KFOX-TV (El Paso, Texas)
July 19, 2017
 
American Dream: migrant farmworkers affected by changing immigration landscape  

By Adria Iraheta

As the farming season gets underway, both farmers and workers have many questions about how President Donald Trump’s immigration policies will impact the industry.

"That's the big concern. Fear. Fear will keep many undocumented workers from coming out to the fields to harvest," said a New Mexico chile farmer.

That same word, fear, echoes throughout farms in the Borderland.

It’s a place where pecans, chilis, and onions grow bountifully.

Workers and farmers alike worry about a changing immigration landscape.

Every day, Mexican farm workers come out to work the fields.

It’s a routine they worry will be affected by President Donald Trump’s immigration policies.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, about six out of ten farmworkers are undocumented.

"They're always waiting for the worst. Every day, the people are stressed and scared that the president will implement what he promised in his campaign," said Estolia Olivas, who works at Centro Sin Fronteras.

Centro Sin Fronteras is a nonprofit in that helps migrant farmworkers.

The workers come to the center, located in the Segundo Barrio, to get assistance like food and shelter and to find work.

But Olivas tells KFOX14 they’ve already been sensing a change in the workers.

"The people who live in Juarez now have to stay here because it’s not the same as before, where they could cross every day," she said.

Having more workers staying at the center is putting more stress on volunteers as well.

"Some of them live here permanently. some are from Juarez and some are from out of town, but they don't have a way to get here so they stay here at the center all week."

KFOX14 crews sensed the fear as well.

Reporter Adria Iraheta and photographer Rudy Reyes drove through fields across the Borderland while on assignment.

They tried talking to farmworkers, but the workers were too scared to speak on camera or give out their names.

Overall, the sentiments were the same.

They were afraid.

Since President Trump took office in January, he made several big changes in immigration policy.

Under President Trump, the priority is removing undocumented immigrants with a criminal background.

Entering the country illegally, however, falls into this category -- the biggest concern for these workers.

"It's the fear of them not wanting to come out because of the new immigration policies," the chili farmer said.

The farmer tells KFOX14 it is concerning for him too, because of the chain reaction it could have on his business.

"We're concerned about the economic climate, we're concerned about governmental policy, we're concerned with a lot of things."

The farmer hires a contractor to make sure all workers have the proper immigration paperwork.

He tells KFOX14 it is easy for them to falsify their Social Security number if necessary, which makes the thought of a roundup more daunting.

"We're between a rock and a hard place. Our nervousness is even higher than prior years simply because of that reason."

Several lawmakers have introduced a bill called the Agricultural Worker Program Act.

It would protect farmworkers from deportation and help them eventually get their citizenship.

Here’s a breakdown of how it would work:

Those who’ve worked in agriculture for at least 100 days in each of the past two years would earn blue card status.

Those who maintain their status for the next three to five years, depending on hours worked, would become eligible to get a green card or permanent residency.

But for now, farmworkers in the Borderland can only wait and hope for the best.

“Sometimes, you know, times change. We're probably as close to that as we've been in a long time,” the farmer said.