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Granato's remarks weren't well received by some in town. The Yakima Herald-Republic editorialized that they were inappropriate for a city official, and Granato came to a Yakima City Council meeting to defend them and assure critics he was speaking only for himself, not describing an official department position.
The council, meanwhile, has been busy recently debating a proposal to require the city and its contractors to vet new hires through the government-run E-Verify system. Designed to ensure that potential employees are legal residents or citizens, it uses federal databases to check Social Security numbers. A growing number of states—including Arizona, California, and Georgia—require contractors, or in some cases all private employers, to use the system.
In Washington state, Lewis, Clark, Pierce, and Whatcom counties have adopted E-Verify, and an all-volunteer group called Respect Washington! tried to get an initiative on the ballot this year that would have required statewide use of the system. (The measure, which also called for local law enforcement to enforce immigration laws, as in Arizona, failed to get enough signatures.) With Yakima's council scheduled to vote on the issue on May 25, Respect Washington! took out a full-page newspaper ad encouraging its supporters to attend the hearing. Many came, but so did Gutierrez and several other Latino leaders. They cautioned the council that the system was plagued with errors, and warned that imposing the system would further polarize the city. Some council members were concerned about losing Latino cooperation with a major new anti-gang initiative. In a tight vote, the council rejected E-Verify.
But the controversy was still troubling the council a couple of weeks later at an evening "listening session" held at a senior center.
"Please don't be intimated by the Hispanic community," said Bob West, leader of a group that agitates against illegal immigration, called Grassroots of Yakima Valley. He was one of several people in the mostly-white crowd that encouraged the council to reconsider E-Verify. And some council members seem inclined to do so.
When another man suggested that the council pass a resolution supporting Arizona's new law, Councilmember Bill Lover said he'd like to explore the notion, adding "I'm proud of what [Arizona] is doing." (Last week, the Obama administration filed suit to block the law. The ACLU, in a lawsuit underwritten by Seattle Weekly's owner, Village Voice Media, is also seeking an injunction against the statute.)
Another speaker, a retired nurse named Robbie Byrne, bemoaned what she called Yakima's growing "reputation as a sanctuary city" for illegal immigrants. Chatting with the Weekly after the meeting, she said immigrants "bring crimes, drugs, diseases. The people who are illegal who come here really are a detriment, not only to society but to the economy."
When asked about all the neighboring towns with economies dependent on immigrants who once came here illegally, Byrne replied that legal immigrants could fill the same role.
Of course, many of today's legal residents were yesterday's illegals, as Marquez, the farmer, knows firsthand. He says the crusaders against illegal immigrants don't see Mexicans as humans, nor understand how crackdowns tear families apart. About three years ago, he says, a friend of his was deported. The friend, a farm worker in Wapato, left behind a wife who was an American citizen as well as three children all born in the U.S. (Changes to the law in 1996 made it harder to get legal status, as Marquez did, through marriage.)
Marquez says that, like all farmers, he worries about potential raids by immigration authorities, which were stepped up by President Bush and have continued under Obama. This past December, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement conducted an audit of employee documentation at a huge apple and cherry orchard named Gebbers Farm, located about 170 miles north of Wapatointhe town of Brewster. Due to improper paperwork turned up by the agency, Gebbers subsequently laid off numerous workers—exactly how many, the farm refuses to say, but local reporters have estimated hundreds, which is a lot considering the town of Brewster has only about 2,000 people. (The farm thengot guest-worker permits that allowed it to fly in replacements fromJamaica.)