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Northwest Farmworkers Wary Of Trump Administration's Mexican Crackdown

Anna King
Northwest News Network
Many Latino residents of Pasco, Washington, say they are afraid of what's happening under the Trump administration.

President Donald Trump signed executive orders to increase immigration enforcement officers, deport individuals living in the country illegally and build a wall along the border with Mexico. All while Northwest farmers say they can’t hire enough people to pick fruit or work in packing houses.

In the majority-Latino town of Pasco, Washington, the city council has so far remained silent on the issue of becoming a sanctuary city. Mayor Matt Watkins said Pasco complies with federal law.

Pasco area farmers said they didn’t have enough workers last year, and can’t keep the ones they have -- even when they pay above minimum wage. And they expect labor to be even shorter and more expensive this year.

As for the farmworkers themselves, most of the people I met this day were not here legally -- or could quickly name someone close to them who wasn’t.

Staying off the roads?

Raul is a retired truck driver from from Othello. He likes to shop for his groceries at the Super Mex in downtown Pasco -- nearly an hour away -- because it’s less expensive.

Raul said he’ll be watching what happens next very carefully under the Trump administration. That’s because he’s living in the country illegally. His wife and kids, however, are here legally.

Raul came here from Michoacán, Mexico 31 years ago. He tried for his citizenship, but he said an old public drunkenness charge has made it difficult.

Raul shared something with me and our interpreter. He’s been telling his other friends who are also not living in the U.S. legally not to travel between states, or on the highways too much.

“I told them 'You need to be careful. Don't travel so much because you travel a lot.’ Because both of them work at a dealership and they move cars from here to there,” Raul said. “That's where it's going to be difficult.”

If other families are limiting their driving, that could be a problem for farmers. Many workers still travel between southern states like California and follow the crops north to Washington and Oregon each year.

‘We're all human beings’

Nearby, I meet Thania. She’s 23 and trying to become a citizen. She’s had one court date so far.

And she’s mad at Trump.

"He's a racist,” Thania said. “And that's his way for us to be here. Oh well, We'll just have to return to our country because what he is doing is bringing out more racism to make it worse here. It's already here but it's much worse now that he has put it out all these laws. Like I told you we're all human beings so all of us in the world are equal.”

Thania has noticed a change at the vegetable packing plant where she works. Ever since Trump took office, she said the supervisors -- who are authorized to work here -- are treating the undocumented workers worse.

“Before we used to have another supervisor, a man, but now we have a new supervisor, a woman,” Thania said. “She's Mexican but she came here when she was little. So she thinks she's from here, and she thinks she's better than the rest of us because we don't speak English.”

She thinks this has gotten worse because citizens and documented workers have more power now -- or more perceived power.

‘Regressing 100 to 150 years’

Seventy-five-year-old Adalberto also lives in Pasco. He came here from Oaxaca in 1964. He said he’s also not a fan of Trump.

“The new president that came to this country, that’s taking over this country, he’s supposedly uneducated,” Adalberto said. “A person that instead of making things move forward he's going to make things regress about 100 to 150 years.”

At a packed taqueria, stories of the wall and Trump play on the TV between telenovelas. Workers quietly wolf down menudo and asada fries at small tables. A 16-year old girl here said she’s safe and legal, but her best friend isn’t. And she wouldn’t like to see her friend have to go away.

The girl said she’ll remember this time for the rest of her life. She expects she’ll tell her children about how they got through the Trump years.

Ivan Roman and Oraisa Perryman-Ingle contributed to this report. We used first names in this story so we could hear from people without increasing the chance they'll be deported.

Anna King calls Richland, Washington home and loves unearthing great stories about people in the Northwest. She reports for the Northwest News Network from a studio at Washington State University, Tri-Cities. She covers the Mid-Columbia region, from nuclear reactors to Mexican rodeos.