Feb. 22–to survive and thrive.
Farmers representing organic and conventional methods and operations large and small offered up their thoughts as part of a comprehensive national dialogue on how to provide undocumented workers in the United States a path to citizenship.
Among the concerns expressed was how to make a steady, cost-effective and legally employable workforce available to farms here without pushing an estimated 11.1 million undocumented U.S. workers (Pew Research Hispanic Center) into hiding.
DelBene, D-Wash., representing the new 1st Legislative District, is a member of the House Committee on Agriculture and the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on the Judiciary, which oversees immigration policy and nonborder enforcement. The 1st Congressional District includes the majority of Skagit, Snohomish and Whatcom counties and a large chunk of King County.
The discussion with farmers at the
MOUNT VERNON — Local farmers who attended a roundtable discussion Thursday with U.S. Rep. Suzan Del-Bene agree: Comprehensive immigration reform is needed if their businesses are Skagit Valley Food Co-op was one of three concerning immigration reform that DelBene attended Thursday in Skagit County.
Ryan Sakuma, president of Sakuma Bros. Farms in Burlington, said the biggest problem for his company’s large berry farms over the past four years has been a lack of available workers. Many of Sakuma’s crops have a short harvest window and require large numbers of workers who are quickly available.
Sakuma said a lack of workers caused him to lose 19 acres of berries. He said company labor camps, which supply housing for seasonal workers, met demand in the past but more recently haven’t been filled to capacity.
He said he explored the H-2A visa program, which allows companies to hire foreign workers and bring them here to work temporarily. But even with the program, Sakuma said he may not find enough workers.
“Our biggest thing is that we have to be able to employ people and keep them employed, so any help with that would be great,” Sakuma said.
One idea voiced by the group was to make sure undocumented workers have the ability to become legal, even if they don’t decide to pursue citizenship. Another was to implement a guest worker program, allowing seasonal workers to live in the U.S. and work during the harvest, then return to their home country during the offseason.
Leo Roozen, president of Washington Bulb Co. in Mount Vernon, said instead of a guest worker program, comprehensive reform is badly needed now and cannot continually be “kicked down the road.”
“If we don’t fix undocumented workers here, then bring in guest workers, we would have millions of undocumented people here out of work,” Roozen said.
Tim Terpstra, manager of Ralph’s Greenhouse in Mount Vernon, said despite living in one of the most beautiful areas of the country, workers on his farm are rightfully afraid to drive around and explore because they are afraid of being pulled over and deported.
“It’s not right that people have to live in that situation. People have to feel OK living here,” Terpstra said.