Ag Today November 10, 2016

Immigrants fear the dawn of a Trump presidency

By Claudia Meléndez Salinas, Monterey Herald

POSTED: 11/09/16, 6:03 PM PST | UPDATED: 6 HRS AGO

SALINAS >> Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump campaigned on the promise to build a wall with Mexico to prevent illegal immigration, to deport all undocumented immigrants and to confiscate the money they send to their families to pay for his wall.

So when Salinas immigrant workers woke up Wednesday to the news Trump had won the presidential election, their dread turned into fear.

“People asked if they should start packing,” said Chui Ramirez, a radio DJ with Radio Bilingüe, about fielding calls from scared listeners early Wednesday.

“People are afraid they’re going to be deported tomorrow,” Honorary Mexican Consul Blanca Zarazua said. “I said, ‘He may not do everything he promised. We don’t know.’”

But it’s that incertitude that’s driving people’s fears, said Cesar Lara, executive director of the Monterey Bay Labor Council.

“There’s a lot of fear of the unknown more than anything else,” Lara said. “It’s going to be interesting what Trump as president means for immigrants across the country.”

The fear is not totally unfounded, since President Barack Obama is known for deporting more immigrants than his predecessor, and memories of this and other operations still haunt immigrant communities.

“It’s anybody’s guess what he’ll do and you automatically think of the past such as ‘Operation Wetback’ and the fear that generation must have gone through,” Lara said, referring to mass deportations that took place in the early 1950s.

Monterey County has the largest share of the undocumented population in California, as agriculture ­— one of its most important industries — is heavily dependent on immigrant labor.

Ranchers and farmers are looking to mechanization to ease their reliance on immigrant labor, but they still need field workers.

Officials with the California Farm Bureau said they’re looking forward to discussing with the Trump administration ways to ensure their members can still hire immigrant workers.

Asked how officials expect Trump proposals to build a wall mesh with their members’ needs for an immigrant workforce, spokesman Dave Kranz said it was “too early to know what may happen.”

“Farm Bureau and other organizations will certainly tell the new administration that farmers and ranchers who depend on an immigrant workforce need to be able to provide jobs to those who want them,” he said in an email.

People who want those jobs are traditionally immigrants from Mexico or Central America seeking economic opportunities they did not find in their countries.

Immigration reform has been stalled in Congress among partisan bickering, and given his promises for more restrictions, it’s unlikely the Republican president-elect will deliver the comprehensive immigration reform advocates were seeking.