The Mid-Columbia is bracing for possible disruptions in everything from scientific research and education to agriculture and aid to refugees following a series of executive actions by President Trump.
The president signed a 120-day moratorium on refugee admissions and indefinitely excluded those from seven heavily-Muslim countries. And, earlier in the week, he signed an order that prioritizes enforcement of immigration laws against virtually all 11 million undocumented immigrants. Both orders have the potential to affect everyday life in the Tri-Cities.
After a weekend that included protests at major airports, including Seattle-Tacoma International, and a series of federal court injunctions, Tri-City leaders are trying to make sense of the new landscape.
Several dozen social justice activists gathered at the Richland office of Rep. Dan Newhouse’s on Monday after the congressman expressed concern about Friday’s ban on travel from Syria, Sudan, Iran, Iraq, Somalia, Libya and Yemen.
“(T)he manner in which this order is being implemented at airports and other points of entry appears that some innocent people, including some who have performed brave and valuable service to our anti-terror efforts, are having their lives needlessly disrupted,” he said in a statement.
Newhouse wasn’t on hand, but his local staff spent more than an hour listening to the unscheduled visitors and explaining how they can help travelers if necessary.
“I wanted to thank (Newhouse),” said Nancy Washton, a physical chemist who works at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.
Washton, who does not represent PNNL, helped promote the Richland gathering through several Facebook groups dedicated to social justice — Tri-Cities March for Science, Indivisible Washington State 4th Congressional District, WA 4th District Day of Resistance and Love Not Hate Tri-Cities.
Washton said there are ways to address legitimate concerns about preventing terrorism without restricting the free movement of the people the U.S. needs to perform critical research. The U.S. doesn’t educate enough scientists to carry out its research mission, she said.
“How do we get the science done?” she said.
How do we get science done?
Nancy Washton, Richland scientist
Beatrice Henrioulle, a native of France who has lived in the U.S. for three decades, joined the crowd at Newhouse’s office to share her concerns about the challenge of re-entering the U.S. as a non-citizen.
She is a permanent resident. But twice in the past decade she’s been detained on her return.
“I’m not one of the target population,” Henrioulle said. “But if that happens to me, what happens to the people at the center of these targeted measures?”
Refugee flow to stop
About 200 refugees, including men, women and children, settle in the Tri-Cities annually because of the efforts of World Relief Tri-Cities and its local church partners.
The humanitarian efforts include aiding families as they find housing, jobs and education in unfamiliar territory. The Family Learning Center, serving refugee students, was thrilled in 2016 when four of its students graduated from high school and enrolled at Columbia Basin College.
“The Tri-Cities has been a very welcoming place for refugees. We’re really thankful for that,” said Scott Michael, World Relief’s Richland-based field service officer.
The local chapter expects one more family before the full moratorium takes effect.
Refugees are obviously a little bit afraid of all this. It’s scary.
Scott Michael, World Vision Tri-Cities
“Unfortunately, that’s going to keep families separate from their loved ones longer,” Michael said. “Refugees are obviously a little bit afraid of all this. It’s scary.”
Michael said World Relief has taken the position that the U.S. can welcome refugees and preserve security through a transparent process. He asks those who agree to share their views with the White House and their elected officials.
Farm worker supply in question
An order targeting undocumented immigrants signed earlier in the week could be devastating on the Mid-Columbia agriculture sector, said Tom Roach, a longtime Pasco immigration attorney.
The broadly defines “criminal,” including the misdemeanor offense of crossing the border.
Roach said the order contradicts the president’s comments from November when he told 60 Minutes that his administration would target undocumented immigrants with criminal records.
Roach said his office has seen a 50 percent increase in calls for legal services and a six-fold increase in requests to give presentations on immigration law.
As a practical matter, deporting 11 million undocumented U.S. residents is a decades-long prospect, he said. Residents have the right to a hearing before an immigration judge. The waiting list currently is four years.
Roach said the order will have the greatest impact on longer-term undocumented residents, people who may have worked on U.S. farms and fields for a decade and have families here.
“It’s crazy, crazy times,” he said. “They’re the people putting dinner on your plate.”
It’s a nervous time for people that use a lot of farm workers.
Alan Schreiber, Washington farmer
Monday marked the unofficial first day of the 2017 growing season for Alan Schrieber, a Franklin County farmer who leads the state’s asparagus and blueberry commissions, among others.
“It’s a nervous time for people that use a lot of farm workers,” he said.
The first pruners were reporting for work at cherry and peach orchards in the Mid-Columbia. The real test will come later this spring when demand picks up for workers to plant onions, cut asparagus, pick cherries and more.
“Everyone recognizes that a large pool of the agricultural work force is undocumented. That’s not news to anyone,” he said.
Gary Larsen, an Eltopia asparagus grower and chairman of the asparagus commission, is more concerned about weather than politics. If the cold weather pushes back pruning, that will affect all the activities that follow.
“The biggest thing that needs to be done is that we as a nation need to get a viable immigration policy,” he said.
International students advised not to travel
Washington State University President Kirk Schulz and Asif Chaudhry, the vice president of international programs, issued a statement on Monday expressing concerns on how the executive orders will affect students, faculty and staff.
Officials said 136 students were enrolled in fall 2016 from the seven nations listed in the executive order. Three of them attend classes in the Tri-Cities. It’s unknown how many faculty and staff are affected.
They “remain unflinchingly committed to respecting the dignity of each individual — regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, national origin, gender identity or expression, religion or sexual orientation,” they said.
The university welcomes faculty, staff and students from across the world to study, teach and conduct research for decades, and Schulz and Chaudhry said they are proud to have them.
Education is improved by attracting students with a diverse set of experiences, they said.
The university is advising all foreign nationals to avoid traveling until the issues around the order are resolved.