Skagit farmers and Trump: 'Heartache over his immigration stand' | KUOW News and Information

Skagit farmers and Trump: 'Heartache over his immigration stand'

Feb 16, 2017

Mike Youngquist has just about had it with Donald Trump on immigration. And with Democrats too.

"Neither one of them want to get in and solve the problem,” said Youngquist, a Republican who has been farming much of his life in the Skagit Valley. “They just want to argue about it."


That’s a debate that resonates around the Skagit Valley, just 60 miles up Interstate 5 from Seattle.

Many farmers in the valley depend on migrant workers to tend their crops. Yet some of those same farmers voted for Trump in November.

In Burlington, for example, Trump came within 25 votes of beating Hillary Clinton. In Seattle, the epicenter of resistance to Trump’s immigration policies, nearly 90 percent of voters backed Clinton.

On Sunday, the only independent labor union made up of undocumented workers in Washington state sponsored a march from Burlington to the county courthouse in Mount Vernon.

Felimon Pineda is vice president of the union, Familias Unidas por La Justica. He says even though the politics in Skagit County are more conservative, and even though Donald Trump is now president, farm workers here will not be intimidated.

And this march was not just about themselves – they were taking a stand in solidarity with other immigrants.

"As farm workers we've seen how we've been targeted and this new president has been targeting not only Mexicans,” Pineda said, “but now the seven countries that are mainly Muslim countries."

Joan Cross marches in solidarity with Familias Unidas por La Justica.
Credit KUOW Photo/David Hyde

Other Skagit Valley residents joined the march. Joan Cross was wearing the pink pussy hat she also wore to last month's women's march in Seattle.  

Cross concedes that a lot of people in Skagit Valley are more conservative. But she believes the immigration issue goes beyond politics.

“It should be a value that we appreciate our immigrants,” she said. “We're all immigrants, really."

Bill Orsborn is a Trump supporter who also says he's pro-immigrant.
Credit KUOW Photo/David Hyde

Over at the Cascade Mall in Burlington, Bill Orsborn maintains that he and fellow Republicans in the area who voted for Trump are pro-immigrant.

"I don’t know anybody -- and I know folks from all spectrums -- that says I don’t want berry pickers here," he said. "That’s not what folks are saying.”

Orsborn believes it’s possible to respect and support migrant farmworkers and also support Trump's immigration policies.

"From my perspective we need to continue on the course that we've been on which is getting more serious about controlling the border, controlling who comes in, not stopping immigration," he said.

Pro-immigrant marchers come into downtown Mount Vernon after crossing Interstate 5 from Burlington.
Credit KUOW photo/Gil Aegerter

For his part, Youngquist said many of the farmers he knows disagree with Trump on immigration. "I would say they had heartache because of his immigration stand," he said.

He says farmers who mostly rely on big machinery are more conservative on the immigration issue: "The ones that hire labor think different than the ones that don't."

Youngquist believes immigration reform is needed for farmers and migrant workers alike.

But he's not at all hopeful that in the current political climate meaningful immigration reform will happen anytime soon. 

Correction, 10:20 a.m., 2/16/2017: Mike Youngquist's last name was misspelled in a previous version of this story.

Protesters against Donald Trump's immigration policies rally at the Skagit County Courthouse in Mount Vernon on Sunday, February 12.
Credit KUOW photo/Gil Aegerter