CAPITAL PRESS (Salem, Oregon)

January 31, 2017


Farmworker goes from illegal immigrant to legal dairy foreman


Dairy foreman who crossed the U.S. border illegally and later gained legal residency advises other immigrants to take advantage of the opportunity this nation offers them.



By Sean Ellis


HOMEDALE, Idaho — Immigration reform is expected by many to be a major issue during the term of President Donald Trump.

Whether or not that translates into some type of amnesty or path to residency for the millions of people estimated to be in this country illegally remains to be seen.

But at least one immigrant who came here illegally in the 1980s and benefited from the amnesty law signed into law by President Ronald Reagan isn’t hopeful that today’s illegal immigrants will enjoy that same opportunity any time soon.

Rutilio Bautista was pleasantly stunned when Reagan in 1986 signed an immigration reform act that offered amnesty to farmworkers here illegally.

Bautista had crossed the U.S. border illegally four years earlier and was working at a greenhouse in southwestern Idaho.

Because he had been working in the agricultural industry, the new law allowed him to obtain a green card and remain in the United States legally.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Bautista said about the moment he heard what Reagan had done.

Bautista said he’s not hopeful such an opportunity will arise again any time soon.

He said presidential candidates and other politicians have used the promise of immigration reform “as a card in their pockets” for years to gain votes but have no intention of actually pushing for it.

Bautista said he realizes Reagan signed the 1986 law to help American farmers but it did much more than that. It offered a way for him and a lot of other people in this country illegally to remain and forge a new life.

“The reason Reagan did it was for the farmers,” he said. “But President Reagan helped not only the farmers but a lot of illegal immigrants as well.”

Bautista first entered the United States in 1982, when he was 17 years old, walking for two straight days and running out of water on the second day.

After working in a series of farm-related jobs, including in a greenhouse, cleaning beans, processing hops and detasseling corn, he went to work on a small dairy outside Homedale owned by Bob Sonke.

He has remained there and is now the dairy’s foreman.

“You can’t beat him; he’s good people,” Sonke said. “He’ll do anything for anyone.”

Bautista and his wife, Luz, who, like her husband, was raised on a farm in Mexico, have raised two daughters in the United States, Jenny and Norma.

Jenny is majoring in food science at University of Idaho’s College of Agricultural and Life Sciences and is the state secretary for Idaho FFA.

She hopes to remain an advocate for FFA and agriculture and would like to help lead efforts to convince youngsters who were raised on farms to remain in agriculture.

“I know a lot of people around here that have three generations on the farm but their kids don’t want to do that because it’s such hard labor,” she said. “We need to offer incentives to bring those kids back. How we’re going to do that we don’t know yet but we’re trying to figure it out.”

Norma graduated from Boise State University and although her career plans don’t involve agriculture, she spent a summer detasseling corn so she could gain an appreciation for what her parents did to provide her an education.

“It’s not a fun job ... but I wanted to know how hard it was for them to put us through school,” she said.

Bautista said the U.S. has given him many things, including a job, stable life and a way to provide an education for his daughters. His advice to other immigrants is to make the most of their opportunity.

“It’s important for people not to waste their money when they are actually here and to do something with the opportunity they’ve been given here,” he said.