When I was a toddler, my dad went to an agriculture expo in the Netherlands. Our family farm had no room to expand, so he was interested in learning about opportunities abroad.
There, a consortium of businesses along the South Dakota-Minnesota border, including a bank and milk plant, recruited my dad to open a dairy farm. There was a farmer shortage, and more cows producing milk in the region would mean better business for everyone. My dad took the leap and moved our family of four to the U.S. on an E2 investor visa, which allows immigrants to start and operate businesses in communities across the country.
I grew up on our Bellingham, Minnesota, dairy farm. By 6, I’d learned to ride and operate a skid loader, which is a heavy machine we used to fill the feed wagon and move snow. By 7, I was driving a tractor to deliver feed to our cows. When I wasn’t attending school or doing chores, I’d scamper down to the Yellow Bank River with my little brother to fish or play in the mud.
Hill High Farm in Winchester, Virginia. (The Pumpkin Patch at Hill High Farm, Winchester-Frederick County Convention & Visitors Bureau)
I loved our rural life so much that I eventually studied for degrees in dairy and livestock management and production. All I’ve ever wanted was to continue supporting our community’s dairy economy. So far though, American immigration policy has made that impossible.
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Four years ago, at age 21, I was forced to self-deport from the country where I grew up and leave behind my family – and the farm I helped them build.
I am a documented Dreamer, one of 250,000 children of legal immigrants who lose their legal status at 21 when they’re no longer considered parental dependents. It’s insane: this country recruits our parents, educates us in taxpayer-funded schools and then kicks us out just as we’re ready to join the workforce. The policy tears apart families, aggravates local businesses that want to hire us and hurts the economy.
I’ve been advocating for an end to this policy through Improve the Dream, an advocacy group for documented Dreamers, and it’s been eye-opening to see how few people understand our situation, and how slow change happens.
When my dad was recruited by local milk and cheese companies, they explained that his visa would have to be renewed every five years – and that it could be difficult to get permanent residency for the family. It now seems crazy to me that a person who invests huge sums in starting an American business isn’t guaranteed permanent residency – just as it’s crazy to kick out that person’s kids for no reason other than their age.
Recruiters assured my parents that policy change was in the works, that by the time my brother and I turned 21, the laws would have changed. But they didn’t. In 2019, I was forced to self deport to Holland. A year later my younger brother was made to do the same.
The Pollack-Vu dairy farm in Wisconsin. (Megan Myers/Fox News Digita)
I made the best of things in Holland, but it was like living in a foreign country. I rented a small apartment in the city and took a job laying drain tile. I missed working with animals and living in nature. I longed for fresh air and nighttime bonfires, the sounds of crickets across our fields. I was desperate to go home.
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In 2019, I found a temporary solution: I received a student visa to study a degree in dairy and one in livestock management and production at Lake Area Technical College in Watertown, South Dakota. Now in my mid-20s, I’m nearing the end of my studies. I might be more fortunate than others though, as my former employer is doing what they can to start a green card sponsorship process.
For a documented Dreamer, having this opportunity can be a rare and lucky event. I am praying this works out for me, but my younger brother, who also grew up here since age 2, is still separated from us. And many children of immigrants from highly populated countries like India and China face even slimmer chances.
Floodwaters from the Salinas River fill agricultural fields in Spreckels, California, March 13, 2023. (Nic Coury/San Francisco Chronicle via AP)
Because of other nonsensical policies, people from highly populous countries are often forced to wait decades for permanent residency. This puts their families under immeasurable uncertainty and stress, which is no way to live.
It’s so important that policy makers understand the system they’re supporting– and the harm it can do. It separates young adults from their families and communities, treating people who’ve invested everything in this country as disposable. It causes unnecessary stress and anxiety. And it robs local businesses of talented candidates they need and want.
Nobody gains from this system. Since 2003, more than half of U.S. licensed dairy operations have shuttered for a variety of reasons, labor being among them. Farmers of all types, including dairy farmers, have called upon Congress to address the dire labor shortage crippling operations. In our industry, there is a huge need for people willing to do this work. Bottom line: my family adds value.
A corn field and storage bins near Carrington, North Dakota, Aug. 8, 2019. (Reuters/Dan Koeck/File Photo)
I’ve spoken publicly about this issue a lot, and, maybe it’s my Midwestern pride, but I’m not interested in anyone’s sympathy. I just want to see practical change so people can move forward with their lives.
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That’s why I’m urging leaders from the local communities in which we’ve lived and worked – Sens. Mike Rounds and John Thune, Reps. Dusty Johnson and Michelle Fischbach – please cosponsor and push for America’s Children Act when it is reintroduced this year. This solution has broad support among Republicans, Democrats, independents and even former President Donald Trump.
I want my brother back home. I want my future secure. I want others like me to direct their energy away from this bureaucratic nightmare and toward the things that make our society better.