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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 1/21/17

Trump's Threat to Farmworkers

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From Consortium News

There is a growing grassroots movement for humane immigration reform. And now those forces that had organized to pressure Barack Obama over the last eight years are turning their attentions to Donald Trump.

I spoke with Jesus Guzman, the Director of the Graton Day Labor Center, one of the original dreamers who went to Washington and stood by Obama when the President signed an executive order giving temporary protections to undocumented students. The program is now in grave danger of being dropped by Trump, who has promised to be tough on the undocumented.

I spoke to Guzman, an honor student at the University of California at Berkeley, at the Graton Day Labor Center, about 60 miles north of San Francisco. Some call the region wine country because the lands are rolling with colorful and scenic vineyards. But others call it farmworker country because undocumented farmworkers -- who do the bulk of the work, the hardest kind of work and get paid the least for it -- are the secret to the agricultural industry that is making the City of Santa Rosa and the surrounding area rich.

Dennis Bernstein: Why don't you begin by just saying a little bit about your thoughts as we move into the age of Trump? What's going on in your mind, in your family? How is it... just in the macro, how is it affecting your life?

Jesus Guzman: Hi Dennis, thank you for having me on again. I think my reaction, and the reaction that a lot of the workers have been sharing -- and really an opportunity that we had [on January 10th] to share -- was that very question, of what are we expecting in a Trump administration? And I think we've really had some very sobering discussions over the last few weeks since the election, about what's possible. And there's a real difference between what's possible, and probable.

But, I think many of the workers -- day laborers, domestic workers, farm workers, my family included -- are looking at this incoming administration and realizing there's a lot to draw on from Arizona with SB 1070, with California Prop. 187." And that is to say that ... we've been fighting anti-immigrant policies for a long time.

There's some very real threats that we face, and so I think our reaction has been to draw on our experiences of the past, on those battles that we've had, and looking at some opportunities for us to be better organized, and better prepared to weather the storm that is to come.

DB: And let me just ask you something about the confirmation hearings [that] have begun for Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, to be the next attorney general, the highest law enforcement officer in the land. This man has never found a civil right that he loves. He has spent a lifetime persecuting black people, as a U.S. attorney in Alabama.

[Black] people would have their churches burned down, and his people would show up and be there to "investigate" one, why they burned down their own churches, and were they in a conspiracy for voter fraud. So, I'm wondering if you're thinking about this at that level.

JG: Yeah. Absolutely. It seems very apropos that [on January 10th] the workers made their statement of intent, in terms of how we'll be organizing and what are some of the different strategies that we'll be deploying in the days to come. That it comes on the same day as the confirmation hearings of Senator Jeff Sessions... some of the concerns that we have about him ... as attorney general, really come down in terms of enforcement of day labor centers, worker centers, immigrant rights organizations. But specifically workers centers and day laborers centers have really been targeted by anti-immigrant groups. One example, again in Arizona SB 1070, the fifth section of that bill explicitly calls out day laborers, and makes it illegal the hiring of workers on the corner, out on street corners.

So, we've, for a long time, had a target on our back by various immigrant groups. Day laborers are some of the most visible immigrants, and we can't... as Pablo Alvarado, Executive Director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, has said, day laborers are in public, by definition. We can't hide in the shadow. You can't hide. We're in the public, standing, looking for work. And so ...because of that, we're very concerned about what an Attorney General Jeff Sessions might do... to come down on workers centers, on street corners... and that type of enforcement.

DB: Now, you had a meeting [at Graton Day Labor Center on January 10th], a very important meeting. Tell us a little bit about who was at the meeting, and some of the highlights, what did you find moving?

JG: Well, the workers have been having these internal discussions since the election, to really get a sense of... well, several things. One, to have a chance to air their concerns, their fears, and what's to come in a Trump administration, but also a chance to get our bearings, to organize. So then for today [to] have a chance to put out a statement on some different areas that the workers are wanting to mobilize and organize around and use that as an opportunity to invite allies, and community members and local elected officials to join us in those efforts.

And some of those [concerns] that the workers shared were around ... whether it's sanctuary policies locally, that make sure that there isn't cooperation between ICE [Immigration and Custom Enforcement] and the use of any city services or resources, towards that end. And really looking, on a state level, at something like the Values Act [SB54, California Values Act] that ... Kevin de Leon [Senate President Pro-Tempore of California] is moving. I think there are some real opportunities, both locally and statewide, to make sure that our government here, state and locally, that there's no resources, no services that go towards the end of persecuting our own communities.

And, beyond that, as well, I think the workers are organizing through neighborhood defense committees, to move legal funds... whether it's from foundations or from public financing, to make sure that the very tax payer money that our membership, and the immigrant community, puts into the local economy, also comes back in these funds to help defend the very people that support these city services.

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Dennis J Bernstein is the host and executive producer of Flashpoints, a daily news magazine broadcast on Pacifica Radio. He is an award-winning investigative reporter, essayist and poet. His articles and essays have appeared in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Nation, and (more...)

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