Washington state lands commissioner touts Dreamers

Washington state resident Noe Vazquez talks about his uncertain legal status Tuesday in Olympia as Public Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz listens. Vazquez, who has been a state wildland firefighter, said he was brought to the United States when he was 3.

OLYMPIA, Wash. — Washington Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz on Tuesday sought to humanize the uncertain status of residents brought to the U.S. illegally as children.

She was flanked at a press conference by Noe Vasquez and Christian Garcia Herrera, who are both 20 years old and graduates of Tonasket High School in north central Washington state . Both have been seasonal firefighters for the Department of Natural Resources and neither have much memory of their native Mexico, having been brought to the U.S. as preschoolers.

“I could see myself visiting. But moving down there, I don’t have lot of interest,” Garcia Herrera said.

The Trump administration’s deadline to end the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals passed Monday without a change in the status of the so-called “Dreamers.” Federal judges in California and New York earlier this year issued preliminary injunctions blocking President Donald Trump from canceling DACA. A federal judge in Maryland on Monday ruled that the Trump administration’s withdrawal of the executive order was lawful.

While the conflicting court decisions work their way up, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services is taking applications from Dreamers to renew their status under DACA, but is not accepting new applications.

Some 689,800 people were enrolled in DACA as of last September, including 16,300 in Washington state, according to immigration officials. The largest concentration, 2,300, were in the Yakima area, Washington’s most-valuable farm region.

Oregon has 10,200 DACA recipients, including 2,300 in the Salem area.

Washington State Tree Fruit Association President Jon DeVaney said there are no figures to pinpoint how many DACA recipients work in agriculture in the state, though he has talked to association members concerned about key workers.

“I have talked to a number of individuals who say they have worried employees,” DeVaney said.

“We support a legislative fix for those covered by DACA,” he said. “DACA needs to be addressed as part of the overall situation on immigration.”

Monserrat Padilla, coordinator of the Washington Immigrant Solidarity Network, said deporting Dreamers would deprive agriculture of leaders and discourage other farmworkers from staying.

“I think it would have a large impact on our agriculture,” she said.

DACA recipients are granted permission to stay in the country for two years at a time and work. About 79 percent were born in Mexico and about 29 percent live in California, according to federal figures.

“It’s absolutely critical we put a face on this issue,” Franz said. “Who is better off if Noe is deported? If Christian is deported?”

The Trump administration announced in September that DACA would be rescinded in six months. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said at the time that DACA was an open-ended and unconstitutional circumvention of immigration laws.

The Trump administration said it was likely DACA would be overturned by the courts anyway, as was the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents.

Padilla said her organization is advising Dreamers to have a lawyer help them apply to have their DACA status renewed.

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