parents who shy from engaging in their communities out of fear of being caught and leaving their children in distress.