By Besha Rodell
By Patrick Range McDonald
By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
When asked about all the neighboring towns with economies dependent on immigrants who once came here illegally, Byrne replied that legal immigrants could fill the same role.
Of course, many of today's legal immigrants were yesterday's illegals, as Marquez, the farmer, knows firsthand. He says the crusaders against illegal immigrants don't see Mexicans as human, nor understand how crackdowns tear families apart. About three years ago, he says, a friend of his was deported. The friend, a farm worker in Wapato, left behind a wife who was an American citizen, as well as three children all born in the United States. (Changes to the law in 1996 made it harder to get legal status, as Marquez did, through marriage.)
Marquez says that, like all farmers, he worries about potential raids by immigration authorities, which were stepped up by President Bush and have continued under Obama. This past December, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement conducted an audit of employee documentation at a huge apple and cherry orchard named Gebbers Farm, about 170 miles north of Wapato in the town of Brewster. Because of improper paperwork turned up by the agency, Gebbers subsequently laid off numerous workers — exactly how many, the farm refuses to say, but local reporters have estimated hundreds, which is a lot considering the town of Brewster has only about 2,000 people. (The farm then got guest-worker permits that allowed it to fly in replacements from Jamaica.)
Marquez says he requires his employees to provide a Social Security number, but that it's not his responsibility to make sure those numbers are authentic. He acknowledges that E-Verify could be an effective way of doing so — thereby stemming the tide of illegal immigration in a way that periodic raids have not accomplished. People will stop coming if they can't find work here, he reasons.
But he calls that prospect "pretty scary. Who is going to help us on the farm?" Even with all the illegal immigration taking place, he says that during some years he had problems finding enough labor.
Not in the past two, though. Where he used to get maybe 10 people showing up at his orchard every day seeking work, he now gets 50.
He attributes this not only to the recession but to an influx of Hispanics from Arizona, scared away from the state by the backlash. The labor surplus allowed him to thin all his apple trees by late June, a time of year when workers typically depart for higher-paying cherry-picking jobs.
You might say that as far as Marquez is concerned, Arizona's loss is Washington's gain.