Sandra’s parents both worked in our state’s orchards. She is a senior at Washington State University and is uncertain if she will be allowed to remain in the country that she considers her home and the only one she has ever known.
Carolina, also the child of orchard workers, will graduate with her nursing degree in June. She is looking to serve her neighbors in the community where she grew up.
They are two of the estimated 17,000 “Dreamers” – undocumented immigrants who were brought here as children – who live in Washington state.
Hard work. Community. Doing your best. Caring for family and friends.
These are the values Washingtonians share, and Sandra and Carolina are living those values.
That’s why members of the Washington State Tree Fruit Association feel so strongly that it’s time for Congress to pass, and the president to sign, legislation protecting Carolina, Sandra and the other 800,000 Dreamers in the U.S. from the threat of deportation.
In 2012, the Obama administration implemented its Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. DACA allowed Dreamers to receive work permits and defer deportation.
Last September, the Trump administration announced it would stop renewing applications for DACA protection unless Congress passed legislation authorizing the program. Without action by policymakers, the federal government could begin deporting Dreamers. That is a bad outcome for every community in our state.
Our association represents apple, pear and cherry growers and packers here in Washington. Most of our members are local, family-owned businesses that have operated orchards for generations. Just like our local communities, our membership is increasingly diverse and includes former farmworkers who now own their orchards. Their stories, like all of our own families’ immigrant stories, are inspiring and reflect the opportunity and striving for justice and independence that defines our American experience.
Our industry could not survive without the dedicated farmworkers who tend the orchards, pick the fruit at harvest, and prepare the food for shipment. Farmworkers are essential contributors in producing our food in the most sustainable, socially conscious way found anywhere in the world. We all depend on them for our health, quality of life and strength of our communities.
We believe there are very few Dreamers who work in agriculture. But we are speaking up because Dreamers and their families, some of them farmworker families, are an essential part of the social fabric of the communities we live in.
Immigration is a complicated issue and our industry is exposed to many of the controversies on a daily basis. We believe we need comprehensive reform legislation that rationalizes our immigration laws and works for U.S. workers, businesses, and concerned citizens, as well as for those seeking to become a part of our nation and pursue the American dream.
But in the meantime, we can’t think of a good reason why our country would threaten our neighbors and friends who are Dreamers with deportation for something that occurred through no fault of their own.
We hear a lot about differences between urban and rural – and “blue” and “red” – regions. These discussions often ignore the important connections, shared interests and values that are not so easily put into geographic or political boxes. When we choose to see the connections and talk about the outcomes we all want, it is easier to unite around common-sense policies that work for most everyone in our communities.
Let’s let the Dreamers know we value and welcome them. Let’s get the job done and protect them once and for all. Many of the things we cherish most depend on us getting this right.
Jon DeVaney is president of the Washington State Tree Fruit Association.