Rep. Devin Nunes of California has long held his family’s dairy farm as a core part of his identity, but the Republican lawmaker has worked hard to keep secret that his family sold their Tulare, California farm and moved production to Iowa.
Journalist Ryan Lizza tracked down the Nunes family’s newer farm in the midwest to find out what the congressman is protection — and the answer flies in the face of everything the Republican party currently stands for when it comes to immigration.
Nunes is the California Republican and chairman of the House Intelligence Committee who has become famous in the Trump era for using his position as a battering ram to discredit the Russia investigation and protect Donald Trump at all costs, even if it means shredding his own reputation and the independence of the historically nonpartisan committee in the process.
Nunes has always been reliably conservative, but on some issues, he has broken with his party. He has long supported moderate immigration reform, for instance, including amnesty for many undocumented people living and working in the U. S. But as Trump has instituted a draconian policy of zero tolerance for all undocumented people and argued that every undocumented individual should be deported, Nunes has been silent. More recently, as Trump and the House Republicans have celebrated Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the agency’s aggressive tactics, Nunes has followed suit. On CaRepublican.com—a Nunes-created news site, which mimics the Drudge Report—he now regularly highlights articles attacking Democrats for being insufficiently supportive of ICE’s raids and deportations.
And herein lies the need for Nunes’ secrecy surrounding his family’s farm: Iowa dairy farmers — along with other agricultural industry in the state — employ an overwhelming number of undocumented immigrants, and the Nunes farm is no different.
For more than a decade, the lawmaker’s entire family has worked to keep hidden that they sold the California farm and moved to Iowa.
Lizza documents the great lengths they — and especially Devin Nunes — have gone to keep the public from discovering their secret, and understandably so.
Oddly enough, the farm, which is located in Sibley, Iowa, is in the district represented by Steve King — currently one of the most anti-immigrant lawmakers in Congress.
When Nunes traveled to Iowa to campaign for King, no mention of his family’s farm was made, despite the fact that it is just 50 miles from where the campaign event was held.
The biographical information in King’s promotional material referencing Nunes touched only on the family farm in California:
“Congressman Nunes’ family has operated a dairy farm in Tulare County, California for three generations.” There was no mention that the Nunes family actually lived up the road in Sibley, where they operated a dairy.
As Lizza dug deeper into this mystery, it became increasingly clear that the Nunes family secret involved undocumented immigrant labor; and as he poked around Sibley hoping to understand the situation better, it became increasingly clear that the dairy farmers would rather he leave.
No member of the Nunes family would speak with him, and by the time he left town, they were following his every move.
Other townspeople offered more information, but the sense of fear was overwhelming: no one wanted Immigration and Customs Enforcement offers to descend upon Sibley and upend their entire way of operating.
Paradoxically, the majority of those who spoke with Lizza supported Donald Trump in the last election — and many still do. But they were quick to qualify that support by stating their disagreement with his immigration policies.
“Eighty percent of the Latino population out here in northwest Iowa is undocumented,” estimated one dairy farmer in the area who knows the Nunes family and often sees them while buying hay in nearby Rock Valley. “It would be great if we had enough unemployed Americans in northwest Iowa to milk the cows. But there’s just not. We have a very tight labor pool around here.” This person said the system was broken, leaving dairy farmers no choice. “I would love it if all my guys could be legal.”
The undocumented workers live in the shadows and, especially in the era of Trump and zero tolerance, constantly fear arrest and deportation. Meanwhile, Republicans in Congress, including Devin Nunes (per his CaRepublican website), have decided that unwavering support for ICE is crucial to their efforts to attack Democrats and help the GOP keep control of the House of Representatives after the midterm elections. Naturally, the prospect of passing legislation that would create a guest-worker program for dairy workers who are undocumented—an idea overwhelmingly supported by the industry—is a fantasy in the current environment; Trump, King, and their allies describe such policies as “amnesty.” The Washington debate is completely detached from what is actually going on in places like Sibley.