Enrique Perez de la Rosa

Jessica Robinson / NW News Network

When fast-moving fires spread through Washington's Okanogan and Douglas counties over Labor Day weekend, the flames threatened the town of Bridgeport, forcing more than 200 farmworkers to spend a night sleeping outside in a city park in nearby Brewster. 

Paula Soto, whose family lives in Bridgeport, says many were not prepared for a wildfire.

Enrique Pérez de la Rosa/NWPB

Driving through Mattawa July 29, onlookers witnessed a seemingly jovial scene that sounded like a block party. But among the gritos of the mariachi and the dancing residents of Mattawa, they heard expressions of anger and frustration. 

It’s a labor demonstration. And a political one.

In the Columbia Basin, the Democratic challenger for Washington state’s 13th Legislative District House seat has focused his message on farmworker safety and called for the boycott of fruit. It’s quite a move for a candidate in a district where the economy is dominated by agriculture.

Jessica Robinson / NW News Network

Okanogan County is eastern Washington’s latest area of concern for COVID-19 cases.

Eight people, at least two of them foreign H-2A farmworkers, have died in the county. That’s considered a lot for the geographically large yet relatively sparsely populated county of about 42,000 people.

A Chelan County judge has denied an injunction on Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s emergency order over the COVID-19 pandemic.

Enrique Pérez de la Rosa / NWPB

Yakima County is still in Phase 1 of Washington’s four-phase reopening plan. And there are signs it will be stuck there for some time given the trajectory of coronavirus infection. It has one of the highest per capita rates in the U.S.

On Saturday, Gov. Jay Inslee spoke in an online press briefing joined by state and local health leaders.

Of particular concern: Yakima County’s biggest hospital, and the only one in the city of Yakima, has run out of bed space.

Enrique Pérez de la Rosa / NWPB

On May 30, David Cruz died of COVID-19, before he could finish remodeling his Yakima home. Cruz, 60, had only replaced about a quarter of the old darkened roof tiles with clean green ones. Old gutters lie in his backyard waiting to be replaced. His wife, Reyna Cruz, and four children have taken over repainting the interior of their house.

Yakima County has the most COVID-19 cases per capita among West Coast states. Those cases originate from two hot spots: long-term care facilities and agriculture.

Courtesy of Chelan County

Residents of Chelan and Douglas counties have filed lawsuits against Gov. Jay Inslee, demanding an injunction on his emergency measures to address coronavirus in Washington.

Both suits mirror each other, but Thursday in Wenatchee was the first chance attorneys had to argue the necessity of the order. 

Attorneys argued for about an hour in a virtual Chelan County Superior Court room over whether the case against the governor’s order should be moved to Thurston County, where it was enacted. 

Enrique Pérez de la Rosa/NWPB

Just as the sun rises over the Yakima Valley on May 14, more than 100 workers drive their vehicles off Monson Fruit property in Selah, north of Yakima. They’re walking off the job because they’re angry and afraid. 

Striking Monson workers say they were told by management that at least seven employees have tested positive for COVID-19 and they worry their employer isn’t doing enough to protect them.

“Nosotros claro que queremos trabajar. Necesitamos el trabajo. Por eso estamos aqui. Pero queremos condiciones laborales bien.”

Google Maps - July 2012

Updated May 11, 2020, 5 p.m. PT:

After weeks of no new cases, at least 34 people have tested positive for coronavirus in Kittitas County. That’s after county health workers tested nearly 170 employees at a food processing plant in Ellensburg to investigate a suspected outbreak.

The plant, owned by Twin City Foods, will remain closed until at least May 19.

Enrique Pérez de la Rosa / NWPB

 

News and information on the COVID-19 pandemic released by state and local governments is primarily in English. And though health districts and emergency management offices translate some of that information into Spanish, immigrant communities in places like the Yakima Valley still struggle to access that information.

In the Yakima Valley, adult education non-profits serving the region’s immigrants are stepping up to fill that need.

Enrique Pérez de la Rosa / NWPB

The number of coronavirus cases in Yakima County surpassed 600 this week. That’s the highest number of cases in eastern Washington counties.

But even with increasing numbers, there’s some good news. Yakima health officials say they’re seeing fewer new hospitalizations — meaning the much-watched curve could be flattening.

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Construction industry advocates are asking Washington Gov. Jay Inslee to allow more home building to continue under his “stay home, stay healthy” order meant to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. 

PaintSmith Co.

When Washington Gov. Jay Inslee made it clear that his statewide “stay-at-home” order applies to most commercial and residential construction, staff at the PaintSmith Company in Yakima and Seattle had no choice.

“We made a lot of calls last night to lay off a lot of people,” said Justin Smith, who runs the company founded by his father, Robert Smith, in 1973.

Enrique Pérez de la Rosa/NWPB

In February, immigration agents arrested a man the federal government says is a danger to his community of Twisp in Washington’s Methow Valley. 

That same community fought to get their neighbor back. 

Francisco Morales is well known in Twisp and neighboring Winthrop as a charming, outgoing waiter in most of the area’s restaurants. About 1,500 people live in the two tourist-heavy towns known for their recreation and, in Winthrop’s case, Old West theme. 

Going to any restaurant here means potentially running into Francisco. 

A Day In February

Enrique Pérez de la Rosa/NWPB

A delegation of Mexican government officials visited the Yakima Valley Monday to meet with dairy workers, most of whom are Mexican nationals. The group was looking to expand the role of the Mexican government in protecting the rights of workers.

The delegation was led by two Mexican senators who met with dairy workers who described poor working conditions, including wage theft, long work days, and cases of sexual harassment and assault.

The Treaty of 1855 created the Yakama Nation reservation as we know it today. In the decades after, the Yakama, Washington state, and the United States were trying to figure out their new relationship — one fraught with disagreements, court battles, and even war.

Enrique Pérez de la Rosa/NWPB

Nicolas found himself driving to a bar last fall, even though he doesn’t drink. He wanted to make sure his friends didn’t drive drunk that night on icy Grant County roads in central Washington.

Nicolas isn’t his real name. We’re protecting his identity because he’s undocumented and he worries federal immigration authorities may target him for speaking to the media.

Enrique Perez de la Rosa/NWPB

This year the U.S. Supreme Court will decide the fate of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA. That’s a national immigration policy that allows immigrants who came to the country as children to stay.

But for all the attention DACA gets in the news, Daniela Medina says most people don’t know the basics of what it’s like to be one of its beneficiaries. 

“Regular questions that I receive are, well, ‘what is DACA?,’” Medina said. “‘I’ve never even heard about it.’ Which is so interesting, because that’s basically my whole life.”

Enrique Pérez de la Rosa/NWPB

Tensions are typically high in the Yakima City Council chambers. That was especially true at a Nov. 5 council meeting. It was a regular Tuesday — one that happened to be election night. 

Even small issues explode into arguments, like when a resident who didn’t fill out a form properly stood up to testify during public comment. 

“We are not having a debate,” Mayor Kathy Coffey yelled in frustration after councilmembers erupted in argument over whether the resident should be allowed to testify. “I’m trying to move on.”

Enrique Perez de la Rosa / Northwest News Network

For the past 16 years, Jill Hutton has been managing a pediatric clinic in Aberdeen that once treated 70 to 100 children a day. But now it’s empty. She’s working on shutting it down.

“Everyone asks me what I’m going to do and I don’t know,” she said. “I won’t know ‘til I turn out the lights and lock the doors. I guess this is the last episode of ‘Cheers’.”

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After the recent mass shooting in Florida, Washington state lawmakers faced immense pressure to enact gun control legislation. But a bill to address school shootings made little progress, despite Democratic control of the House and Senate.

Enrique Perez de la Rosa / Northwest News Network

More than 100 Washington high school students rallied at the state Capitol Tuesday demanding restrictions on purchases of military-style weapons and tougher background checks.

Michael Saechang / Flickr - tinyurl.com/hjqmt6u

President Donald Trump has called on Congress to raise the minimum age to buy a rifle from 18 to 21. In Washington state, a proposal to do that passed a major legislative hurdle Thursday when it was voted through a powerful Senate committee.

WSDOT - tinyurl.com/yddspl8b

Lawmakers in Washington state continue to look for ways to prevent mass shootings in schools. On Wednesday, Republicans in the state Senate proposed creating a voluntary training program for school staff on how to respond to an active shooter.

Dr. Heather Tick

At a medical clinic in Seattle, Dr. Heather Tick takes a thin acupuncture needle and inserts it into Hannah Lilly’s neck.

“How are you through there?” Dr Tick asks Lilly.

“Not great,” Lilly replies.

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Washington state lawmakers are fast-tracking legislation aimed at increasing school safety and preventing mass shootings.

They’re reintroducing a proposal that would require buyers of military-style weapons to be 21 instead of 18. It would also enhance background checks for purchases and create a way for students to report potential threats to their school.

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Lawmakers in Washington state on Friday passed a ban on bump stocks. That’s a gun modification that allows certain weapons to fire more rapidly. They debated the ban under the shadow of last week’s school shooting in Parkland, Florida.

Enrique Perez de la Rosa / Northwest News Network

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee has been pushing hard to pass a carbon tax proposal. Though it’s been unpopular with some businesses and Republicans, on Tuesday he brought out an important ally.

Cacophony / Wikimedia - tinyurl.com/hmnrnkj

Washington state lawmakers vowed to protect net neutrality after the Federal Communications Commission rolled back the Obama-era regulations. Now that effort is making progress.

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School districts in Washington state have policies in place to prevent harassment and bullying of students. Now, lawmakers are considering a proposal that would require school districts take special consideration of transgender students.

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