By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
One of his clients, Jesse Anguiano, just bought a $275,000, 3,500-square-foot house on a 1.7-acre plot on the outskirts of Wapato. Anguiano's father was a Mexican farm worker who brought him here illegally as a child. Later, Anguiano says, the family received amnesty. Now a citizen, he works as the operations manager of a logging company on the Yakama Reservation.
He bought his first house in the city of Yakima nine years ago, but longed for the country. Gesturing on a recent day to the orchards and open fields that surround his new house, he says he loves the place for "the view and the space," and the chance to get his kids (three of them, with one more on the way) away from TV. He's built a chicken coop behind the house, is thinking about buying horses, and is scoping out the best place to build a fire pit for making s'mores.
Only a few miles away from this bucolic scene, in Yakima, the debate over illegal immigration is still roiling the citizenry. With a population of 84,000 — 67 percent Anglo, 37 percent Latino, according to the latest census estimate — Yakima is the region's major metropolis, and there's widespread resentment between the two communities. Just as in Arizona, Anglos blame Hispanics for a crime problem: Gang violence claimed 25 lives in the Yakima region during just the first half of this year. And Hispanics accuse Anglos of bigotry.
Gutierrez, of Rural Community Development Resources, says she originally called her Yakima-based organization the Washington Association of Minority Entrepreneurs, but changed that about five years later to the more innocuous name. On May 1, a day when pro-immigrant marches took place across the country, 3,000 people gathered in Yakima, galvanized by anger over Arizona's new immigration law. Gempler of the Growers League marched with them. Like many in the farm lobby nationally, he long has supported so-called "comprehensive" immigration reform, including the "path to citizenship" proposed by President Barack Obama.
Yakima police chief Samuel Granato, the grandchild of Mexican immigrants, spoke to the crowd — in Spanish. The chief, who described himself to Village Voice Media as "just to the left of Attila the Hun" on most issues, announced to those assembled that he didn't support the Arizona law, in part because he needs the help of all immigrants, legal or illegal, to fight crime. "I don't need you to be afraid that local police are going to arrest you," is how he put it.
Granato's remarks weren't well received by some in town. The Yakima Herald-Republic editorialized that they were inappropriate for a city official, and Granato came to a Yakima City Council meeting to defend them and assure critics he was speaking only for himself, not describing an official department position.
The council, meanwhile, has been busy this spring debating a proposal to require the city and its contractors to vet new hires through the government-run E-Verify system. Designed to ensure that potential employees are legal residents or citizens, it uses federal databases to check Social Security numbers. A growing number of states — including Arizona, California, and Georgia — require contractors, or in some cases all private employers, to use the system.
In Washington, Lewis, Clark, Pierce, and Whatcom counties have adopted E-Verify, and an all-volunteer group called Respect Washington! tried to get an initiative on the ballot this year that would have required statewide use of the system. (The measure, which also called for local law enforcement to enforce immigration laws, as in Arizona, failed to get enough signatures.) With Yakima's council scheduled to vote on the issue on May 25, Respect Washington! took out a full-page newspaper ad encouraging its supporters to attend the hearing. Many came, but so did Gutierrez and several other Latino leaders. They cautioned the council that the system was plagued with errors, and warned that imposing the system would further polarize the city. Some council members were concerned about losing Latino cooperation with a major new anti-gang initiative. In a tight vote, the council rejected E-Verify.
But the controversy was still troubling the council a couple of weeks later at an evening "listening session" held at a senior center.
"Please don't be intimidated by the Hispanic community," said Bob West, leader of a group that agitates against illegal immigration, called Grassroots of Yakima Valley. He was one of several people in the mostly-white crowd who encouraged the council to reconsider E-Verify. And some council members seem inclined to do so.
When another man suggested that the council pass a resolution supporting Arizona's new law, Councilmember Bill Lover said he'd like to explore the notion, adding, "I'm proud of what [Arizona] is doing." (Earlier this month, the Obama administration filed suit to block the law and the ACLU, underwritten by VVM, is also seeking an injunction against the statute.)
Another speaker, a retired nurse named Robbie Byrne, bemoaned what she called Yakima's growing "reputation as a sanctuary city" for illegal immigrants. Chatting with the Weekly after the meeting, she said immigrants "bring crimes, drugs, diseases. The people who are illegal who come here really are a detriment, not only to society but to the economy."