An undocumented dairy worker shares his story

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men in milking parlor
Workers prepare for the next milking group at a dairy in central Ohio. (Farm and Dairy file photo)

Tomás is a dairy worker in central Ohio. He spoke to Farm and Dairy on the record, but his name was changed to protect his identity. He is undocumented. 

He came to the U.S. from Mexico in 1997 to find work and landed in Ohio in 2000.

“Outside this country, it’s really hard… Here we can make $7 per hour in the USA,” he said. “You can send it to your family in Mexico. That’s a lot of money. We know it’s hard. It’s not safe… Some families don’t have anything. You do it to feed your family.” 

He works at a dairy farm because it’s stable, steady work. The animals always need care.

“The job is never done,” he said. “If you don’t make mistakes, you can have the job forever.”

He first lived in Alabama after entering the U.S. He had a friend in Ohio who promised better work. The winter weather in Ohio came as a bit of a shock.

“I didn’t know how cold it would be,” he said. “I didn’t have the clothes for the bad weather.”

When he moved here, Tomás said people were much more welcoming and nice. That’s changed. People are less friendly toward immigrants now.

“But people, the last 10 years… They don’t say nothing bad. But you can see it in their face. It’s not really friendly. People changed,” he said. 

Tomás went to school for HVAC to be able to get a better job. Once he got his license, he applied for work at HVAC companies, but no one would hire him because of his status.

So Tomás works at the dairy and does HVAC work on the side. He’s making far less than he would if a larger HVAC company had hired him, but it’s what he has to do for now with no way to get legal status.

“I try to be independent,” he said. “I can’t have any help from the government. I try to take care of my family.”

Through the challenges of being undocumented, Tomás is matter-of-fact: It could be worse.

“I cannot complain,” he said. “I have a job.”

Related stories:

Why Biden’s immigration proposal matters to Ohio agriculture

How to legally immigrate to the U.S.

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Rachel is a reporter with Farm and Dairy and a graduate of Clarion University of Pennsylvania. She married a fourth-generation beef and sheep farmer and settled down in her hometown in Beaver County. Before coming to Farm and Dairy, she worked at several daily and weekly newspapers throughout Western Pennsylvania covering everything from education and community news to police and courts.

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