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Letters for the week of August 16, 2017

Guest workers abused

When economists challenge the Trump administration’s plan to restrict immigration to English-speaking, highly skilled workers on the grounds it will decimate American businesses, especially agriculture, Republicans respond, “It’s OK, we’ll just expand the guest worker/H-2A visa program.”
Recent events in Sumas have demonstrated that the guest worker program, far from offering a “solution” to immigration reform, is used by big agribusinesses to enslave workers who have little recourse.
Munger Farms allowed workers’ visas to expire (it’s the employers’ responsibility to renew when the harvest is extended) and moved them to berry fields near Sumas, where they were forced to work long hours in extreme heat and poor air quality, with inadequate breaks and food. When workers started dropping from heat exhaustion (one died) they were threatened with termination. When workers protested the conditions they were forced to endure, they were fired. They were denied their final paychecks and bused to the Fairhaven Greyhound station to attempt to make their own way home.
Thanks to organizations like Community to Community Development, Latino Advocacy, and Familias Unidas por la Justicia, a local Hispanic-owned farm, and the attention of the media, these workers are no longer without resources, left penniless and far from home.
America was built on the backs of workers like these. We should recognize the contributions of all immigrants, and work for true immigration reform that ends these abuses.

—Marian Exall, Bellingham

Time to expand

This week is the straw that breaks the camel’s back. The Bellingham Herald didn’t get around to covering the human rights crisis in Sumas until almost a week after it happened, whereas you guys did a fine job of covering it.
I called the Herald to ask them why they weren’t covering this story, and got an angry, defensive reply along the lines of “lots of people die, that’s not news.”
Good grief.
It’s time for the Cascadia Weekly to expand.

—Betsy Gross, Bellingham

Lipstick on a pig

In a recent editorial, Republican Reps. Van Buys and Van Werven attempted to put lipstick on a pig (no offense to pig-lovers here).
The pig is the Republican hostage taking of a bipartisan capital budget bill in order to tack on a poor runaround to the Hirst decision (the State Supreme Court requirement to perform water resource assessments in order to uphold water conservation laws).
The lipstick is Buys’ and Van Werven’s contention that the Republicans did this hostage-taking “knowing it would be unfair to administer millions in capital budget funds for the state to build its projects when thousands of families and taxpayers throughout Washington can’t enjoy the same privilege.”
Really? It is “unfair” for workers and citizens to get the benefits of funding public projects because property owners now have to show surety that there is an adequate water resource available before digging new wells? There is no connection between the two, except for the political calculations of the Republicans.
It is a real problem that property owners suddenly cannot develop their land because counties do not have the resources to determine water availability. Let’s solve that problem rather than creating new ones by stopping needed capital projects that will provide jobs and services that we all value. Let’s stop the political rhetoric and do some problem-solving.
Oink. Oink.

—Michael Chiavario, Bellingham

A bath of disquietude

I consider the rise to power of the madman in the White House. He burst onto the political scene with the lie that Barack Obama was born in Kenya. Like any good con man he noted the political fury that created and recognized his base. If one lie worked, why not another? Our leader blares untruths like a coal train siren screaming through town.
He’s in a face-off with North Korea. White supremacists march in Virginia with a wink and a nod from him. ISIS would love him predictably overreacting to an attack.
Some of us believe in reality. Our leader creates his own. No one has ever seen his health care plan that will “cover everyone at a much lower price.” The multitudes of scientists presenting facts about global weather changes are wrong.
We bathe in a tub of disquietude. Someone runs our family with an alcoholic personality. He is vindictive, unpredictable and volatile. The only given is that anyone who disagrees with his whims will be attacked.
I know that somewhere Luke or Lucia Skywalker are training, Jedi Knights that believe in science and truth. Most of us anxiously await your arrival.

—Harvey Schwartz, Bellingham

A culture of cruelty

Since 2012, I’ve accompanied Western Washington University students to the Arizona/Mexico border with No More Deaths, an organization that aims to end death and suffering in the Sonora desert. In Nogales, Mexico, migrants/refugees share stories of family separation, inhumane treatment in detention and deportation, devastating poverty and violence in their countries—a living legacy of U.S. involvement. In 1994, trade policies with Mexico, NAFTA, left three million farmers displaced, threatened food security and pushed them into the migration stream. U.S.-sponsored wars in Central America forced millions to flee death in the ’80s. Today, the ravages of violence continue.
Camping in the vast desert to drop water/food on strategic migrant trails, we witnessed low-intensity warfare and the extreme militarization of the border—Blackhawk helicopters, drones, an 18-foot metal wall, virtual walls of cameras and sensors, checkpoints and border patrol.
This severe militarized environment and the limited ability to obtain a legal entry closes options for those fleeing poverty and violence. Prior to the Clinton era, NAFTA, and the 700-mile wall, indispensable guides were known acquaintances. Today, cartels control the trafficking, creating deadly consequences.
Recently, ten migrants were found locked in a truck in Texas: dead from sweltering July heat. While tragic and dramatic, more than 7,000 remains have been recovered since 1994, the majority in the Arizona desert while thousands more are missing. Why no discussion of exploitative trade polices, violent legacy of U.S. militarism, interventions, desperate poverty and the militarized border behind these deaths? Fewer than 1 percent of migrants have a criminal record yet they are vilified as criminals. Their crime—a civil offense of crossing a border without papers.
As violence and poverty persist in Mexico and Central America today, migrant crossings are down, but deaths are up due to the enhanced U.S. border strategies pushing migrants/refugees into a lethal environment of “unintended consequences”—the vast and hot Arizona Sonora desert. Enforcing these policies has created a “culture of cruelty.”
Eighteen billion dollars a year to secure borders is tremendously costly in lives and creates a humanitarian disaster. While the for-profit prisons and border military industrial complex reap huge profits; for the 10 people in the truck and the lives of thousands upon thousands of others seeking life, the cost is deadly.

—Shirley Osterhaus, Bellingham

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