Donald Trump received the majority of Idaho votes in the recent election and more than twice as many votes as any other candidate. However, his policies could be a big problem for Idaho. President Trump’s plans to crack down on illegal immigration could weaken a significant part of Idaho’s economy: the undocumented workforce. Even if these workers are not deported, Trump’s recent actions, including ramping up immigration raids, have made undocumented immigrants grow uneasy, with some afraid to go to work.
Without the immigrant workforce, some Idaho business owners don’t believe their industries are sustainable. For example, Terry Jones, the owner of the dairy farm on Rim Fire Ranch in Emmett, Idaho, explained there aren’t enough Americans willing to fill the dairy industry jobs. He may have a point. About 2 in 5 workers in the Idaho dairy industry are immigrants. “The reason we have those individuals working for us,” Jones explained, “is because they are skilled; they know how to care for the animals.”
No doubt, immigrants are a huge part of the Idaho economy. According to recent study by New American Economy, there are over 100,000 immigrants living in Idaho (102,903 to be exact), who have a collective income of about $2 billion and who pay approximately $460 million in taxes, about $154 million of which is state and local taxes. Immigrants account for 6.3% of Idaho’s population, so roughly 1 in 16 people living in Idaho is an immigrant. They form a substantial portion of the Idaho workforce, including 39.9% of animal production industry, 39.7% of the dairy product industry, and 31.3% of the crop production industry. In other words, without immigrants, Idaho’s economy would greatly suffer.
Although it is difficult to know the exact number, it is estimated that about 42,000 immigrants in Idaho are undocumented. Based on this number, about 2.5% of Idaho residents are illegal immigrants—or about 1 in 40 people. They have a collective income of about $528 million and pay approximately $55 million in taxes, $21 million of which is state and local taxes. Idaho’s economy has grown to rely on undocumented immigrants.
So, will President Trump’s policies weaken the immigrant workforce—and more specifically the undocumented workforce—and therefore harm Idaho’s economy? If Trump fully follows through on his campaign rhetoric, Idaho will likely suffer. But it is difficult to know exactly how President Trump will affect immigration laws and what effect these changes will have on immigrants in Idaho. He is hard to pin down. For example, although Trump campaigned that he would repeal DACA, or the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a program that gives two-year work permits to undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States as children, the elected Trump has taken a softer approach toward DACA recipients. And more recently, leading up to a Trump’s speech to a Joint Session of Congress on February 28, 2017, it was rumored that Trump was considering pushing for a comprehensive immigration reform package that would include a path to citizenship for some illegal immigrants. In his speech, however, Trump made no reference to this proposal. Instead, he discussed the possibility of the U.S. becoming a “sanctuary for extremists” and again spoke about criminal immigrants, rather than the law-abiding immigrants who would presumably be eligible for a pathway to citizenship. He stated, “Bad ones are going out as I speak tonight.”
Time will tell.