September 7, 2017, Maria Sestito
YOUNTVILLE — One day after a rally was held showing solidarity with Napa Valley’s immigrant population, a forum convened to discuss the topic of immigration at the Yountville Community Center.
Randy Capps of the Migration Policy Institute in Washington, D.C. was the key speaker at Thursday’s forum on federal immigration policy sponsored by the Napa Valley Community Foundation. Capps was the lead author of a study conducted five years ago looking into the impact immigration has had on Napa County.
The timing was perfect since the Trump administration just announced that it will be winding down Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, known as DACA, which has given legal presence to some immigrant youth who were brought to the U.S. as children.
This past presidential election was the first time that immigration has been the main issue, Capps said. Never before has a president targeted immigrant communities, he said.
Donald Trump’s use of broad stereotypes and rhetoric during the campaign was “unprecedented,” and since being elected, in most cases, President Trump has kept his promises regarding immigration, Capps said.
So far he’s issued a travel ban, proposed punishments for sanctuary cities, and has increased border control and interior enforcement. Trump still wants to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico as well as add 10,000 new Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents to the payroll.
These things, Capps said, may be on the table when Congress considers passing the DREAM Act, which would give so-called ‘Dreamers’ a path to permanent residency. DACA will come at a price, he said.
“There’ll have to be some compromise on this if the Dreamers are going to be protected.”
When it comes to undocumented immigrants, Capps said that the actual number of people being deported is lower but that more people are being deported without a conviction. When ICE is looking for someone, they are allowed to ask anyone whom they come into contact with about their status, he said. That means that some people, he said, are just in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Immigrant communities are justifiably scared, Capps said.
“The immigration enforcement system is completely unequal depending where you live in the country,” Capps said.
The U.S. has had a dramatic change in its demographics in a short period of time, he said. Californians may be used to dealing with an influx of immigrants, but many places are not, he said.
How scared immigrant communities actually are might be tested as hurricane relief heads to Texas and Hurricane Irma threatens Florida, Capps said. Will these immigrant communities ask for help when they need it or will they be too scared of being deported, he questioned aloud.
In California, there are greater protections in place than in some other states. On the legislative side, he said, we have the Trust Act and the Truth Act and there is proposed legislation in Sacramento – SB54 – that would prohibit any cooperation or sharing of information with ICE.
There is a large share of immigrants in Napa County who are well-settled, but are still vulnerable, he said. If they’re deported, it could lead to an agricultural labor shortage.
Pete Richmond with Silverado Farming Company, a vineyard management company, also spoke at the forum.
Ninety-five percent of his workforce is from Mexico and the other five percent are Central American, Richmond said. In 30 years working in the business, this year was the first year he even had an Anglo apply for a job, he said.
“It’s a career of last resort,” he said of the back-breaking work of picking grapes. There are nearly 47,000 acres of grapes in Napa Valley, he said, and fewer people willing to do the work. To keep the job desirable, he said, there will be wage increases. The job already starts at $16 an hour and, he said, by 2020, he expects it to start at $20 an hour.
Napa Police Chief Steve Potter and Jenny Ocón, executive director for UpValley Family Centers, also participated in the forum organized by the Napa Valley Community Foundation.