Idaho dairy advocate joins board of pro-immigration National Immigration Forum

Bob Naerebout, executive director of the Idaho Dairymen’s Association, will be in Washington, D.C., this week to attend his first board meeting of the National Immigration Forum.

Naerebout said Monday that he was attracted by the group’s combining employers, law enforcement and religious leaders as advocates.

“It’s Bibles, business and badges,” Naerebout said. “It’s not only from a business point of view. It’s also looking from a scriptural point of view of what we should be doing as Christians on this issue and what should our attitude be as Christians toward those foreign-born laborers who are here in our country.”

Founded in 1982, the NIF says it “advocates for the value of immigrants and immigration to our nation. In service to this mission, the Forum promotes responsible federal immigration policies, addressing today’s economic and national security needs while honoring the ideals of our Founding Fathers, who created America as a land of opportunity.”

Naerebout recently joined the board and will attend his first meeting Thursday and Friday.

Other directors include Jeb Bush Jr., the grandson of President George W. Bush; former Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, now a lawyer in private practice with Troutman Sanders, an international firm; and the Most Reverend Jaime Soto,  Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Sacramento.

Naerebout said dairymen employ about 8,300 workers harvesting milk, most of them are immigrants and in the country illegally. Congressman Raul Labrador said Friday in Sandpoint that 90 percent of Idaho dairy workers are undocumented.

“Ninety percent of the dairy workers in Idaho are here illegally,” said Labrador, according to the Bonner County Daily Bee. “There is no visa for them to be able to work here and nobody else will do those jobs.”

Asked about that figure, Naerebout said he uses a slightly lower figure, based on a U.S. Department of Agriculture estimate and the limited Idaho experience of audits by U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement.

“The number falls between 75 (percent) 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 about 8,300 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 perhaps leaving their children in distress.

“If they can’t correct it, they lose their jobs and they go off into society,” Naerebout said. “For the dairy industry it goes beyond just ‘We need a workforce.’ It goes to our current workforce and how they feel in society, whether they’re contributors to society.”

I originally contacted Naerebout to ask about Labrador’s 90 percent figure and learned about his new board post. He also is on the board of the Agricultural Coalition for Immigration Reform.


Dan Popkey came to Idaho in 1984 to work as a police reporter. Since 1987, he has covered politics and has reported on 25 sessions of the Legislature. Dan has a bachelor's in political science from Santa Clara University and a master's in journalism from Columbia University. He was a Congressional Fellow of the American Political Science Association and a Journalism Fellow at the University of Michigan. A former page in the U.S. House of Representatives, he graduated Capitol Page High School in 1976. In 2007, he led the Statesman’s coverage of the Sen. Larry Craig sex scandal, which was one of three Pulitzer Prize finalists in breaking news. In 2003, he won the Ted M. Natt First Amendment award from the Pacific Northwest Newspaper Association for coverage of University Place, the University of Idaho’s troubled real estate development in Boise. Dan helped start the community reading project "Big Read." He has two children in college and lives on the Boise Bench with an old gray cat.

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