Farmers whose harvests could hang in the balance say federal raids aimed at weeding out illegal aliens could frighten migrant workers away from Eastern Washington.
“Hispanics think the INS (Immigration and Naturalization Service) and the Border Patrol have targeted this area, and that people don’t want them here,” said Jon Warling, an apple grower near Othello.
The fears voiced by farmers and immigration-rights advocates have prompted Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and two of Washington’s Republican House members, Jennifer Dunn and Richard “Doc” Hastings, to complain to INS Commissioner Doris Meissner.
“In their zeal to meet their responsibilities, some INS officials may be stepping over the bounds of the law,” Murray said in her June 2 letter to Meissner.
‘Reports of harassment of members of the Yakima Valley Hispanic community and coercion of employers to allow raids without search warrants raise serious concerns about the manner in which the INS is executing its responsibilities in Central and Eastern Washington.”
So far, there have not been similar complaints from Western Washington.
With the fiscal year ended May 31, federal agents had conducted 36 raids and arrested 296 people in Washington. That compares with 17 operations and 140 arrests the previous fiscal year.
Richard C. Smith, INS district director for Washington and North Idaho, said he was disappointed that farmers had taken their complaints to Congress rather than to him.
“We’ve had about 12 meetings in the last six to 10 months with growers, farm groups and labor representatives,” he said. Smith said the INS had discussed the change in immigration laws, offered joint training for members of the Washington Farm Bureau, and provided names and phone numbers for questions.
Smith said he found it ironic that Hastings would be complaining about too much INS activity, since the congressman complained loudly last year when some district agents were transferred temporarily to help patrol the Mexico-U.S. border.